Has Neutrality become a dirty word within the EU?

12-12-2003

Defence policy was also a contentious part of the constitution debate. The mutual defence clause - which obliges EU countries to assist any other member that comes under attack - had originally been objected to by the EU's four neutral countries - Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Austria. Austria has since said it's more willing to accept a revised proposal. But why was the issue so important for Austria?

A mutual defence pact has been of special concern among neutral countries like Austria, who said it would clash with their long-cherished tradition of staying outside of military alliances.

As such the Italian EU presidency has now proposed a text, which contain a separate guarantee - taking into account the special status of neutral nations.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel has welcomed the alteration:

"We don't need to give up our neutrality. We are still in the position that if there's a war - such as with the Iraq war - to remain neutral. But we still have the guarantee that if a EU country is attacked that the other countries come to their aid - politically, economically or militarily. Every country decides for itself."

But though, Chancellor Schüssel has welcomed this recognition of Austria's neutral Status on paper, political scientist Paul Luif, doesn't think it will work to Austria's advantage in practise

They have no credible position because sometimes they say they can participate in military action, sometimes they say no, because they are neutral etc. So it is actually quite negative regarding Austria's foreign relations. Even from a legal point of view, we have now an article in the constitution, 23F, which allows Austria to participate in various actions of the EU except defending the EU.

So why then is Austria prepared to risk so much for the sake of neutrality? Paul Luif says the reason was founded on historical grounds, but has now become politically motivated.

"The Austrians saw neutrality as part of their identity, as part of the success story of Austria after 1955. So because neutrality is so popular, if you say you're against neutrality, this is not good for your chances to get elected. The politicians don't dare to change the situation."

The Austrian government's defence of neutrality might win the voters at home, but experts such as Paul Luif, predict it will not win them many allies with in the EU

12-12-2003