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Catholic lay groups to EU ambassadors.

The following is an open letter to European Union ambassadors in Vienna, Austria, signed by the heads of Catholic Action, the Central Council of Catholic Lay Organizations, Caritas and We Are Church.

The governing coalition between the Austrian Peoples Party and the Freedom Party of Austria has led to an international storm of anger, which is very harmful to Austria's reputation....

Catholic Action of Austria, one of the largest organizations of the Catholic church, has for some time campaigned for a climate of tolerance in Austria. We have engaged ourselves energetically against anti-foreigner sentiment and racism, as well as against any minimization of the Nazi era. We have taken positions against the corresponding statements and activities of the Freedom Party. We, too, are deeply concerned over the political situation in Austria.

At the same time we are dismayed by the sanctions against Austria announced by your governments. We understand the concerns of your countries, but we think your reaction will do little good and the threatened measures will not contribute to the relaxation and settlement of the situation. On the contrary, we fear an "anti-EU effect" if Austrians get the impression that "the foreigners are blocking" their internal political responsibility. Citizens who did not vote for the Freedom Party wish the world had more faith in the democratic stability of Austria. Sanctions will only have their support and be seen by them as legitimate if Austria in fact departs from the European community of values.

We appeal to you in full awareness that the cause of the current crisis lies in ourselves. We regard a cross-party effort to build a new political culture, in which no social group need feel angst or defamation, as absolutely essential. This is true not just of Austria, but across Europe wherever there are problems with extreme-right movements. These problems cannot be solved, however, by placing one state in the docks and isolating it. It requires a common European exertion.

Dear ambassadors ... we plead with you to make your influence felt so that a sophisticated image of Austria is not displaced by an overall rejection.... Geographically, Austria lies at the heart of Europe; we ask you to work so that politically it is not placed on the margin.
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Title Annotation:European Union takes strong stand against far right political climate in Austria
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Feb 18, 2000
Words:373
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