Austria. On July 1, the country took over the EU
presidency from the UK and held the rotating post until the
end of the year when it was Germany's turn in order. The
most important task during the presidency period was to
thoroughly prepare for the introduction of the European
currency euro at the turn of the year.
Another important issue was the enlargement of the EU,
which is as pressing as the difficult issue for the
Austrians. The first group of candidate countries is Cyprus,
Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Poland,
and several of these countries share common borders with
Austria. Hungary and Slovenia were part of the
Austria-Hungary double monarchy, and the Austrians say they
want to take their historical responsibility. At the same
time, a labor invasion of thousands of people from the
neighboring countries is feared. Therefore, Austria wants a
buffer period of between five and ten years after the
candidate countries become members until free movement is
introduced for them. The issue would have been debated at
the EU summit in Vienna in December, but there it was
overshadowed by controversies between Member States over the
timing of the abolition of duty-free trade with, among other
Countryaah, President Thomas Klestil was re-elected by a large
majority already in the first round of elections in late
April for a term of another six years.
One of the largest medieval treasures in Europe was found
during a year in a field outside the city of Freistadt in
the province of Upper Austria. The treasure hiding contained
a large amount of jewelry and 6,000 silver coins.
In April 2002, Austria initiated the payment of
compensation to the thousands of Russians employed by the
Nazis as slaves in World War II labor camps. Austria had
granted DKK 53 million Euro for the approximately 30,000
Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman described Jörg Haider as
a charlatan and a populist pro-fascist after Haider tried to
veto the Czech Republic's entry into the EU. At the same
time, Zeman rejected that there should be safety concerns
with the Czech nuclear reactor. The statements triggered the
worst crisis in relations between the two countries since
the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia and shook the
fragile government coalition in Austria. Previously, 15% of
the Austrian population had signed an FPÖ request to veto
the Czech Republic's accession to the EU and to the closure
of the Temelin nuclear power plant.
The government coalition finally collapsed in 2002, and
Schüssel made new elections after Deputy Foreign Minister
(and woman for FPÖ), Suzanne Riess-Passer, Finance Minister
Karl-Heinz Grasser and two other cabinet members left the
government after a fierce political dispute with Haider.
In 2003, a new government coalition was formed between
ÖVP and FPÖ. Before then, Schüssel had had negotiations with
the Social Democrats and the Greens. During the year, the
government implemented new austerity measures in the area of
asylum. Some experts considered them the most restrictive
In the April 2004 presidential election, Social Democrat
Heinz Fischer was elected with 52.4% of the vote. His
Conservative counterpart, Foreign Minister Benita
Ferrero-Waldner got 47.59%. Fischer was the first Social
Democratic elected candidate since 1986. Ferrero-Waldner did
not become Austria's first female president and continued in
the post of Foreign Minister. On the day before Fischer took
office, July 8, then-President Thomas Klestil died. Klestil
was struck by two heartbeats, went into a coma and died at
the age of 71 in a Vienna hospital.
In April 2005, Haider led the formation of a new extreme
right wing party: the Alliance for Austria's Future. It
happened after splitting into his own FPÖ. The party
ministers went into the new party.
The country ratified the EU's new constitution in May. It
didn't matter when the Constitution was voted down in France
and the Netherlands that month.
Austria took over the role of EU Presidency after the
United Kingdom on 1 January 2006.
The strongly right-wing government was overthrown in
September 2006 after seven years in power. Austrian social
democracy, together with the conservative power, takes over
in a center-right coalition. In the elections, Social
Democracy became the country's largest party, while the
People's Party lost 8% of the vote.