Majority of Austrians back EU support for Ukraine

Vienna (APA) – According to a recent survey by the Austrian Society for European Politics (ÖGfE), a majority of Austrians back a unified EU line in support of Ukraine. 29 percent of respondents stated that the sanctions against Russia should be tightened further. 20 percent consider the measures taken by the EU so far to be sufficient. About a quarter (26 percent) consider the measures too harsh, and another quarter are unsure.

According to the survey conducted from 26 to 28 September, 30 percent of Austrians consider it “very important” and 25 percent “rather important” that the EU member states take a unified line in their support for Ukraine. For 13 percent of respondents this is “rather not important” and for 14 percent “not at all important.” Just under a fifth did not comment on this (18 percent). “The number of those who want to maintain or expand sanctions against Russia is higher than those who want to reduce or reverse them,” ÖGfE Secretary General Paul Schmidt explained when analyzing the results.

“The worsening geopolitical situation, fear of energy shortages and inflation are causing increasing uncertainty in Austria. A majority of the population nevertheless considers it important that the EU continues to pursue a unified line in its support for Ukraine.”

ÖGfE Secretary General Paul Schmidt

Schmidt considers it important to “counter the growing concerns with transparent and fact-based communication.” Although the EU’s measures are only decisively questioned by a minority in Austria,” many are nevertheless uncertain about whether and when the measures will have an effect. However, sanctions take time and will ultimately hurt Russia more than the EU. Russia is already lacking important technologies and spare parts, and forecasts predict a massive decline in Russia’s gross domestic product this year,” said the ÖGfE Secretary General.

“Unity is Europe’s most important trump card in putting a stop to the Russia-Ukraine war,” Schmidt said. Especially now, he said, the EU must position itself as a community of solidarity and a counter-model to authoritarianism and repression. Attempts to drive a wedge into European unity only benefit Moscow’s ambitions.

The survey also asked Austrians about their attitudes to the “European Political Community”, a new format of EU and non-EU states in Europe that will meet for the first time in Prague on October 6 and wants to cooperate more closely in areas such as security and defence, energy, health and the economy. According to the survey, 42 percent of respondents approve of this idea, while 26 percent reject it. A third cannot yet form an opinion on this.

The survey was conducted by the Market Institute from 26 to 28 September on behalf of the ÖGfE. A total of 1,000 people aged between 16 and 80 were interviewed online throughout Austria. The maximum statistical variation is 3.16 percent. (October 6)

Bulgaria expects a decision on Schengen in December, EP gives strong support

Strasbourg (BTA) – Czechia, as president of the Council of the EU until the end of this year, will propose a vote in December for the admission of Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to the Schengen Area. This was announced to the European Parliament in Strasbourg by the representative of the presidency. MEPs from the largest political groups – European People’s Party (liberal conservatives), Socialists and democrats as well as Renew (liberals) and European Conservatives and Reformists (conservatives) strongly supported this proposal, the Greens (center-left) had conditions, while Identity and Democracy (right wing) and The Left (left wing) were opposed. Bulgaria and Romania have been waiting to join Schengen since 2011, when the European Commission (EC) reported their full readiness.

The European Parliament had already given its official go for Bulgaria and Romania to join the border control-free Schengen Area in June 2011. The final decision on whether a country can join Schengen must be taken unanimously by the EU governments in the Council.

The Schengen Area guarantees free movement to more than 400 million EU citizens, along with non-EU nationals living in the EU or visiting the EU as tourists, exchange students or for business purposes (anyone legally present in the EU). It is a border-free area. Every EU citizen is allowed to travel, work and live in an EU country without special formalities.

Next week, the representatives of EC and the EU countries will visit Bulgaria and Romania to make sure that border legislation is being applied. For now, in the Council of the EU, where a unanimous decision is necessary, the Netherlands is still opposed, MEPS announced and called on the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte not to leave the two countries hostage to domestic political interests again. (October 5)

European Political Community sees the light of day

Brussels (Belga) – From Iceland and the United Kingdom, to Turkey and Azerbaijan: On October 6 the leaders of more than 40 European countries gather in Prague for the first meeting of the European Political Community, a new political consultation forum set against the background of the war in Ukraine to promote stability and security in Europe.

“The ambition is to bring leaders together on an equal footing and to promote political dialog and cooperation in areas of common interest, so that we work together to strengthen the security, stability and prosperity of all of Europe,” the European Commission said. Council President Charles Michel set out the plan in his letter of invitation.

It was the French President Emmanuel Macron who launched the idea in May. Against the background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the French president championed a forum in which not only the 27 member states of the European Union, but also other European countries, could reflect together on major strategic issues, such as security, migration, energy and the climate.

Some have read Macron’s proposal as an attempt to tie Ukraine and other countries aspiring to membership more strongly to the European Union. Indeed, the accession process is a complex and bureaucratic affair that can drag on for many years and even decades and can be very discouraging. These countries are signing up in Prague, even after they have been told that the new forum is certainly not a trap to sidetracking their path to membership. Ukraine is represented by Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, while Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky will take part via video conference.

But countries that do not have ambitions to become members, such as Norway, Iceland and Switzerland, also received an invitation. Similarly, the United Kingdom, which more than two years after Brexit seems to want to build a bridge to the continent again, will also be taking part. What’s more, the Brits have already offered to organize the second edition of the meeting next year. A total of 44 countries received an invitation. The leaders of the 27 EU member states will remain in Prague on October 7. They will hold an informal summit, with the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis the dominant themes. (October 5)

Slovenian Foreign Minister Fajon: Slovenia hesitant about Ukraine joining NATO

Vitanje/Ljubljana (STA) – Slovenia is hesitant about Ukraine joining NATO due to the major security risks involved, Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon told reporters on October 4. “If NATO were to take a decision to admit Ukraine as member, it could be a clear declaration of the start of war,” she said on the sidelines of an event in Vitanje, in northeastern Slovenia.

Asked about Slovenia’s potential support for Ukraine’s request to join NATO, Fajon said Slovenia had been helping Ukraine to the best of its abilities in the form of humanitarian, development as well as military aid, which it would continue to do as long as Ukraine needed assistance. The minister said the war in Ukraine was escalating amid concerns that Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons, adding that Slovenia had condemned Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories in the strongest terms.

“This escalation of the situation, and consequently Ukraine’s application or Ukraine’s talks on NATO membership, are cause for grave concern.”

Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon

If NATO was to consider admitting Ukraine it would be a major security risk, therefore Fajon believes serious discussion was needed in the country about “where such a situation is heading.” Slovenia advocates a policy of peace, dialog, and any such decision-making leads to escalation, which no one wants, she said. Asked whether talks were under way in Slovenia on the issue of Ukraine’s membership of NATO, Fajon said Slovenia did not join the statement initiated by Poland last week that indirectly expressed support for Ukraine’s membership of NATO. The issue is being discussed today by state secretaries affiliated with the Foreign Ministry and the PM’s office, and Fajon discussed the matter with the chair of the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee in the morning. She announced they would “sit down together this week to talk through several open issues in relation to Russia and the escalation of the war in Ukraine.” (October 4 and 5)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Wednesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.