Interview with MEP Voggenhuber on the Austrian Presidency and the EU Constitution


The Austrian Green MEP Johannes Voggenhuber was, together with British Liberal Andrew Duff, the Parliament’s rapporteur on the EU Constitution. Both MEPs are also rapporteurs for the report on the period of reflection, to be voted in plenary in the January 16 -19 session. In an exclusive interview with EURACTIV, he commented on how likely the Austrian Presidency were to relaunch the stalled constitutional process.

The British presidency ended the stalemate over the financial perspective. Can there be a new dynamic now on the EU constitutional treaty? 
The agreement on the financial perspective was rather a sham. This agreement took place on the very lowest level. It is about 100 billion euro far away from what the parliament had deemed as absolutely necessary for the fulfilment of the EU’s tasks, and the Council needs agreement from the Parliament. In all its shining glory, the Council simply did not care for that. […] 

If you see the agreement as a sham – are the dynamics that led to it also a sham?  
I do not see these alleged dynamics at all. The first days of the Austrian Council Presidency were a classical false start. I do not want to list all the points, from an unfortunate debate on arts to the invitation to the German chancellor in view of reservations in the whole of Europe that there is an axis there. A lot of damage has already been done due to this ‘Hansel and Gretel’ attitude of Presidencies having to walk hand in hand. 
Then came the chancellor’s take on the European Court of Justice, which has as yet not really been registered by Europe, but which I consider fatal: Chancellor Schüssel accuses the European Court of Justice of systematically undermining national sovereignty. […] I can foresee a new crisis there […]. 

With his eurosceptic attitude, does Chancellor Schüssel cater to a tendency in his own country? 
He is the first one to be made responsible for this tendency. This government is split […]. Schüssel consistently leverages Europe for domestic policy. He is one of the first when it comes to making Europe the scapegoat for all the unresolved problems relating to domestic affairs. Perhaps Europe had such a bad conscience after the sanctions against Austria that no-one watched too closely when Schüssel kindled that kind of tendency […]. 

Seven years after the EU sanctions  against the first government in which the extreme-right FPÖ took part, Ministers of this party, which has split since then, preside over Council meetings, and there is not even the beginning of a debate. What has changed on the side of the European Union? 
The present government of Austria is surely the most the bizarre in Europe. The coalition agreement was signed by a party which no longer exists, which has become a different party which does not exist legally and has is hardly even noticed at elections. […]
I am afraid, Austria will use a Catch 22 strategy – either Europe is tired of all the defeats and some problems can be resolved without much efforts – then they say they acted on behalf of Europe. Or this Council Presidency will be ostracised. In this case they will retreat into their shell, which Schuessel’s ÖVP believes is the best way anyway to win the elections.  

So close your eyes and let the Finns fix it? 
Yes, sit it out, I would say. […] But you can’t expect too much from the Finns either, because like all Scandinavians they still distrust European integration. They are hardly in a position of being the honest broker in the Constitution debate. I am afraid that many people are already starting to concentrate on the German Council Presidency and that we are about to lose a lot of time […]

On enlargement: It seems from the outside that Austria has a negative kind of a special relationship to Turkey – or am I mistaken?  
You have to differentiate between contents and style. In contents you have this same kind of ambiguity. [… ] In 1999, when he was still minister of foreign affairs, Federal Chancellor Schüssel agreed to Turkey becoming a candidate without any opposition, then threatened to veto the decision. This has since become a recurring pattern, and it is certainly now way to run the EU. […]

Read the full version of the interview (in German). 

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