Step in, Prodi!

COPENHAGEN: The "joint reaction" of 14 European Union governments against their partner – Austria – threatens to weaken the Union at the moment when it faces its greatest challenge: opening its membership to the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe. For the political boycott implemented by the 14 against Austria undermines the Treaty on European Union, and raises serious doubts about the functioning of EU-institutions. If the present deadlock is not broken soon, serious damage will be done to European integration.

The intentions of the 14 were the noblest imaginable: that the Union should be safeguarded against the xenophobia manifested in the rhetoric of the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, Mr. Jörg Haider. When Austrian conservatives in January started negotiations with Haider’s party on a new coalition to take power after many years of complacent conservative/socialist governments, alarm bells rang across Europe. Suddenly, 14 members of the European Council of state and government leaders found themselves able to take a quick decision.

Too quick, alas. They decided to establish political boycotts against Austria, should the new coalition become a reality. When Austria’s new coalition government was sworn in, the boycotts ensued.

The problem is that the Treaty on European Union sets out clear rules for how member governments shall treat each other if the fundamental principles common to them are endangered: