EU told to let Austria back into the fold

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The Independent Online

A panel of European Union "wise men" recommended last night that the diplomatic freeze imposed on Austria should be lifted, seven months after the country admitted the far right into government.

A panel of European Union "wise men" recommended last night that the diplomatic freeze imposed on Austria should be lifted, seven months after the country admitted the far right into government.

According to leaked excerpts from a report the panel submitted to President Jacques Chirac in Paris last night, maintaining sanctions against Austria would be "counter-productive" because it would risk fanning the flames of extreme nationalism. The news of the findings was greeted with jubilation in government circles in Austria. The Foreign Minister, BenitaFerrero-Waldner, said: "The report of the three wise men on the government can only be a very, very good one."

Austria's EU partners imposed a range of sanctions after Jörg Haider's Freedom Party was included in the ruling coalition. But the measures had merely "strengthened nationalist feelings", said the panel, led by the ex-Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

The report concluded that minorities, refugees and immigrants enjoyed legal rights and protection in Austria equal at least to the rest of the EU.

But it also severely criticised Mr Haider's party. Election campaigns run by it had appealed to "xenophobic sentiments" and promoted "openly anti-foreigner" language, the panel concluded.

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