Weblog from Karl von Habsburg

Courage for responsibility

Speech on the future of Europe, Karl von Habsburg, 11 January 2024

In mid-December last year, a friend from Ukraine paid a visit to Vienna. Ihor Zhaloba, a historian from Chernivtsi, a university professor, a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, co-chairman of the Austrian-Ukrainian Historical Commission, President of the Pan-European Union of Ukraine, and: soldier. Three days after his 58th birthday, on February 24, 2022, the day of the Russian invasion, he volunteered for the army. With his many contacts in several European Union countries, he could easily have gone to the West. But for him that was out of the question.

He repeatedly explained to his students that, as responsible citizens, they themselves are responsible for the further development of Ukraine. How could he then have gone abroad in such a situation? Should he have waved at his students from afar and said: great that you are defending your country, whereas I am safe? Such an attitude does not befit him.

To get to Vienna, by the way, he used up his furlough. He was able to leave Ukraine with a special permit. After almost two years as an ordinary soldier at the front, nobody would assume that he would leave for good.

Why am I mentioning this story? The title of this year’s „Speech on the Future of Europe“ is „Assuming Responsibility with Courage“. This also is the motto I have chosen for this year’s work with my colleagues and the organizations in which I have assumed tasks. This motto is indeed a challenge. Because as long as life is taking its normal course, as long as we live in peace and prosperity, it is so easy to say: I take my responsibility, do my work, get involved here and there. But how much courage does it take in an exceptional situation such as an attack on one’s own country, freedom, independence, the value system one thinks one stands for, on one’s family, etc., to really take full responsibility?

Ihor Zhaloba made something else very clear in the talks, lectures and interviews in Vienna:

Ukraine is not just about Russia’s war against Ukraine, it is about Europe’s defense against a despotic system. An axis of Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang and Tehran is challenging our system of values. A value system that is based on rules, on international law, and not on violence and destruction.

What would happen if Russia won the war against Ukraine? Not only would a European country be completely destroyed, not only would millions more refugees arrive in the countries of the European Union, but Russian troops would also be on the borders with Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Poland. Europe would be open to any further aggression from the despotic regime in Moscow.

Now many will say, well, Putin, after all, will never attack Nato. I also hope that this is the case.

But let’s be honest with ourselves: the European Union – this economic giant-, the wealthy West, has not yet managed to sufficiently step up its production capacities for various types of ammunition to achieve clear firing superiority through its supplies to Ukraine. And I’m not even talking about delivering modern weapons systems allowing Ukraine to gain technological superiority on the battlefield.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Some of you will certainly remember Enrico Berlinguer. He was Secretary General of the Italian Communist Party during the Cold War between the East and the West. One of the so-called Euro-communists. My father occasionally quoted him with a statement in which he, Berlinguer, said: “You have to take seriously what the Russians are telling us.”

I advocate listening carefully to what Vladimir Putin himself and his propagandists keep telling us. Not to fall into a paralysis of fear and bury our heads in the sand, in the mistaken belief that if we leave Ukraine to Putin, everything will return to the way it was before February 24, 2022, but to be allow us to make a clear assessment of the situation and regain the courage to take the responsibility that Europe, the Western world, now need.

Putin does not want peace. He has fully transformed Russia’s economy into a war economy. This means that he is expecting a long war. He has no regard for his population whom he is exhausting in brutal infantry attacks. He clearly tells us that he wants a new world order. He had clearly been denying Ukraine’s right to existence before the annihilating attack on it. He and his propagandists are clearly and unambiguously telling us that they see at least the eastern half of Europe – what was once the Eastern Bloc – as their domain.

If we take into account the statements from Moscow, it also becomes clear why those voices who believe that every weapons delivery to Ukraine only serves to prolong the suffering and causes even more deaths are wrong. The opposite is the case. The sooner we empower Ukraine with our support to drive the Russian army of destruction out of the country, the sooner the war will be over.

And when we talk about an attack, we must not just see it as a military attack only. For years, we have been witnessing a massive influencing campaign run by Moscow on European countries. This includes the attempted coup in Montenegro in 2016 as well as the activities of the so-called humanitarian center in Nis, Serbia. In reality, this is nothing else but a large Russian espionage facility. Let us think of the various disinformation campaigns making their way through European society. Let us think about the Russian narratives still anchored in many people’s minds in this country. Stories such as those about civil movements in eastern Ukraine and Crimea in favor of joining Russia are just as much lies as the claim about the ban on the use of the Russian language in Ukraine. Nevertheless, these stories keep coming back.

Another such persistent narrative is the story that shortly before German re-unification the West had promised Moscow that NATO would not expand. Even though correspondents on state broadcasters and journalists in high-circulation newspapers keep repeating these narratives: they are and remain false, they are and remain Russian disinformation.

Such a promise would have been nothing else but a new Hitler-Stalin pact dividing Europe into two spheres of influence.

After all, the countries that gained their freedom and independence as a result of the dissolution of the Iron Curtain, the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union did have the choice: either continuing in a pact with Moscow, or joining the EU and NATO to ensure security, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, and a market economy.

It was precisely this non-alliance status that was enshrined in various treaties, in some cases even with the Soviet Union. Anyone claiming otherwise is either ignorant or a liar. In either case, we must combat these narratives because they are part of the destabilization of our free and democratic order based on the rule of law.

We must also take a clear stance against all those parties who delude us into believing that a peace treaty can be signed with the Putin government. Many politicians probably believed this after Moscow’s war against Georgia in 2008 and after the start of the war against Ukraine in 2014. The fact is, however, that Putin has broken every treaty and has only used every breech to prepare for the next aggression.

You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of Ukrainian President Zelensky. And I have also criticized him. I don’t consider all of his decisions wise. But

leaving the hall during a speech by Zelensky in the Austrian Parliament, where he connected online, in order to then demonstrate for neutrality in front of the Parliament with Russian flags, shows a serious tendency towards high treason.

Anyone allowing such parties and politicians to dictate the content of the political debate has lost all claim to leadership.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me give you a concrete example to illustrate this last sentence. Ukraine has asked Austria, among other countries, for demining equipment in the liberated areas. One party, which has an agreement with Putin’s party, used this request to distort the facts to the effect that Ukraine was asking Austria to send soldiers to demine the front line. Instead of confronting this brazen lie with utmost severity, the Austrian federal government stated that sending soldiers was out of the question for reasons of neutrality.

This is no way to take political responsibility. There was never any talk from the Ukrainian side of sending soldiers to Ukraine. And the deployment of demining equipment for liberated areas does not contradict neutrality.

And since neutrality has now been mentioned, I would like to also touch upon it briefly. It is widely known that I am not a fan of neutrality.

It is also well known that Austrian neutrality is a concept from the period after the Second World War. Since then the geopolitical situation has changed drastically, and I therefore consider the concept of Austrian neutrality obsolete. It should also be known that neutrality offers no protection against military aggression. The examples from Belgium to Cambodia to Ukraine plentiful.

But to put it in a nutshell: Austrian neutrality consists of only two things: firstly, Austria does not join any military alliance; secondly, no foreign troops are stationed on Austrian soil.

It would be an enormous gain in quality for the political debate in this country if people decided to accept these facts and not use the concept of neutrality for conveying ersatz religious content.

It is precisely this increase in quality in the political debate that we will need. The European Parliament will be elected in June, and Austria and other countries will also elect their national parliaments in the course of this year. Many people still have the impression that the European Parliament is not that important. In European elections political parties tend to focus on national or even local issues. Voters use the European elections to get one over on their national government or to confirm it. This is short-sighted. The European Parliament is a co-legislator at EU level.

If someone now comes up with the objection that the European Parliament is not a real parliament because it lacks the right of initiative, then that is formally correct. However, it does not change the fact that it is a co-legislator. Apart from the fact that most national parliaments mainly vote on government bills, which is not exactly an argument for the necessity of the right of initiative.

The composition of the European Parliament will determine whether the European Union will develop into the geopolitical player we need due to the global situation if as Europeans we still want to have a say on the world’s political stage.

Time and again, voices emerge, mostly from populist movements, who want to return the European Union to a pure customs union, who want to abolish direct elections of the European Parliament in order to send delegates from national parliaments to Strasbourg instead, who dream of reducing all supranational elements of the EU to pure intergovernmental, i.e. purely interstate cooperation, or who want to return to the nation state altogether.

Ladies and gentlemen, we no longer live in the 1950s. The world has moved on since then. This return to the nation state can perhaps be compared with Germany’s petty statehood more than 200 years ago. Then came Napoleon. You all know the consequences, including Prussian militarism, which did nothing good for Europe. Today, the threat no longer is Prussian militarism. Many would even be pleased if Germany were to give up its dithering in European security policy. The threat today lies in the aforementioned axis of Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang and Tehran. And then there are many powers that have not yet decided which side they want to take.

Certainly, the European Union is far from perfect. The EU needs internal reforms. No doubt about that. The EU was created from the experiences from two world wars. The aim was to prevent wars within this community. That has also been achieved. The EU has also succeeded in expanding the realm of democracy and the rule of law by admitting new member states. Let us just think of the accession of Spain, Portugal or Greece, which prior to accession had had military governments. Let us think of the admission of many Central European countries that had previously been ruled by communism.

To a considerable extent European unification was inward-looking. In the shadow of the East-West conflict, this was justified. In the phase of Europe’s reorganization after the end of the Iron Curtain, it was still understandable and also had positive political and economic effects as a consequence of Enlargement policy.

In the current global political situation, however, keeping up this inward orientation would be tantamount to a head-in-the-sand policy. This is why the geopolitical orientation of the European Union is the order of the day. Incidentally, this geopolitical orientation was already part of the Pan-European concept for European unification 100 years ago. So it is time we started to implement it.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

You will no doubt remember the reports in December last year about missile attacks by Houthi rebels from Yemen on ships in the Red Sea whose route was to pass through the Suez Canal. You may have read in the business news that companies in Europe have extended the Christmas vacations for their employees.

This was not due to entrepreneurial initiatives striving to boost the leisure industry, but it rather was the result of these missile attacks in the Red Sea. It has simply become too unsafe for shipping companies to take the short route through the Suez Canal. And the route via the Cape of Good Hope takes weeks longer.

During the Russo-Japanese War some 120 years ago, no worker in any European country would have been interested in this conflict. The news had got cold by the time it reached us. Today, a few missiles fired by some terrorist group on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula affect European workers directly.

Looking at the world map and the events taking place around the globe now is part of the basic tools of the political trade! Anyone dreaming of a return to the nation state should be sent off to a museum of oddities, but most certainly has no place in the European Parliament or any other political function.

In this day and age we can no longer view conflicts and wars in isolation. The attacks in the Red Sea are directly linked to the Middle East conflict, which developed into a brutal war at the beginning of October last year. Some of the drone attacks on Israeli cities are being carried out with the same drones used to attack Ukrainian cities. Hamas’s terror troops have received some of their training from the same mercenary group that so bloodily conquered Bachmut and which carries out its terror in African countries on the direct orders of the Kremlin.

When I am mentioning this war in the Middle East, it is not because I can present you with a solution now, but because it is just one example for why it is necessary for the European Union to decide on its geopolitical orientation. A closer look at this Middle East conflict, this war, would also go beyond the scope of this speech, which focuses on Europe. But not on an isolated view of Europe.

A year ago, in this Speech on the Future of Europe, which was entitled „Security through Unity“ at the time, I focused on China. In our dealings with China, we also need this „courage to take responsibility“, which is the motto of that speech. Many politicians in Europe still do not seem to realize that, firstly, China is ruled by a totalitarian communist regime which, secondly, is striving to become the world’s number one power and, thirdly, clearly states that it wants to incorporate Taiwan even by military means, if necessary. The example of Hong Kong shows us very clearly that communists are very flexible when it comes to agreements, but then are adamant in imposing their own system.

The totalitarian communist regime in Beijing is pursuing a strategy that challenges our familiar system of civil and political freedoms, the system of human rights.

When China speaks of human rights, it means its own version of human rights which is clearly at odds with the international order.

China is trying to create a new international order with its own ideology. The extent of China’s influence here has already been shown when individual EU countries blocked a clear EU stance towards China.

Now, I will probably provoke strong objections from many representatives of political correctness. But in my opinion, the Italian head of government Giorgia Meloni has shown the courage to take responsibility. She withdrew Italy from the Chinese „New Silk Road“ project because this project not only means economic cooperation for China, but also pursues clear political goals of exerting influence. The EU has defined China as a systematic rival, but no real consequences have yet been drawn from this.

There are still too many European politicians and ex-politicians sitting in Chinese lobby organizations, just as it was (and probably still is) common for many ex-politicians to be on Russian payrolls.

Europe, the European Union, must re-focus on its own strengths. One of these strengths is the rule of law. Despotism, totalitarianism and the complete ideologization of politics stand in stark contrast to the principle of the rule of law. The rule of law means that everyone is bound by the law, regardless of whether they are king or beggar, man or woman, rich or poor, and whatever other comparisons there may be.

The rule of law has made private property possible. Private property has in turn created the prosperity that for a long time made Europe one of the leading powers. The rule of law means assuming responsibility for one’s actions. Responsibility in turn makes freedom possible, because only those who are prepared to bear responsibility can be free. At the same time, responsibility is the only guarantee of freedom, because those who are not prepared to take responsibility must bow to the orders of others and therefore have no freedom.

We must keep emphasize this again and again, because neither freedom nor the rule of law can be taken for granted. The temptations of convenience are just as dangerous here as those of exercising power.

It is precisely this principle of the rule of law that is often distorted at European level today. Not only through the influence of despotic and totalitarian systems, but very much through a conflict between statist and paternalistic ideologies on the one hand and the idea of freedom on the other. One could also speak of a conflict between the primacy of politics on the one hand and the primacy of law on the other.

The essence of the liberal constitutional state, after all, is not the enforcement of specific concepts of happiness and welfare for all imposed by the government. The task of the liberal constitutional state is to guarantee justice and freedom!

This idea of the liberal constitutional state is the best and most effective protection against the massive polarization that characterizes our society in Europe today.

An ideology that follows the primacy of politics claims that it has the right to regulate everything, indeed that it is able to regulate everything. The more politicians keep doing this, however, the deeper the conflict with law becomes. This conflict is becoming ever more acute because it is less and less the rule of law that governs, but rather the balance of power. In the long term, this conflict is detrimental to Europe.

This rule of law, which protects justice and freedom and does not impose a particular ideology on everyone, is still the outstanding feature of Europe’s attractiveness, the EU. When countries aspire to join the European Union today, they do not do so because they want to submit to a paternalistic state, but because they are striving for justice and freedom and the prosperity that created by it.

Ukrainians know despotism and totalitarianism from the time of Moscow’s rule, the Albanians know it from the time of communism, as do the peoples of the former Yugoslavia.

It is precisely for this reason that the European Union’s Enlargement policy is one of its strengths, which must be used strategically.

One of these Enlargement processes has been going on for 20 years now, but without making any real progress. I am talking specifically about the countries of south-eastern Europe, or in EU jargon: the Western Balkans. In 2003, these countries were promised admission to the EU. 20 years later, negotiations have not even been opened with all countries.

The main reason for this, of course, is politics in these countries. Montenegro for one has seen times when it was more determined in its accession negotiations than it is now. The lacking rule of law in Albania is hard to overlook.

However, it is also largely due to the lack of objectives in EU policy. If 27 individual countries pursue individual goals, and if these goals are nothing more than a blockade, there can be no progress. The money that flows into the region partly cements the political structures and keeps the same groups in power without any motivation for implementing reforms as the current situation provides them with access to money anyway. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a good case in point. Milorad Dodik, the strongman of the Republika Srpska, can continue his policy of destruction without any problems.

The building sites in the capital of Banja Luka testify to the growing Russian influence every day. The Dayton Agreement ended the war, but did not create a stable order. Creating this is one of the tasks of European foreign policy. Moscow should not be heeded. Moscow’s influence only serves to destabilize Europe.

Serbia’s strongman, Alexander Vucic, has been pampered for years. He comes from the nest of war criminal Slobodan Milosevic. His policy is only better because he is no longer waging war on the entire Balkans. However, his fires against the Republic of Kosovo are recognizable to the blind. His government has nothing to do with democracy and the rule of law. The massive manipulation of the elections last December is just one example.

Vucic is closer to Moscow than to the European Union. The aforementioned espionage center in Nis is just one example; the country’s pro-Russian media landscape is another.

The Republic of Kosovo, on the other hand, is clearly positioned towards the West. Now, finally, after countless delays, blockades and broken promises by EU countries, Kosovars no longer need visas to travel. This example shows how to stall friends and coddle foes.

Let us remember the attacks by Serbian terrorists on the Nato protection force in Kosovo at the end of May last year. Numerous Nato soldiers were injured, some of them permanently. What happened? Sanctions were imposed on Kosovo. Something is wrong.

I am by no means trying to portray the Kosovo government as flawless. Prime Minister Albin Kurti is known as a nationalist and provocateur. But that in no way justifies the kid gloves with which Vucic and his system are being treated. Serbia will have to decide whether it wants to join the EU or whether it wants to be a Russian or Chinese outpost in the Balkans. The EU must react accordingly.

There have also been decisions in the recent past that show that the European Union is quite capable of taking the right geopolitical decisions. Specifically, I am thinking of the candidate status for Ukraine, the decision to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, and the candidate status for Georgia. However, the fact that the decision could only be brought about by a trick, because one country objected, shows how difficult it is to implement this geopolitical dimension of the European Union.

For a long time, these countries were part of the so-called Neighborhood Policy, which ruled out accession. The desire of these countries to join the EU shows us how attractive the EU still is today. We must nurture this geopolitical plant so that it can grow.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

When we talk about Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, we are talking about a region in which the future relationship between Europe and Russia will be decided. All three of these countries have experienced Moscow’s rule. All three countries are striving to join the European Union on the basis of precisely this experience. They are looking for freedom, democracy, the rule of law, a free economy, they want to get away from Moscow-style despotism.

I would like to mention another country at this point, namely Armenia. The country was long regarded as a loyal ally of Moscow. Historically, this has to do with the country’s Christian tradition, among other things. In particular, the genocide of the Armenians by the Young Turks during the First World War made this bond last so long. For a long time, Armenians wanted to believe that Russia was a protective power for them, especially in the conflict with Azerbaijan. The fact that Armenia made a serious mistake here is slowly beginning to be understood in the country.

While Russian influence via the security apparatus still remains very strong, forces are beginning to form among the population and also in some political circles that are demanding a clear European orientation for the country. The government has taken some small steps, for example by committing to Ukrainian independence. The European Union has a strong mission in Armenia and will hopefully focus even more attention on this region in its foreign policy.

The term European foreign policy has already been used several times in this speech. This brings me back to a demand that I have repeatedly made in my speeches and that I will continue to make: Europe, the European Union, needs genuine European foreign policy.

European foreign policy does not just mean coordinating the foreign policy of 27 member states by the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, but an EU foreign ministry headed by a foreign minister.

To achieve this, we need a core European constitution enshrining precisely this foreign policy competence for the European Union. Incidentally, this would also meet all the requirements of subsidiarity. Just as every foreign minister is now subject to the parliamentary control of his or her country, an EU foreign minister would be subject to the parliamentary control of the European Parliament directly elected by the citizens of the EU.

This is precisely the question of sovereignty that many national egoists like to talk about. Because sovereignty, ladies and gentlemen, in this specific case means the ability to act and shape. The potential of a European foreign policy would bring clear added value compared to a purely nation-state policy.

Of course, this European foreign and security policy includes European protection of the external borders. It goes without saying that Romania and Bulgaria are just as much a part of the Schengen area as Croatia. This freedom to travel within the EU is probably one of the greatest achievements of European unification. This has nothing to do with the asylum issue or illegal migration. But it does include the protection of European external borders. This was also envisaged when the Schengen area was created. The European Parliament has taken a very clear position on this.

I am aware that this genuine European foreign and security policy cannot be achieved overnight. It is a long-term goal, but one that is worth working towards. The challenges facing Europe demand that we break away from small statehood and think in larger dimensions, especially when it comes to foreign and security policy.

I have already mentioned some of the challenges we are facing. When I talk about European foreign policy, I am also thinking about Africa policy, without wanting to go into that now. I am also thinking of a Latin America policy and am specifically referring to the trade agreement with the Mercosur states. It has long since been negotiated.

Experience shows that trade agreements serve the prosperity of all parties involved. The fact that an exporting country like Austria, among others, is blocking this Mercosur agreement in rare unity from left to right – with the exception of a small liberal party – shows that some courage is still needed in the exercise of political responsibility.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends!

At the beginning of this speech, I mentioned the example of Ihor Zhaloba, who teaches his students to take responsibility for their own future.

I would like to take up this idea again at the end.

Today we are at the beginning of a year in which there are several elections. The European Parliament is being re-elected, and in countries like Austria, but also in other countries, elections are also being held at national level.

In a democracy, we cannot hand over responsibility. Democracy requires each of us to take political responsibility ourselves.

In a small dispute I had some time ago, the saying came up: the wiser gives way. Many people probably remember this saying from their childhood when they were told precisely that by their parents. The full version is: „The wiser gives in, the fool falls into the stream.“ But if the fools one don’t fall into the stream and the clever give in, this leads to the rule of the fools.

That is why we must bring our issues into the debate on the European elections. European foreign and security policy, enlargement policy, support for Ukraine, the defense of democracy, a free economy, freedom and the rule of law.

We must not allow the populists to dictate the issues here, and we must not allow ourselves to be represented by politicians who lack the courage to take responsibility and who are too lazy to accept the necessary challenges.

That is my request to you: let us show that we are prepared to take political responsibility for a free Europe!

Published: January 2024