Economic ties at risk due to Turkey-bashing, says Vranitzky

Franz Vranitzky has expressed doubts whether Austrian businesspeople feel represented by the country’s politicians due to their “inexplicable bashing of Turkey.”The former Social Democratic (SPÖ) chancellor said today (Fri) it was “not plausible” why Austria has made itself the “spearhead” of European countries opposing a Turkish accession of the European Union (EU).”I just don’t understand why Austria tries to let Turkey appear grubby. There are no future-focusing policies and it has no strategy either,” he told the Kurier newspaper.The Austrian government has been critical about Turkey becoming a member of the EU ever since talks between the Eurasian country and EU representatives reached a crucial stage some years ago.Some political commentators have accused the SPÖ and the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) of having rather short-term election successes in mind than long-term political and economic relations with other countries. The coalition partners have been criticised for “playing with people’s fears” as they desperately try to stop the right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) from becoming more popular. The party and its right-wing rival, the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), have always focused on a strict anti-Turkey course. More than six in 10 Austrians do not want Turkey to join the EU, according to polls.Vranitzky – who headed a coalition of SPÖ and ÖVP for 11 years until 1997 – warned that the Austrian position regarding the question whether Turkey should become a member of the EU was “counterproductive” for the political and economic ties between the two states.Around 200 Austrian firms are currently operating in Turkey. Oil and gas provider OMV AG is one of the biggest investors in the country. The company recently increased its interest in Turkish petrol station chain Petrol Ofisi by 54.14 per cent to 95.72 per cent.”Turkey offers business-friendly policies, safe legal structures and a booming stock market” Marco Garcia, the Austrian Trade Commissioner in the Turkish city of Istanbul, said last October. He revealed that Austria was the eighth-biggest investor in Turkey at the moment.Leaders of the SPÖ and the conservative ÖVP have spoken out in favour of a so-called privileged partnership between the EU and Turkey.Turkish President Abdullah Gül said ahead of his most recent visit to Vienna that such kind of cooperation was “not an option” for his country. “We’ve already got a privileged partnership (with the EU). There’s a customs union. We want to become a full member,” he said.Gül claimed that “the obstacles which have been erected are unfounded and unfair.” Vranitzky told the Kurier today that talks between the EU and Turkey should be “strict but fair.”The Kurier claimed that Vranitzky especially criticised new ÖVP boss Michael Spindelegger without mentioning his name. The federal foreign minister caused controversy by warning that Turkey’s recent veto against Ursula Plassnik as the next head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) could have an impact on Austria’s point of view on future topics considering the EU and Turkey.Spindelegger – who branded the Turkish decision to veto the ÖVP MP’s application for the OSCE top job as “totally incomprehensible and baseless” – made clear already last year that a referendum will be held in Austria on the question whether Turkey should join the EU given that the ongoing talks come to a positive ending.According to the Kurier, Vranitzky referred to Spindelegger when he said that “these politicians do not represent the interests of the (Austrian) economy – and therefore do not represent the interests of the whole country.”The relationship between Austria and Turkey has been heatedly debated in Austria for years. The discussion even intensified when the FPÖ increased its share in various elections after having focused in its campaigns on pointing the finger at immigrants allegedly unwilling to integrate into society. The right-wing party led by Heinz-Christian Strache especially hit out at Muslims living in Austria, claiming that many of them would create “parallel societies” in the country’s largest cities. The FPÖ – which has warned of an “Islamisation of Europe” – has found growing support among young Austrians, the working class and pensioners, according to surveys.Around 113,000 of the 8.5 million people living in Austria are Turks. Another 70,000 have a Turkish migratory background. The number of Muslims living in Austria is understood to range around 500,000.