Haider's Gone, but He's Not Forgotten

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Though Joerg Haider's resignation from the top post in the right-wing Freedom party may help lift some of the psychic baggage other member E.U. nations have toward Vienna, it doesn't spell any real change in Austria's political landscape. After all, Haider was not a minister in the coalition government of which the Freedom party is the junior member, and he remains governor of the Carinthia province. Nor has his political viability waned; immediately after she ascended to the role of party head, Freedom party cabinet member Susanne Riess-Passer said she wished Haider hadn't stepped down. And in announcing the move, Haider continued his isolationist rhetoric, saying "I don't accept international pressure. We are accustomed to making our own decisions."

Haider said the resignation was simply fueled by a desire to take away the impression that the party's cabinet members were his puppets. But others in the E.U. have expressed fears that the move will allow Haider to exercise more control over the party's national officials from behind the scenes. Observers have also speculated that Haider will distance himself from unpopular government plans, such as tax increases, and thus position himself for a run at the chancellorship in the next general election.

Haider resigned Monday following weekend E.U. meetings in Brussels in which representatives of the other 14 E.U. member nations shunned Austrian heads of state. Tuesday morning Justice Minister Michael Krueger, a fellow Freedom party member who's taken heat for praising Nazi policies, followed suit and also resigned. But E.U. leaders realize that the Freedom party remains an unsettling force in Austria, enjoying 33 percent support nationwide — a popularity fueled by Austrian resentment over the E.U.'s shunning of Vienna. So while Haider may fade into the background in the short run — he said he will concentrate full-time on being governor of Carinthia — E.U. leaders will do well to note that his right-wing isolationist policies are still in high demand.