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2005-05-16

Catcalling finance minister Grasser 

Yesterday was the day of the surreal jubilee celebration. 50 years after the signing ceremony for the Austrian State Treaty [Staatsvertrag], honoraries of the four allied powers who co-signed the treaty (Russia, USA, UK, France) together with all current high representatives of the Austrian political system held a celebratory ceremony in Belvedere castle. Some 10,000 people considered it worth their time and effort to attend the festivities in the park of Belvedere. Blogger Bill Dawson was there, although apparently he missed the official highlight of the day, namely the re-enactment of the myth-laden moment when the four foreign representatives together with heads of the Austrian government stepped out on the balcony to greet the masses (in the original event, the foreign minister held up the treaty and shouted "Austria is free!"). Sauseschritt was also there, but made sure of avoiding the worst part of the drama by being one day early. A fake Belvedere-balcony mounted on a crane was available across the country in regional capitals. It could be mounted by inspired patriots who felt an urge to shout their own pathetic version of the famous three words.

Some of our good patriots chose another shout however and booed Austria's youthful finance minister Grasser when he left Belvedere to climb a streetcar in historical dress-up, which was going to transport the government to yet another celebratory event. Theirs was a shout that deserves some sympathy, although not really over its likely reason, namely Grasser's fame in the European yellow-press of late, which was hard-won by kissing billionaire jet-setter Fiona Swarovski in several picturesque mediterranean locations. No, I'm fed up with Grasser politically. Yet again he has made a big fuss of playing the model-liberal at an EU council of ministers, a character that he does not dare to enact on the state-friendly national stage, but that apparently serves him well for defining himself for his potential future employers in the private sector. The issue, just so we don't completely ignore it over all the symbolism: the proposal to introduce a tax of 1 to 2 euros on plane tickets to increase funding for development aid. This proposal won support at the last council of ministers, albeit only after reducing the tax 5-to-10-fold from the initially envisaged 10 euros per ticket, and after allowing for the tax being "voluntary" in most countries. Alas, Grasser believes it's "unfair on customers" and will distort competition. Question for Grasser: who will cancel a flight because of a higher ticket-price by 2 euros? Answer: nobody, of course, but being against wins you a mention of your ministerial name in the international quality press, yet again. But on merit? Wasn't there a jubilee just recently celebrating Austria's neutrality as afforded by the State Treaty? Should neutrality, the commitment to abstain from all military conflict, even when it is about a just war by all possible standards, should this neutrality really be a free lunch proposition in the 21st century, long after the Cold War that provided its original justification has ended? Or should neutrality imply an obligation to promote global fairness and justice by peaceful means, such as by outstanding levels of development aid? I think it simply has to in order to be defendable. Two euros per plane ticket is not even close to the price that Austrian society, which is so fond of neutrality according to all opinions polls, should be willing to shell out for this. I'm only afraid that Mr Grasser would never have such a thought even if we put him through five jubilee celebrations a day for the rest of this year.


3 comments:

Where is a good place to find links between Haider and Frank Stronach? As well, is Magna really a haven for failed FPO politicians?
 

I've never heard a clear answer as to what Austria is neutral towards. Originally, of course, the "immerwährende bewaffnete Neutralität" meant that the Russians agreed not to insist on Austria joining the Warsaw Pact on condition it didn't join NATO. But without Russians or a Warsaw Pact, the "neutrality" is slightly absurd. In a sense, every state is neutral towards every war it does not take part in, or at least nonbelligerent, but this doesn't require a constitutional amendment.

Many people in Austria seem to believe that neutrality is the expression of some moral triumph, or that in fact the neutrality clause is a pacifism clause. This extends from the right (who see it as part of patriotic mythos) to the very far left, who see it as either pacifist or as standing up to the Americans. In fact, its origins were in pure Realpolitik: neutrality as the price of sovereignty.

This is, of course, an example of the belief that Hitler was a German but Mozart, or Freud, an Austrian.

I don't, though, necessarily think Austria should join NATO: the point is hard to see, unless the aim is to free-ride on NATO air defence (which as a Nato taxpayer I wouldn't be especially pleased with). Participating fully in the EU security policy is another matter.

On that issue, I believe there's a real need for a division of labour. It makes no sense for Austria to contribute 6 fighter aircraft to the EURRF - far better to deploy a complete wing from one of the European "bigs" than generate the costs and logistic needs of multiple penny packets. Better by far for a small state to provide trained soldiers or specialised assets. Austria might place a Gebirgsjäger unit on higher readiness as part of the EURRF, say, whilst the Czechs might supply their excellent chemical defence units, and Italy send military police, with the core assets (armour, combat aircraft, ships) coming from the EU-5 states
 

@Anonymous, these people are rather secretive and I'm not a private detective myself. Fact is that Stronach is going to build a factory in Haider's Carinthia province soon, which is the official reason for their recent high-intensity contacts. Stronach denies financing Haider's new BZÖ - if he plans to do it, he'll wait a few months for the dust to settle. Yes, Magna employs failed politicians almost routinely, and many of them come from the FPÖ (but there are examples from SPÖ and most recently ÖVP, the two biggest parties, as well). Current finance minister Grasser was also there for a while back in his FPÖ-time. Stronach is probably not an ideologue, but he is interested in buying contacts and influence.

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@Alex, you're not talking realpolitik here, putting neutrality in question is something no Austrian political party can afford for long. ÖVP, BZÖ/FPÖ, and Greens, who all made hesitant attempts, have backed down by now. Free lunch is what we want, and it really is free, isn't it? I agree with your division of labor principle, but I chicken out of most military intrepretations by making (convenient?) reference to a) the Third Reich, and b) the global need for more financing of development aid instead of more military spending.
 
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