- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2000

Just when the European Union was reconsidering letting renegade Austria back into its exclusive huddle, populist mouthpiece Joerg Haider has allowed his ego to spin out of control again. With it, he is hurting his country's chances of escaping EU-enforced sanctions.

"I am the expert on expansion" of EU membership he told journalists Thursday. "No moves will be made in expansion eastward that I do not approve." That's quite a squawk from a man who was forced to give up his leadership of the far-right Freedom Party in May. But he is still holding tight to the reigns of his party and carries influence within parliament and with the government ministers.

This doesn't extend to Erhard Busek, Austrian envoy to the European Union, however. Mr. Busek, formerly head of the People's Party, has criticized the Freedom Party's anti-expansion stance as intolerable. Mr. Haider and the Freedom Party want to block EU membership for the Czech Republic and Slovenia. The two coalition partners are settling the dispute by deciding not to listen to each other.

As intolerable as Mr. Haider's behavior has been, the European Union's behavior has been worse, according to Denmark. The European Commission's president, Romano Prodi, is concerned that the sanctions are so unpopular in Denmark that the country will vote against adopting the common European currency, the euro, on Sept. 28. So he ordered a panel of three European Union appointees to produce a positive report on Austria's human rights record before the Danish vote, the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende reported. A "no" vote from Denmark over the sanctions issue could disrupt the unity of the union, he said. If Mr. Prodi was more honest, he would realize the unity had already been disrupted some seven months ago, when the sanctions began.

Whatever the panel decides, the fact that the anti-immigrant Mr. Haider still holds so much influence in a country which has 1 million foreign inhabitants is disturbing. If sanctions are not lifted, Austrians could vote either Oct. 29 or Nov. 26 on the Haider referendum, which would ask voters to decide on the separation of powers between the European Union and its member states. At that time they should take into account the fractious behavior of their leaders. The European Union for its part must realize that sanctions haven't kept Mr. Haider from talking.

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