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Swiss centre-right parties reject pressure on Austria

Switzerland's three main conservative parties have rejected international efforts to put pressure on Austria, where the far-right Freedom Party, led by Jörg Haider (pictured), is on the verge of entering into a coalition.

This content was published on February 2, 2000 - 16:45

Switzerland's three main conservative parties have rejected international efforts to put pressure on Austria, where the far-right Freedom Party, led by Jörg Haider (pictured), is on the verge of entering into a coalition.

The parties, all members of Switzerland's four-party government, came out strongly against threats by members of the European Union to partially isolate Austria if Haider's Freedom Party joins the government.

The Radical Party said the EU had got its timing completely wrong. "The European community has intervened too early," said spokesman, Guido Schommer. "If Haider was integrated into the government and proposed or took steps towards abolishing democracy or fighting human rights, then it would be the right time to take severe steps."

These views were echoed by the Christian Democratic Party. Its spokesman, Paul Felber, said Austria's election was a democratic one and that the EU was wrong to try to interfere in the political process.

"We don't think it is a good idea that the EU intervened in Austria, and that they put the country under pressure," he said. "Whether you like Haider or not, whether he is right wing or not, his party and he have been elected in a democratic way."

Felber added that the EU was thinking in historical terms, rather than taking the current political climate into account. "In some respects, I can understand that they fear certain reactions in Austria. But they probably still have in mind what happened 50 or 60 years ago."

The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, also a Christian Democrat, takes much the same line as his party. He said that Austria was a friendly country and that it was important to remember that any coalition which emerges in Austria will be the outcome of free elections.

The People's Party, which was itself accused of being extremist in a Council of Europe report last week, dismissed the EU criticism as unacceptable.

Of the four parties in government, only the Social Democrats expressed alarm about Austria's Freedom Party entering government. They said it would be a serious threat to human rights, and called on Berne to express its "grave concern" about the move.

By Malcolm Shearmur

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