Austria – Interview with Norbert van Handel, jurist and man of influence in Austria: “We have to create a Union of Central Europe in order to save our identities”, by Ferenc Almássy. Interview conducted early May 2017, in Vienna.
Ferenc Almássy: Thank you for this interview, Baron van Handel. You are said to be a kind of éminence grise behind Norbert Hofer, the Third President of the Austrian Parliament and Vice-President of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), a “man in the shadow” overseeing a big network. Indeed, you helped, for example, to organize the meeting between Mr. Hofer and the Czech President Zeman during the presidential campaign of the FPÖ candidate. What was your real role and what was your place in Mr. Hofer’s campaign?
Norbert van Handel: I am a personal friend of Norbert Hofer and he is a member, like me, of the European Order of Saint George (an Order of the House of Habsburg-Lorraine) which has been growing up to quite a big organization in Central and South-Eastern Europe. Although I am not member of the FPÖ myself – I am completely independent – I think that their values are good. They are Christian, they believe in the family, in property and in the possibility of defending our society and our culture. And they believe in Europe, in a Europe which is a Fatherland of Fatherlands.
We think that Europe should be completely reconstructed. The current foreign policy is bad. Look at the Ukraine. It is more than silly to have sanctions against Russia, and there will be no good results on the long-term.
The second thing is that we need peace in Europe. And the third thing we need to have is a strong defense. Instead, what we have now is an invasion of people from the Middle East, Africa, Asia, which, when it continues, will definitely destroy this Continent. A German deputy of the CDU – her name is Kordula Kovac – said that we have to expect 20 million more Muslims coming to Europe.
And this means that if, let’s say, 10 million of these 20 million build up families, and if you compare it with the 10 million on the Christian side, you have in 10 years 50 million more Muslims, and only 15 million more Christians. Therefore, everybody can foresee that Europe will be Islamic in the next 20-30 years if we continue like this.
This is incredible, but it follows – this is my opinion, although I can’t prove it – the agenda and the specific interests of people like Soros, the Council of Foreign Relations, and the Bilderberg think-tanks. And my feeling is that we are currently quite helpless in fighting against this kind of development on our Continent.
FA: This is a point of view that some might contest, saying it is some kind of conspiracy theory.
Norbert van Handel: I’m not a supporter of conspiracy theories. However, when you look at a man like Soros, his strategy is clear: he first destroys currencies, and then plays the philanthropist doing social investments. This is a very wicked way to act. This man wants to change the world. He wants to create continents with completely mixed populations, and organize the world in several big areas regulated by super-capitalism and managed by very few companies, or actually by a few billionaires in the United States. Allowing this to happen would mean the complete loss of our culture, of our religion, of our traditions, and of everything that has built up our identity during the last 1,000 years.
And I think that we also have to fight against people like Mr. Asselborn who said that Hungary should be kicked out of the EU, or Mr. Timmermans who said that national states must be eliminated and all mankind must be mixed up, and also against certain policies of Mrs. Merkel whose “invitation” caused a catastrophe for this Continent and who made a very dangerous deal with the Turks.
FA: Speaking about Angela Merkel: you wrote an open letter to her… do you think she can win the next elections this year and what would be the consequences? Especially since Mr. Macron in France has been elected, regarding his closeness to Mrs. Merkel.
Norbert van Handel: This is a very difficult question. I think Mrs. Merkel will be reelected. People in Germany seem to have no other choice. On the other hand, Mr. Schultz would be a catastrophe for Europe as well. I think things will be worse in Germany than in France. With the election of Mr. Macron, Mrs. Le Pen’s position will get stronger in the next parliamentary elections in June. And it will be very difficult for Mr. Macron to arrange for the so-called cohabitation. I think there will be major riots, if not a revolution. On our side, however, our task is to create a very strong Central Europe.
FA: And how? Don’t you think Germany is the current master of Central Europe? Many people say Germany is the real puppet master in Central Europe due to her economical ties in the region.
Norbert van Handel: I think that the smaller countries in Central Europe like Hungary, Austria, Croatia, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Slovenia have to get much closer and need to be able to speak with one voice in Brussels.
This means we should go back to the four big freedoms: goods, people, services and finance. And the European Union’s institutional setup must be much smaller. They have two parliaments, how crazy! One in Brussels, the other one in Strasbourg. The one in Strasbourg is just there to please France, but it is not necessary at all.
Further: we have far to many lobbyists – they influence the European institutions only in the interest of super-finance and super-capitalism.
We have to create a Union of Central Europe in order to save our identities, if you know what I mean.
FA: I see… But do you think Central Europe will have the necessary strength to push these reforms while at the same time, Germany, the Benelux and France want more centralization of the European Union? And now, with the Brexit, with the United Kingdom leaving the Union, a Central European Union might be a little bit too weak to defend its point of view.
Norbert van Handel: This is why it is necessary to put all efforts into building a strong cooperation, to enlarge the Visegrád group, to try to promote the Visegrád idea, to create a strong group which would defend the interests of these countries, and then speak with one voice. Not in every point of course, but in the main points. The biggest argument is that a larger Central Europe, if you include Romania and Bulgaria as well, will have a population of more than 100 million people.
FA: You’re including Austria?
Norbert van Handel: Of course. Austria will of course be a member. I don’t say that Austria must be leading, but it must be one of the focal points. However, what we don’t want is any kind of revanchism. You know, history is history. These countries have been together for hundreds and hundreds of years. They have the same roots, a similar way of thinking. We should try to find out what are really the wishes of the people in these countries. According to a new poll, the more you go to the South-East, the less is the support for the present policy of the European Union.
FA: Elections are going to be held next year in Austria (Ed. meantime, early elections have been called for this autumn). According to the polls, the FPÖ is in a very good position to become the strongest party. This means that Austria may have an FPÖ Chancellor. How do you see possible actions of an FPÖ-led Austrian government in the Balkan region, and towards the Visegrád group?
Norbert van Handel: In my opinion, it is clear that a government where the FPÖ holds a strong position will work very strongly and directly with our neighbors. Especially with Hungary, because the political relations between Austria and Hungary haven’t been the best recently, for which I’m very sorry. But also with Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia and Northern Italy. We have to build very close political relations with these countries.
FA: What do you mean? More collaboration?
Norbert van Handel: More collaboration, starting with conferences, but also state contracts and all these things. We have to show our friends what we want to do, we have to get their support, and we have to come to decisive actions – as Austria did right now regarding the so-called Balkan route. Austria’s foreign minister said: “We close it!” and then it was closed. Austria still has a certain influence in these countries, but it should never be a relationship of supremacy, not at all. It should be a relationship which is based on our mutual history, on mutual goals of development, and all those things we have in common.
The next question could be – which coalition? Well, if the FPÖ is coming to power, you might have a coalition between the ÖVP – which in Austria is far more right-wing than the CDU is in Germany – or the Social Democrats.
FA: So, you don’t see Germany herself as a problem for Central Europe? You don’t think that, being a proxy of the USA, Germany will be trying to keep Europe under control, to make it a market under her control, and that Germany will use the European Union to make a new Mitteleuropa (Ed. This is a German propaganda term coined by Friedrich Naumann in 1915, during WWI) where all her companies can produce at cheap prices? And therefore, Germany has a big political lever on the governments of Central European countries, no?
Norbert van Handel: I think one should not forget that Germany is a federation, and one of the biggest and most important members is Bavaria. And Bavaria is definitely interested in a Central Europe as we’d like to see it. If you go to Saxony, it is similar. And in Rhineland, you’d find an old Catholic country which is based on the traditions of the old Roman Empire, and only when the Prussians and Napoléon came, these traditions were lost… so, I don’t think that our concept of Central Europe won’t be possible.
A Central European Union similar to the Benelux is really important within the EU, because Germany has about 80 million people, and a big part of them are not satisfied with Mrs. Merkel’s policies – although they will elect her again. But in Central Europe, you have more or less the same basic concepts throughout all the political parties. And this could make us strong: Viribus Unitis.
FA: But what will be the key to make a strong Central Europe, what could be the tool for these countries to speak with one voice?
Norbert van Handel: From my point of view, the Visegrád group will only be the beginning. As a next step, extend the Visegrád group by including new countries and strengthen its system of operation. Of course, it will take a lot of work to convince the people and explain to them why all this is necessary.
During our talks with President Zeman – who comes from the Left side – he appeared to have a great interest in this concept. Talking with the Deputy Prime Minister of Hungary gave me the same impression. When we talked to president Nikolić, the former Serbian President, he also understood our point very well. And so does president Kitarović in Croatia. So in the essence, we understand each other, but as long as we are not ruling the country with the FPÖ, we cannot really start the balloon to fly.
FA: So you think that the key for Central Europe would be the involvement of Austria?
Norbert van Handel: Of Austria and of Hungary as well. Hungary is important. However, what must be avoided is any type of suprematism over others.
FA: You understand that some countries and people would be afraid if one talks about Austria-Hungary again…
Norbert van Handel: Yes, but we have to say clearly what we want, then they won’t be afraid. Look, when Austria in 1908 went to occupied Bosnia-Herzegovina, she had to come to an agreement with the local Muslim population. As a consequence, the old Emperor decreed a law about Islam in 1912. Two or three years later, the Bosniaks were the best and most efficient soldiers in the Austrian-Hungarian army. And they saw what the Monarchy did for them: building streets, hospitals, schools, railroads, roads, and so forth.
I think the the European Order of Saint George is on the right way when we honestly say that we do not want anything back. The First World War ended almost hundred years ago, with many bloody events and cruelties. But this is history and what we are trying to develop nowadays is a new Europe being a Fatherland of the Fatherlands. What’s important is that we do not forget our old common roots.
It may look like an illusion. But if you don’t have visions in politics, don’t go into politics. I don’t like those people who say, “we are acting only pragmatically”. This doesn’t bring us one single step forward, in the right direction.
FA: So, if I sum up your thoughts, I should say that you see Austria as the key for the region? Austria’s involvement will be the key to build a new Central Europe?
Norbert van Handel: No, I don’t think that Austria is that important. On the other hand, I see the example of the closure of the Balkan route – Mr. Kurz took this decision very quickly and against the will of Mrs. Merkel. Eventually Mrs. Merkel said – “It’s fantastic! Now we have less refugees!” Which did not prevent her, though, from blaming Austria for closing the borders…
FA: But two years before that, the Visegrád Group stood up and said “No” to this… even by sending some soldiers of the V4 to Macedonia, for example.
Norbert van Handel: Well, Macedonia is a big problem. A few weeks ago, I had a telephone conversation with President Ivanov who told me about his problems with the Muslims coming from Albania. They want to divide the whole state in order to Islamize it. Macedonia is stuck between Albania and Greece, and more and more Muslims are coming. So I told my friend: remember what we did in 1683? If we do not react now, they will continue to invade our countries. And this can well mean the end of our democracy.
We have to build a “Fortress Europe”. We have to start sending them back to their home countries as soon as possible. It is impossible to integrate all of them. Maybe some of them, on an individual basis, that’s ok. But what happens now is nothing else than an invasion. For this reason, we have to watch the politics of the United States. Why are they destroying Libya? Why are they destroying Syria? Why have they been destroying Iraq? These wars were the real reasons for creating a dramatic situation that forced people from there to come here.
FA: Do you think that this is a deliberate policy of the United States? Do you think they are responsible for this whole migrant crisis?
Norbert van Handel: Yes, more or less.
FA: I mean, a policy other than just making wars…
Norbert van Handel: I think it is too early for President Trump to play his role as announced. There are the big think-tanks… the Council of Foreign Affairs or the Rockefeller Institute, for example, who see everything only business-wise. What they want is to change everything in their way, put down these bloody Europeans with their silly history and their religion, and put an end to all this. They want that everything becomes a part of their wonderful new world, with Europe losing all her national identities.
FA: Do you think that it’s in order to weaken Europe or to force multiculturalism upon us? What exactly is the goal?
Norbert van Handel: I believe that their goal is to weaken Europe as a Continent, together with its traditions, religion and culture, and its old history. For the Americans, these are things that they don’t like and don’t understand. They may like to see nice movies, such as “The Sound of Music”. But their real goal is to create and dominate markets. They call it “equal markets” but what the big guys there have in mind is that a few huge companies rule the whole world and the finances.
We have to wake up and ask ourselves – is this the life we want? Do we want this for our children? Do we want to see our environment being destroyed, such as in large parts of America? Do we want to eat food we dislike? Do we want our farmers to die out? Do we want to import goods from everywhere which aren’t of good quality? I think, the answer is no.
This doesn’t mean of course that we do not want to develop good trade connections, but a complete globalization will definitely go the wrong way. A way that leads to the death of our culture. We don’t want the culture of America, we want our own culture. But we have to fight for it.
FA: What is the role of the European Order of Saint George that you evoked several times? What is its aim? Do you want to put a Habsburg ruler back on the Throne?
Norbert van Handel: Well, the European Order of Saint George is a very fast-growing organization in Central Europe, but we have members also in England and elsewhere. We fight for good values. First of all, Christianity. Secondly, conservativeness based on values, not on structures. We do not want feudalism again. Then, a strong defense and a liberal economy. We want that Europe moves into the right direction. And of course, we are linked with the history that has been decisively shaped by the house of Habsbourg-Lorraine who has reigned Europe for 700 years.
This is what we want to promote wherever we can, and my impression is that the interest in our offer is much stronger than anticipated. During its meetings and events, the European Order of Saint George can regularly register 50, 60, or even 70 new members from all political parties, from the economical world, managers, doctors, PR professionals, academics, and aristocrats. But as I said before, we have to stand by our values. For this we must stand.
FA: What do you mean by liberal economy?
Norbert van Handel: I don’t mean super-capitalism. What I want to see is fewer regulations, less taxes and better chances of development, especially for middle-sized companies. The concept of our economical liberalism is that everybody can earn money and become rich, that everybody can work as much as he likes and according to the laws, but with much fewer regulations. This is what we have in mind.
FA: But to avoid super-capitalism, then you have to have a State which is involved in economics, which can stop…
Norbert van Handel: There should still be the laws against cartels and laws stipulating fair economic rules. But the political goal is to protect a wide and open economy, and to prevent large companies from growing too big. This means also to avoid monopolies.
FA: So basically you pledge for a liberal system in which the State is just providing for all necessary means to avoid monopolies?
Norbert van Handel: Yes, let the people work as much as they like but avoid monopolies. For example, if the German company Bayer buys Monsanto, Monsanto might enter the European Union by the back door. This is very, very dangerous. On the other hand, I don’t want too much protectionism. Free trade is alright but goods should be allowed to come in only if they meet certain quality criteria.
We also need regulations for our health, and for the security of children. And of course, if goods are produced by underpaid labor or by children, this is a question of morality. For example, goods imported from China where workers are seriously underpaid, so that Chinese firms can sell products much cheaper than we. I don’t think this is acceptable.
FA: Speaking about China: I asked Mr. Hofer this question when I interviewed him in February. China is really interested in Central Europe. They have big plans like the New Silk Road, and the so-called One Belt One Road project, i.e. the development of an intercontinental infrastructure network between Europe, Africa, Asia and China. Mr. Zeman has met with many Chinese officials, and there is a fast train railroad planned from Athens to Budapest, of which the first part will relay Budapest with Belgrade. There are also talks about canals and railroads. So, China is already heavily investing in Central Europe. How do you see that?
Norbert van Handel: I don’t mind if the management is correct. When the State is owning a company and manages it well, it doesn’t bother me. But for example, in Africa, China pays no attention when they enter cooperation agreements with local dictators, which creates a problem for Africa. But here in Europe, I don’t think that cooperation with the Chinese is a problem. It is the same thing as with Russian oligarchs. They buy big hotels… but they can’t carry them away.
The rules of the economy must be set clearly. Another example: I don’t think it was a good idea that Hungary expropriated the Austrian farm-land owners. Generally speaking, however, I believe that Mr. Orbán’s policy is very good. He appears to be a real European player.
We must see to it that the states in Europe remain independent, and we have to reform the EU to bring back peace to Europe, to pursue a substantial policy that must include good relations with Russia, a strong defense and a free and liberal economy that also protects our industries and middle-sized companies.
Let me say it again: we want a Europe being the Fatherland of the Fatherlands, and not a bureaucratic monster as it seems to be now.