Austria – Interview with Baron Norbert van Handel: “The M7 (i.e., Mitteleuropa 7), these countries of Christian and conservative essence, must move closer within the EU to correct the course, otherwise they will sink into a multicultural European whirlwind. The M7 must be able to speak with one voice on important issues to defend itself against the big countries.”
Following the explosion of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition in May 2019, new parliamentary elections will be held in Austria on September 29. The ÖVP of Sebastian Kurz is the favorite of the ballot. The question is: with which coalition partner(s) will Kurz form a government? Will he renew the coalition with the populists of the FPÖ, or will he turn to the left (SPÖ, Greens or liberals)?
On the side of the FPÖ, after the political retreat of HC Strache, the party has been reorganized around its new chairman Norbert Hofer (congratulated by Orbán for his accession to the chairmanship of the FPÖ), who had narrowly failed to win the presidential election in 2016 [see here his interview of November 2016 for Visegrád Post].
The FPÖ will also be able to rely on the official support of Baron Norbert van Handel, whom Visegrád Post had interviewed in 2017. This time, Norbert van Handel answered to our questions being an FPÖ candidate and probable future member of the Austrian parliament.
Visegrád Post: Mr. Van Handel, you are currently an FPÖ candidate for the parliamentary elections in late September. We know you are close to the new leader of this party, Norbert Hofer, ever since his candidacy for the last presidential elections. Nevertheless, you had been rather close in the past to Sebastian Kurz of the ÖVP. What basically drove you from the ÖVP to the FPÖ?
Norbert van Handel: I have been a member of the ÖVP for fifty years. During the presidential elections, when the ÖVP supported the rainbow candidate Alexander van der Bellen and not the Christian candidate Norbert Hofer, I left this party. For a Christian-social party that the ÖVP claims to be, it should have been impossible not to support the only Christian candidate in the presidential elections.
That Sebastian Kurz broke up the coalition in May and, contrary to his commitments, did not continue the coalition with Norbert Hofer, was for me the reason to join the FPÖ. The FPÖ is today the only Christian party with a conservative program. The values of the FPÖ correspond to my own.
Visegrád Post: What is your view of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition that ruled Austria for a year and a half before it burst in May?
Norbert van Handel: The ÖVP-FPÖ coalition has set up and implemented an excellent program of government that the majority of the Austrian population has approved until it came to an end. In my opinion, it was a catastrophe for Austria and for Central Europe that Kurz quit this coalition without any need.
Visegrád Post: Do you want a renewal of this coalition after the parliamentary elections in late September? Do you think that Messrs. Kurz and Hofer will be able to come to an agreement after the weeks of quarrel that we have witnessed since the so-called “Ibizagate”?
Norbert van Handel: I believe that a continuation of the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition after the parliamentary elections is urgently needed. The personal relationships between Sebastian Kurz and Norbert Hofer are good. Problems are more likely to be found where old cadres of the ÖVP are lobbying against a coalition with the FPÖ. These people see that their privileges which are often a bit strange are threatened and refuse a renewal of Austria.
The case of Ibiza has nothing to do with this, as the Ibiza protagonists H.C. Strache and Johann Gudenus have resigned immediately.
There will be long coalition talks with interrupted and resumed discussions, after which I hope it will be possible to set up a new turquoise-blue coalition [the colors of the ÖVP and the FPÖ, ed.] .
Visegrád Post: You had very clearly denounced the policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel on immigration. A few days ago, the German AfD Party which is allied with the FPÖ achieved very good scores in the regional elections in Saxony and Brandenburg. How do you judge political developments in Germany?
Norbert van Handel: I am very concerned about political developments in Germany. There is a feeling that the old parties are above all concerned with preventing the AfD rather than looking at Germany’s future. This is a miserable starting position. The AfD has been democratically elected and is legitimated, as the second or third political force depending on the location, to participate in the executive.
The continual policy of ostracism of the AfD is leading Germany to the brink of a constitutional crisis in which all democratic principles are lost. Germany has enough problems, be it its industrial policy (especially in the automotive industry), its energy policy (the energy transition can not work in this way), its failed climate policy, the question of immigration, the housing crisis, the improvement of the infrastructure which is partly in a catastrophic state, the reform of the Bundeswehr, etc.
Here are the topics that German policy should address instead of excluding the AfD which is the only national-conservative force in Germany.
Visegrád Post: You are pleading for the enlargement of the Visegrád Group to include Austria, Croatia and Slovenia, and together form the M7 (i.e., Mitteleuropa 7). Can you tell us more about this?
Norbert van Handel: As the European Union is in no way able to solve the really important problems – immigration, defense, reconciliation with Russia and many others – and as Europe is now led by France tending towards the United States of Europe, it is very important to rectify this course.
The M7, that is to say those small countries that have been linked together for centuries, would go to rack and ruin under the French-German avalanche enriched by Spain, Portugal, and the “French colony” of Benelux.
The M7, these European countries of Christian and conservative essence, must move closer within the EU to correct the course, otherwise they will sink into a multicultural European whirlwind. The M7 must be able to speak with one voice on important issues to defend against the big countries.
Very close cooperation in the fields of immigration, infrastructure, universities, a common cultural policy, a common agricultural policy, but also a common defense is urgently needed.
Austria should take the initiative in this direction, which unfortunately it has not been doing so far. In the context of a new policy, a non-bureaucratic common language should be found as soon as possible and its content be implemented. The M7 countries must save their own identity beyond political divisions. It is high time that this takes place.
As part of my political possibilities, I will do everything I can to advance this idea. The M7 countries M7 must recognize that our interests are essentially common interests and translate this commonality into political reality.