Freedom Party castigated in report on racism

Efforts to ease political sanctions against Austria have hit a new obstacle with the leak of a confidential report expressing deep concern about racist propaganda in the country and criticising the far-right Freedom Party.

Efforts to ease political sanctions against Austria have hit a new obstacle with the leak of a confidential report expressing deep concern about racist propaganda in the country and criticising the far-right Freedom Party.

The development comes only days before a committee of "wise men" is due to report on conditions in Austria, a move which many countries hope will pave the way for an end to Vienna's isolation.

However, the leak of a document produced by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), an arm of the Council of Europe, appears to strengthen the argument of the minority in the European Union opposed to any relaxation.

The ECRI says it "is deeply concerned at the widespread use of racist and xenophobic discourse in the Austrian political arena" and singles out Jörg Haider's Freedom Party as a source of racist slogans.

"The main targets of such propaganda", it adds, "are non-EU citizens, including immigrants, asylum-seekers and refugees." The paper, leaked to Format magazine, also expresses "concern at the influence exercised by the extreme right on mainstream political parties", arguing that they have tended to move away "from a concept of society based on principles of justice and solidarity".

The ECRI's report was compiled by Swiss and Albanian representatives aided by two Council of Europe officials. A spokeswoman said the document was not due to be published until next year and described its leak as a "breach of confidentiality".

There is an indirect link with Europe's committee of "wise men", made up of the former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, a former Spanish foreign minister, Marcelino Oreja, and a former vice-president of the European Commission, Jochen Frowein. They were nominated by the president of the European Court of Human Rights, which is the judicial arm of the Council of Europe. Sanctions were imposed on 31 January in protest at the Freedom Party's inclusion in the government.

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