Anti-Temelin petition - European issue or internal Austrian matter?


It's been two days since the anti-Temelin petition ended in Austria, and speculations continue about what its implications might be for the Czech Republic, for Austria and for the European Union. More from Pavla Horakova.

Over nine hundred thousand Austrians do not wish their Czech neighbours to own a European Union passport if the Temelin nuclear power plant is not closed down. Nearly a sixth of all Austrian voters signed the petition organised by the Austrian far-right Freedom Party, the same party whose leader once provoked the EU to impose diplomatic sanctions on Austria. Joerg Haider stepped down at that time but he's back now leading the anti-Temelin petition.

The petition was organised despite the fact that the Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and his Czech counterpart, Milos Zeman, agreed last year that the plant could go into operation after tighter safety guarantees were in place. Mr Schuessel's People's Party and the Freedom Party form the ruling coalition in Austria but they certainly don't share the same position on the issue. The People's Party refuses to veto the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union if the plant is put into commercial operation. Only one day after the end of the petition, the Freedom Party threatened to pull out of the coalition with the People's Party and force early elections. Now, the question arises, whether the Freedom Party is really so frightened by atomic energy or have they perhaps exploited widespread concern in Austria about nuclear power and used it to score on their home ground?

Since more than one hundred thousand people signed it, the Austrian parliament now has to deal with the petition. In any case, it is likely to put further strain on the fragile ruling coalition.

The worst possible scenario for the Czech Republic would be if Austria vetoed the country's accession to the EU. At the moment the European Union says its enlargement plans will not be harmed by the petition. The EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said the result of the petition showed that most Austrians were against blocking EU enlargement, even though they were strongly opposed to nuclear energy. The Czech chief negotiator for EU accession Pavel Telicka does not expect the closed energy chapter to be reopened in Czech EU accession talks because of tense Czech-Austrian relations. However, further Czech-Austrian talks on Temelin are probably unavoidable. But many on the Czech side hope emotions fizzle out soon and the tension in Czech-Austrian relations is relieved.