New Austrian green programme emerges

Controversial coalition government pledges little new, abolishes independent environment ministry

Austria's controversial new government looks set to make few changes to existing environmental policy. It has, however, already angered the Austrian green movement by announcing that the environment ministry is to become part of the agriculture ministry. It is believed to be the first time that a European country has taken such a step since environment ministries became a widespread feature of government from the 1970s onwards.

Made up of Conservatives and the far-right Freedom party, the new coalition government devotes just three out of 125 pages of its new programme to environmental issues. The new minister responsible for environment issues is a Conservative, Wilhelm Molterer. Mr Molterer takes over from another Conservative, Martin Bartenstein, who has become economics minister in the new government.

On his party's web site, Mr Molterer's title is given simply as agriculture minister, clearly demonstrating the fall in prominence suffered by environmental issues, which will occupy some 300 staff in the new ministry compared with 5,000 working on agricultural issues. This contrasts with similar mergers in other EU countries - for example the 1994 creation of Denmark's ministry for energy and environment and the 1997 creation of the UK's ministry for transport, environment and the regions - in which environment maintained a high status.

The coalition's programme includes little in the way of new environmental policy directions. It commits Austria to EU enlargement while maintaining strong concerns over closure plans for the most dangerous types of nuclear reactors in applicant countries. It also commits Austria to fulfilling its commitment under the Kyoto climate change protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13%. Two new national parks are is promised, but without further details.

Follow Up:
Austrian Conservative party, tel: +43 1 401 260; Austrian Freedom party, tel: +43 1 512 35350. See also the new government programme, and information on Wilhelm Molterer (both in German only).

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