Otto von Habsburg on Europe's crisis and vision

Posted in Other | 15-May-05 | Author: Benedikt Franke and Benedikt W

His Imperial Highness Dr. Otto von Habsburg, a distinguished European statesman and witness of Europe's
development in the 20th century,…
His Imperial Highness Dr. Otto von Habsburg, a distinguished European statesman and witness of Europe's development in the 20th century, in an exclusive interview with World Security Network: "Europe is not primarily an economic entity but a security community"
During his recent visit to Washington DC, WSN US Editors Benedikt Franke and Benedikt Wahler had the privilege to interview His Imperial Highness Dr. Otto von Habsburg, a distinguished European statesman and witness of Europe's troubled 20th century.

Otto von Habsburg, born November 20, 1912, is the current head of the Habsburg family, Archduke of Austria, and the eldest son of Karl, the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and Empress/Queen Zita. Forced into exile in 1918 to Switzerland and Madeira, Dr. von Habsburg graduated from the University of Leuven, Belgium, having studied social and political science, with his doctoral dissertation in 1935. Already in these dark times of Europe, he was an early promoter of European unity, joining the Paneuropa-Union in 1936 and had to spent most of the war years in Washington, D.C. (1940-1944), after escaping from Austria to Portugal with a visa issued by the Portuguese consul in Bordeaux Aristides Sousa Mendes. A fervent patriot, he had opposed the Nazi "Anschluss" of Austria of 1938 and also fought Hitler's regime from America. After the war, he lived in exile in France and Spain before settling in Bavaria in 1954.
An avid author in several languages writing on issues of history and contemporary politics, the efforts for a peacefully united Europe in diversity were the continuous thread in Dr. von Habsburg's public efforts. From 1957 to 1973 he served as vice-president and from 1973 to 2004 as president of the Paneuropa-Union, succeeding its founder, his friend Richard Nikolaus Graf von Coudenhove-Kalergi. From 1979 on, Otto von Habsburg entered the European parliamentary sphere, shaping the future of Europe as a member of the European Parliament in Strasbourg for twenty years, serving twice as its Senior President. For the Europan People's Party he was chairman of the Parliament's Committee Foreign Affairs, Security and Defense Policy from 1981 to 1999.

He wrote history when undertaking the first Pan-European picnic on August 19, 1989 at Sopron on the Austro-Hungarian border, an occasion for which the Iron Curtain was opened for the first time. This hole in the border fence permitted hundreds of East Germans to slip through, and was the crack that finally brought down the Berlin Wall.

Despite his retirement from parliament in 1999, Dr. von Habsburg continues to be an incessant traveler and promoter of the idea and reality of a united Europe and its role in the world.

In this interview with WSN, Dr. Otto von Habsburg reaffirms his long-standing belief that the European project must remain open to all nations that consider themselves European while in the present condition, Turkey may do neither its own role as regional power nor that of the EU a favor by attempting to join. Meanwhile strong cooperation between both is and remains essential.
Not only has the dynamism and European enthusiasm of the new members done the EU a favor, Dr. von Habsburg also sees countries further to the South and East ready to rejoin the European family of nations. Peaceful revolutions, internal transformation and rapprochement to the EU, such as in Georgia and Ukraine most recently, has benefited the entire continent by reducing tensions. Russia, however, continues to be a source of instability as Otto von Habsburg maintains, given Putin's evident search for national greatness in a Stalinist vein. While Europe should harbor no illusions it must yet be prepared to step forward to assist Russia whenever the opportunity presents itself.

For the European parliament, its former president wishes it would serve as the motor of European integration and that the constitutional draft made clearer reference to God as a higher authority and focuses on preserving the principle of 'subsidiarity' – building Europe from below.

Benedikt Franke, WSN Editor USA, Washington D.C.
Benedikt Franke, WSN Editor USA, Washington D.C.
WSN: Imperial Highness, how would you envision the “finis Europae”, the final borders for the European Union? What challenges lie ahead for the EU in dealing with those countries willing to join but left outside?

Otto von Habsburg: I believe very strongly in the principle that Pan-Europe means all of Europe. Europe is not primarily an economic entity but a security community. This is logical since security is the fundamental condition for economic progress. Under these conditions, we should not establish right now borders for Europe. I take one practical example: Russia is today not part of Europe because, as even Boris Yeltsin had admitted, he did not know whether he was a European or an Asian. So one could say that if one day Russia abandons its Asian areas we call today Siberia, Russia can demand membership in the European Union, but certainly not before. This means also that the West has an obligation to be a homeland for the European countries that want to be European.

WSN: Related to our first question, Imperial Highness, what are your thoughts on Turkey's desire to join the European Union, and what would such membership entail for the process of deepening and widening the Union?

Otto von Habsburg: Concerning Turkey I feel that Turkey should not become a member of the European Union in the latter’s present condition. One should try to establish close relations but we should not forget that Turkey faces a major task with respect to the current global order. It has for some time been regarded as the leader in the Mashrek (note: the Muslim Near East as contrast to the Maghreb in the “West”; The Editors). Given the latter's current problems such as the situation in Palestine or in Iraq, not to speak of Afghanistan and the Islamic countries of the Caucasus, Turkey needs to demonstrate leadership skills. That it is capable to do so is best shown by the fact that Turkey has been outstanding in its development aid for the countries which have been liberated from the Russian occupation.
If we did not take this approach the enlargement of the Union would not be feasible. The Union should be limited to its area between the borders of Russia and the borders of the Mashrek and Turkey. In the meantime, one should become more flexible.

WSN: Last year saw the European Union take a considerable step forward to the reunification of the continent with ten Central and Eastern European states joining the Union. You have an intimate knowledge of the region, Imperial Highness; what can this part of Europe contribute to the Union?

Otto von Habsburg:Already today the new members of the European Union have proven that they are in some instances better Europeans than certain older members. The will to join Europe, which characterized the liberation fight of the Ukraine, is a good example. I would like to add countries like for instance Hungary and Slovakia, amongst the members who have already assumed a very constructive part in the common course of the Union both in the economy and in political affairs. Since I had the privilege of visiting most of these countries, as the rapporteur of the European Parliament on enlargement for twenty years, I do feel that they and some of those who, like Croatia, want to join but have been kept out of the union by questionable manoeuvres on the part of certain countries, which are interested in maintaining old structures for purely economic reasons, are ready to do so whenever the opportunity arises.

Benedikt Wahler, WSN Editor USA, Washington D.C.
Benedikt Wahler, WSN Editor USA, Washington D.C.
WSN: Imperial Highness, it must have filled you with pride to see Eastern Galicia lead the Ukrainian reform movement. What implications do you see arising from the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia for Europe's neighborhood policy and relations with Russia?

Otto von Habsburg: The great service that the Ukraine and Georgia have rendered to the cause of Europe, and to a certain extent the cause of Russia, is that their joining the European Union and regaining within it their own national independence has resolved many tensions which have existed in the past. These countries have been occupied against their will by the Red Army, were taken by Russia without being consulted and obviously have shown that they want to be independent. This is also the case for certain other areas like for instance Chechnya. Problems which are not resolved and people being maintained against their will become sooner or later a poison in the body where they are. If, as in the case of the Ukraine and of Georgia, these changes have taken place up to now in a peaceful manner, this is an encouraging sign.

WSN: As your thoughtful and stirring presentation in Washington, DC made clear, Imperial Highness, you consider Russia to pose a major security challenge for the West. Could you please elaborate on your concerns and suggest ways in which the EU and its allies may be able to deflect this challenge and help Russia to overcome its problems.

Otto von Habsburg: When one analyses the declarations of President Putin, one will find that he has returned time and again to the basic statements of his policy, which he made immediately following his accession to the presidency after the overthrow of Boris Yeltsin. In his speech which was held in Minsk he stated very clearly that not only would he increase the country’s military expenditures but would also re-establish Russia to its past greatness which obviously meant the extension of the country to the size which it had in the times of Joseph Stalin.
Unfortunately, the West has not had a genuine idea of what to do with Russia in the times of the government of Gaijdar and even all the time to Yeltsin. This has been a very unfortunate fact because under Gaijdar, and possibly under Yeltsin a peaceful arrangement was conceivable. I unfortunately doubt very much that this sort of chance could be fulfilled in the near future. So the West has to prepare for its defences and especially to show greater solidarity.

On the other hand, there is an encouraging fact in the whole situation since we should remember that nobody, except the best informed few like Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II., had realized the possibilities, but unfortunately the West did not listen to them. We must get ready to help Russia whenever there is the opportunity, if Russia finds a leader who is ready in the interest of his people to find a realistic solution to the problem of those areas which Russia has conquered against their will.

WSN: As a long-serving and distinguished member of the European Parliament, what role would you like to see this institution play in the future setup of the political Europe?

Otto von Habsburg: The European Parliament must be the motor in the development of Europe but unfortunately the Council that is to say the representatives of many national governments seems very often rather like the brake. For this, nevertheless, there will be some conditions such as a genuine and healthy reform of the structure. The Parliament has now much too many members. Its electoral law does no longer correspond with the necessities of a direct representation of the people, as you have in the uninominal elections of the United States. It would probably need a second chamber because a motorcar, to take the example of the car once more, needs not only a motor but also a brake, which does not try to block all advances.

Otto von Habsburg's audience with John Paul II.
Otto von Habsburg's audience with John Paul II.
WSN: Lastly, you have repeatedly expressed dismay over the compromise version in which the European constitutional treaty has been accepted by the heads of state. What are the articles that most need revision – how would you change the constitution for Europe?

Otto von Habsburg: I certainly feel that the first thing must be the recognition of a higher authority, that is to say the moral authority of God, as it has been up to now in many historical treaties, though they have been abandoned since the negotiations in the course of the Second World War at Dumbarton Oaks. There Stalin imposed the abandonment of any mention of God. Second, I would say that the most important thing is to make a brief and easily understood constitution which is not the case today.

The best examples are constitutions which have had a long existence like the British constitution and which we in Europe have started with two basic principles: the Rome Treaty in which is engraved social market policy for the economy and the Treaty of Maastricht with the principle of subsidiarity. Both of these principles are the foundation of economic freedom on the one hand, but also a structure of Europe which is not like some of our bureaucrats want it by building a house from the roof downwards, but by construction from down upwards. This would be the best way to preserve individual freedom even in greater units.

WSN: Imperial Highness, we thank you very much for this interview.