INTERVIEW: “A shame for Europe”

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Czech politician Karel Schwarzenberg spoke to New Europe about the European Union’s inadequate foreign policy, the lack of solidarity in its migration policy and new constitutional conditions for EU funding.

Schwarzenberg was Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic from 2007 to 2009 and 2010-2013.  As the head of an old princely dynasty, he is now a member of the Czech House of Commons for the TOP 09 party that he founded. In 2013, he was narrowly defeated by Milos Zeman in the presidential elections.

His family was expelled from what was then Czechoslovakia to Austria in 1948, but after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 brought down the Soviet-backed Communist government in Czechoslovakia, and with the election of Vaclav Havel as president, Schwarzenberg served as Havel’s administration manager from 1990 to 1992, with the title of Chancellor at Prague Castle.

NEW EUROPE (NE): How do you assess the EU’s policy towards Russia? Because of the poisoning of the opposition politician Alexei Navalny, sanctions have just been decided, especially against employees of the Russian secret services. Was that an adequate reaction?

KAREL SCHWARZENBERG (KS): I am not sure that these sanctions include measures that really work. There is always the danger that sanctions are decided upon, but do not really achieve anything. The EU does not appear united vis-à-vis the Kremlin. Italy, for example, has been very friendly towards Putin for a long time and has rejected punitive measures. The EU has never resorted to really harsh sanctions against Russia. This can be seen by the feeble support for Ukraine. The same thing is now happening again in Belarus. European policy is essentially a weak compromise by the 27 member states. Of course, Putin profits from this.

NE: The German government has threatened not to complete the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. But isn’t this damaging in itself since a lot of money has already been invested?

KS: It was billions that were badly invested. I was always against the construction of this pipeline because it will damage Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic countries because they would miss out on the transfer fees for Russian gas. The step to build the pipeline through the Baltic Sea was driven by Germany’s selfish economic motives. It was never a wise step.

NE: On the poisoning of Navalny. Was Putin the patron as Navalny explained?

KS: He is entitled to say that, not me. This poison – Novichok – was in any case developed by the Soviet military as a chemical warfare agent. I cannot say from which authorities the order came for the approval for this poison, but very high circles must have known about it. After all, you can’t just buy this stuff in a drugstore around the corner, not even in Russia.

NE: It would certainly be worse for Putin if Novichok were used without his knowledge.

KS: That is why I believe that the order came from a very high-level.

NE: How should the EU act towards the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko? There were sanctions against his associates, but not, or not yet, against him.

KS: He was left out. The EU could certainly do more. How about a strong radio and TV station that informs the Belarusian population from Lithuania. One could also support Belarusian students at EU universities.

NE: In the new economic struggle between the US and China, does the EU play a subordinate role.

KS: Is there such a thing as an EU foreign policy?  We have a foreign representative, Josep Borrell, but in reality, every EU country makes its own foreign policy. That is the EU’s greatest weakness – essential policy areas like foreign, defense, energy, and economic policy are all shaped and decided nationally, not jointly. In Brussels, a decision about what jam or cheese from the Tatra Mountains can be called.

NE: Now a new lever for the rule of law is being fought over with regard to EU subsidies. The Vice President of the EU Commission, the Czech Republic’s Vera Jourova, recently dared to sharply criticize Viktor Orban. Should EU subsidies really be cut if EU governments violate fundamental European values?

KS: That must be examined very carefully. If subsidies are generally cut, the respective population is punished and economic development is hindered. But I can very well imagine targeted measures against the economic interests of billionaires – like Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis or Hungary’ Orban, and their friends, who all quickly became rich. I would be very much in favor of that.

NE: There is a new proposal from the EU Commission on migration policy. Countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, which do not take in refugees, should either make financial contributions or provide personnel to protect the external border.

KS: I am contradicting the policy of my country here. I consider this policy of absolute non-participation in the reception of refugees to be wrong. The Czech Republic should behave like a normal EU country here. But, unfortunately, Babis, Orban and (Mateusz) Morawiecki (Poland’s Prime Minister) are very successful amongst the voters with their populist migration policy. So these new financial contributions must be considerable. We know exactly how much it costs for countries that accept refugees. There must be no tolerance for a lack of solidarity. What Babis & Co are listing here is a disgrace for Europe.

NE: Austria’s government doesn’t want to accept refugees anymore, not even children and families from the Moria camp on the Greek island of Lesvos.

KS: Unfortunately, the Austrian government has also decided to share the view of the Visegrad countries. Austria has taken in many refugees and integrated many of them in an exemplary manner. Austria can be proud of this. But unfortunately, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has taken a different path, a short one and not good at all. Of course, we have to work to ensure that these people can stay in their countries. But the EU’s policy of making the refugee issue the sole problem of Greece and Italy isolates the others from the problem is not fair and also inhumane.

NE: Turkey is taking part in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia and is sending exploration ships into the waters of Greece or Cyprus.

KS: Azerbaijan would not have started this war without Turkish military aid. You can also see that the US is no longer committed to Europe. The EU needs a common military policy. If you are involved in politics and make policy, you also need military means. This truism was ignored by the EU for far too long. The condition of our armed forces shows the irresponsibility of our policy. The Austrian Army is in an even worse condition than the army of the Czech Republic.

NE: How do the elections in the United States will turn out?

KS: I really do not know. It is quite possible that Donald Trump will remain president.

NE: Trump is not interested in Europe.

KS: I will ask you: Why should he be if you consider the real status of Europe?

NE: Are you also alluding to Brexit?

KS: If there is no agreement, it is a serious blow for the members of the EU, but even more for the United Kingdom. I do not want to defend Boris Johnson at all, but Brexit came about as a consequence of the unfortunate policies of the European Union.

NE: The Czech Republic suddenly belongs to the countries with the highest corona infections. What went wrong there?

KS: Please understand. I don’t want to comment on this because I don’t know anything about this field.

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