- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2001

Austria report card
The leader of Austrias Freedom Party, which last year drew howls of outrage from opponents of its right-wing policies, is in Washington this week to meet members of the Bush administration and report on its 14 months in power.
Susanne Riess-Passer, who is also vice chancellor, believes her party, which governs in a coalition with the conservative Peoples Party, has set Austria on a strong free-market course with Reaganesque policies.
"We had a turbulent start," she told editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday. "Fears were expressed that we would endanger common European values, endanger freedom of the press, that we were an authoritarian government."
Mrs. Riess-Passer helped deflect much of the international criticism when she took over as party leader in May 2000 from the firebrand populist Joerg Haider.
Mr. Haiders comments on immigration and Austrias Nazi past prompted the European Union, pushed by socialist-led governments, to impose unprecedented diplomatic sanctions when the Freedom Party helped form the governing partnership.
The EU lifted the sanctions in September, after sending human rights monitors to review the policies of the new government.
"The sanctions were not justified," Mrs. Riess-Passer said. "They did great damage (in Austria) to the concept of a unified Europe."
Now she wants to emphasize the governments successes.
"We took a heavy legacy from our predecessor — budget deficits, over-regulation," she said, referring to the Social Democratic Party.
While the socialists dominated politics for most of the post-war period, they often governed in a coalition with the Peoples Party.
Mrs. Riess-Passer said the government has already passed a zero-deficit budget for 2002. The government has promoted privatization of state-owned enterprises, from the steel industry to banks.
"The state is not a good entrepreneur," she said.
Mrs. Riess-Passer is also promoting the youthful face of the Freedom Party. Most of its Cabinet ministers are in their 30s. She recently turned 40.
They also want to wean Austrians off their dependency on the state. The government has cut some social benefits for wealthier citizens and raised the retirement age.
"Social benefits should be reserved for the people who really need them," she said.
The Freedom Party also opposes any effort to create a European superstate that would control the foreign and domestic policies of EU members.
"The European community should consist of sovereign member states working together," she said. "Decisions should be taken as close to the people as possible."
As for Mr. Haider, "he didnt vanish" from political life, she said. He is still governor of the Austrian province of Carinthia. However, the party feels unfairly tainted by his legacy.
"I wish people would understand that it was this government that admitted Austrias responsibility for the crimes of the Nazi era and established restitution," she said of a fund for Jewish victims of the Holocaust. "Former governments didnt do that."
Also, for the record, she wanted to make it clear that Austria voted for the United States in the election for members of the U.N. Human Rights Commission. She declined to speculate on which countries went against the United States in the secret ballot last week.
Mrs. Riess-Passer is scheduled to hold a 2:30 p.m. news conference today at the National Press Club.

Yugoslav visit

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica will make his first visit to Washington today since he defeated the authoritarian Slobodan Milosevic in October and restored Western diplomatic relations.
On his daylong visit, Mr. Kostunica will meet Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and members of Congress.
He is also due to address the Cato Institute.

Honorary consul

The Ethiopian Embassy has appointed its first honorary consul in the United States.
Ato Gezaghen, an Ethiopian-American businessman, will open an office in Houston next month to advance Ethiopian interests in the Southwest.
"He is a long-time Houston resident and … is well known for his commitment to promoting Ethiopia," the embassy said.

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