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Norbert Hofer: it would be an advantage for Austria to join the Visegrad Group

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Austria – Interview with Norbert Hofer, candidate to the presidential election in Austria: “I believe it would be an advantage for our country to join the Visegrad Group“, by Ferenc Almássy.

Ferenc Almássy made an interview by mail with Norbert Hofer for the Visegrád Post. Norbert Hofer is the candidate of the FPÖ, the national-liberal party, and he is running for president of Austria on December 4. His opponent in this second round of the election, Alexander Van der Bellen, is an independent far-left radical, former leader of the Green party, supported by the the left. Norbert Hofer and the FPÖ are often depicted in western medias as far-right, although their positions are simply conservative and economically liberal.

Ferenc Almássy: Mr. Hofer, you are the current candidate of the right-wing national liberal – one might say populist – FPÖ party for the presidency of the Austrian Republic. First of all, please explain us how do you think it is possible for Austria, which has worldwide a reputation of reliability and trustworthiness, to go through such a messy election? Also, the presidency in Austria is less important than in countries like France, the USA or Russia. What changes could your victory bring?

Norbert Hofer: I believe that there are always irregularities in other countries as well, in this regard Austria is no more nor less chaotic than other countries. On the contrary, I think that the repeal of the election and its repetition has proved that the Austrian legal system works. Of course, the repeated postponement of the election date from October to December gave the impression that the chaos is great, but I already said that in my opinion, the decision of the federal government was correct, as badly designed election cards might have impeded a finally valid election result. I am sure that the election will be honestly and properly conducted this time, and that each vote will be counted.

FA: One year ago, when Hungary erected her fence on the southern border in order to stop the massive influx of illegal migrants, Austrian government criticized harshly Viktor Orbán. The Austrian government changed in May this year, and although it is still a center-left government, they started to use a populist rhetoric and to fight against illegal migration. Do you think it is sincere, or just a political move to pull the rug under the FPÖ? And do you think this might affect the twice postponed election which should be held on December the 4th?

Norbert Hofer: The restructuring of the government became necessary on the side of the Social Democrats as their former Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann resigned. Also some ministers were newly appointed by the SPÖ. Individual ministers, both from the SPÖ and the ÖVP, are trying to make a reasonable policy, but it appears that they are not yet able to act suitably against the majority of the Austrian federal government.

FA: On September, you visited Czech President Zeman in Prague. One of the main topics was the Visegrad group. You are said to have spoken about a “union within the Union”. If elected President, would you cooperate with the V4 as a political structure? And would you like to integrate Austria into this group? Why?

Norbert Hofer: I believe it would be an advantage for our country to join the Visegrad Group. Both geographically and historically, Austria would be in a very good position to cooperate with the Visegrad Group. In this regard, I also held extremely constructive discussions during my meeting with to Czech President Milos Zeman.

I think a strong Visegrad group can push urgent reforms from within the EU. But in order to join this group, a decision of the Austrian Parliament is needed; the Federal President cannot take this decision alone.

FA: In the case Austria would become a closer collaborator, or even a member of the Visegrád group, would it change anything about the military neutrality of Austria? Would you plan to bring Central Europe on the same path, in order to save Central Europe from a “buffer zone” fate?

Norbert Hofer: No, neutrality is a great asset, and it means a lot to the Austrians. In the past, Austria has always been a mediator and a founder of peace on its neutral soil. I would like to continue this tradition as a Federal President in order, for example, to give fresh impetus to the failed Syrian peace negotiations or to act as a key state between America and Russia and help to bring about a relaxation. For these reasons, I am not in favor of giving up our neutrality.

FA: Still in the case of a stronger cooperation – or membership – between Austria and the Visegrád group, what would Austria bring to the group regarding Germany, politically, and economically? Would it possible for a V5 including Austria to get rid of Berlin’s economical hegemony?

Norbert Hofer: Within the EU there are those big players like Germany and France or the Benelux countries. Austria is usually alone with her voice but could strengthen her position by becoming a member of a “Union within the EU”.

FA: To many, the Austrian support for and motivation to eventually integrate the V4 might be seen as a nostalgic political move, in order to restore a kind of new Habsburg empire – one might suspect a neo-imperialist strategy. Has your political plan any link to such nostalgia? Is there a will to “make Austria great again”?

Norbert Hofer: Austria is a wonderful country with great people who contribute every day to our country’s success, and whose taxes make it possible that social protection, health care and carefree retirement are granted. This has nothing to do with Habsburg nostalgia or monarchism. What matters is strengthening Austria’s position within the EU in the framework of an association with the Visegrad Group in order to jointly come to agreements about important issues and to speak with a united voice.

FA: As a final question, we’d like to ask you about your vision of the V4. The European Union is experiencing a deep crisis. NATO and Russia are playing again the Cold War. The world is changing and is up to become multipolar. In that context, what could, or should be the V4’s role within the EU? And what should Central Europe do to preserve its interests, especially when interacting with partners such as Washington, Brussels, Moscow or anyone else?

Norbert Hofer: Already now, the V4 states constitute an inner-European corrective, especially in the context of the refugee and migration crisis. Due to their historical development and their geostrategic situation, the V4 states have a close relationship with Russia.

The ignominious sanctions against Russia which have led to no political change but have caused enormous economic damage, especially for Austria, are against the interests of Central Europe. Therefore a closer cooperation of Central European states is not only desirable, but can also lead to a favorable result. The goal must be to end the sanctions against Russia.