Unwittingly Austria created EU history in January 2000 when a far right party joined its government. EU leaders panicked and isolated Vienna. EURACTIV looks at the legacy of those heady days and months.
The unwritten consensus since the second world war has been that far right parties do not enter European governments. How easy this was to apply in practice was first challenged when Silvio Berlusconi entered into government with the far right party Alleanza Nazionale in 1994.
But when the ÖVP-FPÖ government was formed in 2000 in Austria, the EU did not have the political tools to deal with it properly.
The EU has the option to screen, postpone and ultimately refuse membership to a candidate country via the Copenhagen criteria on respect for democracy and rule of law, but once a country has entered the EU it becomes unclear what the EU can do in face of a breach of its main principles and values.
The issue has been threatening to resurface in recent months with the allegations about the existence of secret CIA prisons in both present and future member states.
Article 7 of the Nice Treaty states that the European Council can declare the existence of “a serious and persistent breach of fundamental rights”. If this occurs, the Council may, by a qualified majority, suspend certain of the rights of the country concerned.
This procedure is supplemented with a ‘preventive instrument’ that is very hard to activate. The text reads: “On a reasoned proposal by one third of the Member States, by the European Parliament or by the Commission, the Council, acting by a majority of four fifths of its members after obtaining the assent of the European Parliament, may determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of principles mentioned in Article 6(1), and address appropriate recommendations to that State.”
The values and principles are spelled out as follows: “The Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, principles which are common to the Member States.”