In his „Speech on the Future of Europe“, the President of the Paneuropean Movement Austria Karl von Habsburg advocates greater military support for Ukraine, advocates a regime change in Moscow and Minsk, discusses China’s power politics, which are dangerous for the Western community of values, and calls for a European foreign and security policy.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me start this speech with a quote from my speech exactly one year ago:
„The aim of this „Speech on the Future of Europe“, which I will give every year on 11 January, is to deal with European policy issues in a very fundamental way on the one hand, but also to discuss them on the basis of current challenges on the other. And there should also always be specific political ideas for the shaping of European policy which we must continue to work on implementing.“ End of quote.
As the Minister for European Affairs, Ms Edtstadler, has mentioned in her speech European unification is a success story, but it will only be perceived as such if we can also offer solutions to the challenges of our time.
The current challenge is the Russian war of annihilation against Ukraine. But this must not obscure our view of China’s geopolitical ambitions. Dealing with Moscow and Beijing will be a focus of this speech. Europe’s weakness and the necessary consequences for European policy form the second pillar of this speech.
The world and its order, and very specifically the European order, no longer is what it was a year ago and what we were all counting on. Back in 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a war of aggression against Ukraine. He succeeded in swiftly taking and annexing the Crimea peninsula. The fact that there was treason by generals on the Ukrainian side does not make this invasion any better. It was then followed by the invasion of eastern Ukraine, which was still very cleverly below the level of a real invasion, and culminated in the shooting down of flight MH17, the bloodiest to date.
A year ago, this attack was still that frozen conflict brought about by the 2014 ceasefire, which European countries had also helped negotiate. Russia, however, had already positioned its army on the borders of Ukraine, and had also used Belarus, with the terrorist regime of Alexander Lukashenko, as a deployment area for an attack. In January 2022 a high-level meeting between the USA and Russia discussed the situation in Ukraine. Europe, the EU, was not involved in this meeting. At the time, analysts described Ukraine as a buffer state. In other words, a buffer between Europe and Russia. A choice of words reminiscent of the term „intermediate Europe“ from the time between the First and Second World Wars.
At the time Russia provided assurances that it was not planning a war under any circumstances. You remember the pictures of the big, long table where Vladimir Putin sat on one side and on the other his respective European interlocutor whom Putin assured that there would be no war.
The European interlocutors also wanted to believe this assurance. After the fall of the Iron Curtain at the Pan-European Picnic on 19 August 1989, after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and after the end of the Soviet Union, both in 1991, Europe bet on the end of wars in its lands. The illusion of eternal peace broke out. Military capacities, and with them many capacities for disaster situations, were radically cut. The peace dividend was collected, the money was put into welfare state redistribution programmes. One might also call that vote-buying.
At the same time, international treaties were supposed to ensure that a new era of peace would secure prosperity forever. The CSCE Final Act, which already enshrined the non-alignment of sovereign states – was still signed by the USSR. At the end of 1990 – and thus already after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact – this was followed by the „Charter of Paris for a New Europe“, enshrining this status of non-alliance yet again. The relationship between Moscow and Kyiv was regulated by the Budapest Memorandum of December 1994. A treaty which, however, beyond bilateral aspects, also had massive significance for containing the nuclear threat. For in exchange for the guarantee of its borders by the guarantor powers, i.e. the nuclear powers of Russia, the USA and Great Britain, Ukraine as a nuclear power renounced its nuclear armament.
All these treaties and several more were supposed to make war in Europe impossible. But reality does not always abide by treaties. And practically with the overcoming of the Iron Curtain came the first wake-up call not to sacrifice Europe’s defence capability to an eternal illusion of peace – and I am asking you here not to confuse hope with illusion. In former Yugoslavia, the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic began his wars for a Greater Serbia, which brought immeasurable suffering to the region for almost ten years. The bloodthirsty chants of the Chetniks in Vukovar must be remembered just as much as the massacre in Srebrenica or the attempt to exterminate the Kosovars. In the end, this murder was stopped by targeted military strikes by Nato, under the leadership of the USA.
In Europe, on the other hand, those security experts who advocated a reduction of military capacities – which are of course cost-intensive – continued to be in high demand, because after all there would be a pre-warning period of about ten years in the run-up to major conflicts. The green men in Crimea did not stick to this warning period and had already taken control of the peninsula before these experts could even think about how to react to the new challenges for European security.
And even in 2014, after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 and then Ukraine in 2014, Europe still did not want to draw any conclusions from this situation. Here Putin was still courted. Instead of developing new concepts on how to deal with a threat from Moscow, dependence on Russian gas was increased. Concepts for diversifying suppliers were politically overturned from the highest levels. Austria and Germany were particularly vulnerable to the lure of cheap gas from Russia. This also allowed them to convince themselves that the switch to so-called alternative energy sources would go quite smoothly. Former government representatives from many European countries had no problem being on the payroll of Russian companies and lobbying for Russian interests.
Ladies and gentlemen, you will forgive me if I have taken a long look back at a development that began in 1989 with a great moment for humanity, but which has currently brought us into an extremely dangerous global political situation. So far, I have only focused on Europe, and have not touched on the brutal wars in Africa, or the many other trouble spots in the world, or the brutal suppression of the freedom movement by the regime in Iran. It would also go beyond the scope of this speech to go into all these challenges.
We cannot turn back the clock. We can only draw the right conclusions from the given situation, and the events that led to it, in order to be prepared for future challenges.
Just as there are criminals in every society at all times, so there are criminals in the society of states at all times. The old saying, „si vis pacem para bellum“, i.e. „be prepared for war if you want peace“, unfortunately still applies and will continue to do so. Nothing is more dangerous than being rich and weak, and that is exactly the situation Europe is in today. Even though the wealth is also on the wane. The redistributive welfare state does not create wealth, it only redistributes it. Wealth is created through innovation and investment. But both need the right framework conditions. If we forget this principle and give in to the temptations of bureaucracy, the innovative forces will migrate and the investments will look for regions with better conditions.
But let’s stay with the geopolitical situation, which is not the same today as it was 30 years ago when the Eastern bloc collapsed. At that time, the Western system of the USA and free Europe on the one hand, and the Eastern bloc system controlled by the Soviet Union as the second superpower on the other, stood opposite each other. The West clearly won the Cold War. The offer of freedom, democracy and a free economy was so tempting that practically all countries of the formerly socialist world in Europe sought to join Nato and the EU. This offer is still so attractive that the countries of South-Eastern Europe, as well as Ukraine and Georgia, want to join precisely these alliances.
Russia might have lost its status as a superpower, but militarily it was still strong enough to get engaged in various wars, or even to intervene decisively. This was and is the case in the tense relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it was also evident in the Middle East, in the Syrian war. At the time, Putin bombed his way back onto the stage of world politics with his military intervention in favour of Assad. Without him, there was no chance of a peace solution in the region. He could have enjoyed this position, and would probably be a welcome interlocutor today, both with the USA and with the Europeans and other countries of this world. And he could have continued to earn a lot of money from selling gas and other raw materials. Money that Russia so urgently needs in order to create civilisational conditions away also from the big cities.
His dream of founding a new Russian empire – a kind of mixture of the Soviet Empire and the old Tsarist Empire – has now put him in a position for which he will probably be remembered in the history books as one of the great war criminals.
Many wanted to believe that Putin’s actions were firstly rational and secondly well-informed. Both assumptions have proved to be wrong. If he really believed that he could take Kyiv swiftly, eliminate the president there, establish a puppet regime and then control Ukraine, he was misinformed about the real situation in his neighbouring country. And if he were acting rationally, he would have continued to rely on good trade relations with Europe and the rest of the world. Firstly, he could have earned much more money with this than is possible with the war, and secondly, he could have had much more influence in world politics.
The Russian war of annihilation against Ukraine has the potential to last well into this year or beyond. We must also factor into our scenarios a renewed invasion towards Kyiv via Belarus, and with it new refugee flows into the countries of the EU. But no matter how long the war lasts, Russia will have lost its status as a world power. China, Russia’s old rival in Asia, will benefit. By the Chinese leaders Russia is already considered only a junior partner. China has long since overtaken Russia, and is now just as much one of the great threats to that system of freedom, democracy, rule of law and free economy for which the West generally stands.
But we must be clear that this Russian war against Ukraine is not just an attack on Ukraine. It is an attack on Europe, on our model of life, on democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law, the market economy. It is a war unleashed by Eastern despotism against Western democracy. Putin despises the European model of life. Despite all the criticism that we, too, occasionally level at European politics, no European can have any interest in submitting to Putin’s despotism. Not even the rich Russians who send their children to schools and universities in the West want that.
And because we cannot have any interest in submitting to the despotism of the war criminal Vladimir Putin, it must also be clear to us that this war can only end with a victory for Ukraine and a defeat for Russia. It is not a question here, as it is occasionally heard even from high political circles in Western Europe, that Russian security interests must be taken into account and that Putin must be offered a face-saving exit from the war. No one has violated Russia’s security interests. There has been no deployment of nuclear weapons in Russia’s neighbourhood, as there was in the Cuban Missile Crisis on the US border. No one has attacked Russia. With the war crimes committed so far, Putin has lost any right to save face. He belongs before a war crimes tribunal, along with his accomplices, and there must be regime change in Moscow.
In Minsk, too, by the way.
Of course, Russia will have to pay reparations. Therefore, the West should also immediately confiscate the approximately 300 billion dollars in currency reserves held by the Russian Central Bank with seven Western central banks. The money will be necessary for the reconstruction of Ukraine. It would be downright negligent not to do so. In the same way, the legal conditions must be created to be able to use all the frozen assets of Russian oligarchs of the Putin system for reparations.
Nor do I believe in those historical comparisons according to which Russia should not be humiliated, just as Germany should not have been humiliated in the Treaty of Versailles, that the reparations payments would have been too high and that this led to Hitler and thus to the Second World War.
It is true that the Second World War was a consequence of Western weakness in the face of Hitler. There were practically no consequences to Germany’s occupation of the Rhineland. And the reaction to the occupation of the Sudetenland was not the necessary military reaction of the Allies, but a conference in which Hitler’s previous conquests – including Austria – were accepted.
All those who speculate that Putin and his regime can be satisfied by handing over Crimea, eastern Ukraine and southern Ukraine should think about the consequences. If we want to learn from history, our only conclusion can be that we must support Ukraine so massively – and by that I mean above all with military equipment and information – that it can push Russia back into the borders guaranteed in the Budapest Memorandum.
Of course, this can lead to a destabilisation of Russia. But let us bear in mind: Russia is a colonial empire. Colonial empires disintegrate. This is also true for Russia. It is always a question of how long the colonised peoples put up with domination. At present, the minority peoples in the Russian colonial empire serve mainly as cannon fodder for the Russian army. This is not a satisfactory situation for these peoples in the long run. We have to reckon with scenarios that mean a – probably very troubled – end of the Russian empire.
Japan and Germany surrendered unconditionally at the end of the Second World War. After this surrender, both countries embarked on a path that brought them democracy, the rule of law and a booming economy. So we should not be afraid of a Russian military defeat, but see it as an opportunity for democracy, the rule of law and a free economy to come to that country as well.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Let us return to the power that we must not lose sight of in all the geopolitical developments: China.
China is thinking long term. In 2049, the country will celebrate 100 years of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. This is a date we must keep in mind when dealing with Chinese politics. Because Beijing’s clear goal is to have fully integrated Taiwan into China by then. This also tells us something about the possible time horizon if China wants to achieve this goal militarily. Because full integration means that by then both the war and the reconstruction must be over and done with.
China is massively rearming militarily. This can best be seen in the navy and here by comparison with the USA. The USA has seven military shipyards, the People’s Republic of China has 19 large military shipyards. The Jiangnan Dao shipyard on the Yangtze River alone has a larger capacity than all seven US shipyards combined. China now has the largest navy in the world. For China, the South China Sea is what the Caribbean is for the US.
As early as 2013, President Xi Jinping launched the „New Silk Road“ project, a large-scale economic and foreign policy prestige project. The clear goal of this Silk Road strategy is to create a China-dominated economic area in which Eurasian and African states are closely linked by land and sea. Numerous countries around the world have already joined this project of the century. In addition, Beijing has established other economic and financial institutions that serve as important instruments for the communist leadership for geopolitical purposes.
At the same time, the totalitarian communist regime in Beijing is pursuing a strategy that challenges our well-known system of civil and political liberties, the system of human rights. China is trying to create a new international order with its own ideology. The extent of China’s influence here already showed when individual EU countries blocked a clear EU stance towards China.
Ladies and gentlemen,
After two years of Corona and all the upheavals, I don’t have to explain to anyone what ships stuck in the South China Sea mean for the European economy. And I’m not even talking about the security situation and the other geopolitical consequences.
Or to put it another way: How many more wake-up calls do we need in Europe to realise that with a policy like the one we have pursued so far, we are only heading towards insignificance? A Disneyland for Chinese tourists definitely is not a future perspective for Europe. Especially since a Chinese Disneyland has nothing to do with pleasure, but with total control of our lives, as the social credit system in China already shows.
The only way to create security for Europe is through unity. I think as little of a centralised Europe as I do of nostalgic small-statism, in which not even the large European countries can pursue a genuine foreign and security policy any more. The war against Ukraine and a free Europe is a good example of this. Many complain that the USA is so present here and provides such massive support, while pursuing its own interests. If the US were not so massively supportive here, I’m not sure we could still complain about it.
It is time for the European Union to start a truly European foreign and security policy. You will have heard this plea from me a few times before, and I am sure I will have to repeat it a few more times.
European foreign policy does not only mean coordination of 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 (or minister of foreign affairs).
To this end, we need a core of a European constitution specifying precisely this foreign policy competence for the European Union. A point, by the way, that 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, which is directly elected by the citizens of the EU.
This is precisely the question of sovereignty that many national egoists love to talk about. Because sovereignty, ladies and gentlemen, in this specific case means the ability to act and to shape. In terms of potential, 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. Of course, Romania and Bulgaria belong in the Schengen area just as much as Croatia. This freedom to travel within the EU is probably one of the great achievements of European unification. This has nothing to do with the asylum issue or illegal migration. But it does include European external border protection. This was also envisaged when the Schengen area was created. The European Parliament has taken a very clear position on this.
But just as in foreign policy, the member states wanted to keep border protection as a national matter. Unfortunately, it is also a fact that the countries that call loudest for European border protection are those that at the same time see border protection as a national competence.
How erratic the policy of many member states is here is shown by the example of visa liberalisation for the citizens of Kosovo. No country had to fulfil as many conditions for visa liberalisation as Kosovo. The country has fulfilled the conditions, and for years there have been repeated egoistic blockades of individual countries against this.
Those who know me know that I am basically an optimist. So I assume that the agreement reached under the Czech Presidency will hold and that the Kosovars will indeed be able to travel to the EU without a visa from 2024. Even to those countries that have still not recognised this European country. However, I am not so daring as to put my hand in the fire for this.
The recent tensions in the north of Kosovo have once again shown that the Balkans, South-Eastern Europe, is a region in need of a clear, strategic EU policy. It is not the first time that the Serbian President Alexander Vucic has set fire to this region. Serbia is also doing the same in Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Through its enlargement policy, the EU has instruments to build up the necessary pressure on Serbia. The EU only needs to act in a united manner and be prepared to use these instruments in a targeted manner.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
At the beginning of my speech, I made a brief comment on Europe’s dwindling wealth and dependence on supply chains. You have followed the debates about supply shortages and, in Austria, recently also about problems with the supply of some medicines. Many are now calling for politicians to step in and ensure greater resilience. This not only sounds logical, but is also necessary.
Just as every sensible person has candles at home – and something to light them – because a power blackout can happen, there must also be a certain amount of stockpiling to be able to handle a period of crisis, a disaster. Austria is familiar with the concept of comprehensive national defence, which also includes economic national defence. In earlier times, before the aforementioned peace dividend began to be collected, it was often the task of the military to keep stocks in order to be able to keep up a certain level of infrastructure.
And since I have now mentioned the military: European security policy also means bringing our military capabilities back up to a level where we can defend ourselves. As much as I like military music on certain occasions, defence capability requires appropriate equipment and a European defence industry that is capable of delivering. And this requires defence budgets that are more than just window dressing, as well as much more intensive European cooperation.
The decisive factor in all the challenges we face in Europe will be that we set the right framework conditions. We are increasingly hearing calls from almost all political directions for new state interventions, for an end to globalisation, for new steering measures.
Ladies and gentlemen,
that is the wrong way. Nor is it the recipe for success that once made Europe great. The state has the task of securing justice and freedom, which of course includes foreign and security policy, which is a classic state task. But it is not the state’s task to steer the economy. These concepts have always failed so far, and they will continue to fail in the future.
The division of labour is good. Division of labour at the global level is also good; it leads to an increase in prosperity for all of us. Nevertheless, we need a security policy that is either able to prevent crises and wars, or at least to guarantee security of supply in the event of a crisis.
The necessary reindustrialisation of Europe will not succeed through state intervention. Bringing back production – I mentioned the area of medicines earlier – will not be possible through state regulation. In Europe, we need a return to the sensible principles of a regulatory policy as we still remember from the economic miracle policy of Ludwig Erhard. Companies produce where they find good framework conditions. If we suffocate companies with more and more bureaucracy, if we are not in a position to reduce non-wage labour costs, if there is a shortage of labour in many areas today paired with high unemployment at the same time, then we know that these are not the right sort of framework conditions.
It is no coincidence that highly qualified people are leaving Europe. It’s no coincidence that Silicon Valley – I’m not talking about the geographical term here, but the figurative meaning for high technology, innovation, etc. – is in the USA and not in Europe. This again was another wake-up call Europe failed to hear.
I know, in an election campaign it is more convenient for a politician to promise new welfare state blessings than to demand efforts from individuals. It is also obviously tempting for many people to wait for the state to take care of everything for them. As realists, however, we know that this is an illusion. The land of milk and honey after all only exists in children’s books.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I too have been asked several times in recent weeks about the corruption scandal that is rocking the European institutions. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, to use the words of the English philosopher Lord Acton. Incidentally, this principle is a wonderful example of how the state should not be given too much power, certainly not in areas that are not the state’s task. The more bloated the state, the more corrupt it becomes.
Such affairs are, however, also a call to think again about the character building of politicians. Politicians certainly have an exhausting job, but they are usually well paid for it – precisely so that they are not susceptible to bribes. That there are weak and unscrupulous people is unfortunately a reality of human life. In healthy democracies, however, such cases of corruption are exposed and the corrupt are held accountable. Every case that comes to light is a reminder that we need to constantly work on the political culture.
But what we have to fight against are those populists who use the corruption scandal as an opportunity to question the European Parliament as such or the European institutions in general. To believe that everything can be better regulated in the nation state and that corruption does not exist is clearly missing reality for everyone. I am not aware of any demand to abolish municipalities just because mayors have been involved in corruption scandals or had to resign because of abuse of office.
The fact that we need a strong Europe to protect our freedom because of the geopolitical situation is something I hope I have illustrated with the many challenges I have mentioned that need to be overcome. This need not interest populists, because their goal is discord, not problem solving.
In her introductory speech, the Minister for European Affairs Ms Edtstadler spoke of a policy of turning times. The political, economic and social challenges, some of which I have outlined, show that we must lose no time in facing these challenges with a sense of reality.
With freedom, democracy, the market economy and the rule of law, Europe, the Western world, has the right instruments in its hands to take up the fight against the challenges of the times. We just have to use these instruments in the right way. And we must be prepared to leave our own comfort zone behind.
We live in exciting times. A common Europe is our security and our future! And we must shape it together!