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Austrian: We Back Euro Integration

April 12, 2000

STRASBOURG, France (AP) _ Austrian President Thomas Klestil, ignoring hecklers and a small walkout, told the European Parliament Wednesday that his country is committed to multiculturalism and ready to defend human rights in the European Union.

Klestil told the 626-member EU assembly that Austria fully endorses European integration and had learned from its own dark past.

``Austria today is the work of a generation which has learned the lessons of the first half of the 20th century,″ he said. ``There is a firm commitment of Austrians ... to never again be seduced by nationalism and extremism.″

That message was wasted on some French Socialists and Greens, who walked out of the hall during the address. Earlier, Klestil was heckled on arrival.

Austria has faced heavy criticism from abroad over the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in the governing coalition. Belgium and France have been Austria’s most vocal critics. Since February, representatives from both countries have ignored their Austrian counterparts at EU meetings or walked out in protest.

Klestil said European countries’ move to freeze bilateral relations with Vienna over the situation sets a dangerous precedent. Austria has argued that isolating one EU member state because of the sort of government it elects is undemocratic.

Klestil said he understands fears that racism may be on the rise in Europe. EU governments must ``nip the dangers in the bud, wherever human rights are under threat,″ he said.

He added that Austria is a solid democracy that took in a million people from other parts of Europe after World War II.

Klestil said much of what has been written since Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, a mainstream conservative, formed his alliance with the Freedom Party on Feb. 4 shows ``a distorted picture of Austria″ and is based on political ignorance.

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