Austrian President, Alexander van der Bellen is currently on a five day visit to Estonia, and spoke to ERR’s Tarmo Maiberg on the Aktuaalne Kamera show yesterday, Thursday, on the importance of maintaining unity within the EU.
Mr. Bellen explained that he hoped that, counter to the wishes and desires of populist nationalists, the rights of both citizens and minorities within EU member states would be fully understood. He stated that national sovereignty within the EU was something of an illusion and no member state could manage outside of the organization.
That said, Mr. Bellen did express concerns about the need for a common foreign policy within the EU 27 and the slowness of the decision-making process in the EU; particular with regard to the current US administration, political and economic developments in China, and with Russia.
On the issue of Russia, Mr. Bellen said that he wants Austria to maintain its intermediary role in diplomatic relations, pointing out that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin is due to meet with him whilst on an official visit to Vienna in a few weeks’ time.
“Let’s see what he is willing to talk about,” Mr. Bellen said. ”If the topic comes up [on the issue of eastern Ukraine] then I will leave no doubt that Austria will stick to the EU regulations on the sanctions…because the problems are still there,” he went on.
Mr. Bellen also noted that no real developments seem to have happened with regard to the 2014 Minsk Protocol, by which warring parties in the region were supposed to have observed a ceasefire.
Turning to the building of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, an expansion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline running under the Baltic Sea between the Russian Federation and Germany which has been labelled a Kremlin hybrid war machine by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck, the Austrian President stated that he saw the project primarily as an economic one between companies.
”Provided Ukraine has no damage done to it by this new pipeline then I don’t see a real problem,” he said, before adding the qualification that he may have underestimated the issue.
When asked about Austrain Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s proposal for establishing a language requirement for asylum seekers, Mr. Bellen also said there was no real danger of problems (some political analysts had feared that such a move could create further divisions in the EU). This was because the local language (ie. German in the case of his own country) would be a prerequisite for virtually all levels of jobs apart from the highest layers of management, where English would suffice, in his view.
Austria has accepted around 150,000 asylum seekers since the 2015 migration crisis in Europe.
Alexander van der Bellen, whose mother was Estonian, will be in the country untill the end of the weekend. He has already met with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid.