Friday, June 23, 2006

Things Brighten up in Vienna

With President Bush leaving Vienna after the summit with the European Union, the six months of the Austrian presidency is essentially over.

On July 1st the European baton is handed over to Finland and Helsinki.

The Austrian presidency has not been spectacular, but it has been solid. And that's roughly what these rotating presidencies are supposed to be.

They are not there to fundamentally change, but merely to chair, the politics of Europe. And in the process move to processes of reform and integration forward.

Measured like this, the Austrians did well.

There was a tendency towards caution in some of what they did. The reason for this was the approaching parliamentary elections, likely to be held in November. One wanted success out of the different summits - and too daring policies might have invited the risk of public failures.

If the opinion polls are to be believed, the tactica seems to have worked.

During the past nearly four years, the opposition SPOE has been consistently ahead of the Chancellors OEVP. But during the last few weeks opinion polls have registred a steady decline for the former and a steady rise for the later, with OEVP now stronger than its main rival.

The perceived success of the Austrian presidency might be one of the reasons for this, but part of the picture is also the close association of SPOE with the scandal-ridden central Austrian trade unions. In near bankcrupcy after different dubious deals, they have tarnished the reputation of their Social Democratic political party as well.

But November is a long time off, and a week can be a very long time in politics.

But the relative success of Vienna in chairing the politics of Europe, and the ascending support of its centre-right leadership as it starts to head towards elections, is still worth noting.