Otto Von Habsburg and the Future of Europe

By Nash, Michael L. | Contemporary Review, January 2004 | Go to article overview

Otto Von Habsburg and the Future of Europe

Nash, Michael L., Contemporary Review

THE public profile of Otto von Habsburg has risen high in recent years. Since 1989 he has been seen, quite rightly, as one of the prime movers in the issues of a liberated Eastern Europe. This is not surprising in one sense, as he was born an Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1914, when he was just two years old, he became the Crown Prince. Had history been different, he would have succeeded his father, Kaiser Karl, as Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary. But as this was not to be, he shaped his own destiny as a prince politician. Politics gave him the forum he wanted, and he has made a huge success of it.

Otto von Habsburg's long life has been well set out by his old friend, the English journalist, Gordon Brook-Shepherd in his recent book, Uncrowned Emperor, published by Hambledon & London at [pounds sterling]19.95 (ISBN 1-85285-439-1). When his father, Kaiser Karl, the last reigning Austrian Emperor, died in exile in 1922, the nine-year-old Otto became head of Europe's historic dynasty. At times it seemed likely that Otto von Habsburg would be restored to either the thrones of Austria or Hungary and he enjoyed the support of many people. Because of this, he had to flee from the hatred of Hitler, but he played an important role in his American exile in rallying the anti-Nazi forces. He then became an equally fierce opponent of communism. Throughout all these years he battled for the rights of his father's former subjects. Mr Brook-Shepherd is particularly good at describing Otto von Habsburg's struggle to save Austria from Hitler's annexation as well as his friendship with President Roosevelt.

Eventually Archduke Otto, while remaining head of the Habsburg family, stopped using his titles. He had two earned doctorates and thus he emerged as Dr Otto von Habsburg. As such he became a well known author and lecturer. Some of his articles have been published in Contemporary Review.

Otto von Habsburg has never been a reigning monarch, but in 1979 he stood for and was returned as one of the German Members of the European Parliament, and he kept this elected post for twenty years, only retiring aged 87 in 1999. During his time as MEP he was the leading light of the Political Committee, the pre-eminent of the nineteen Expert Committees of the Parliament. But he also had another role, that of President of Paneuropa, an organization founded in 1923 by Count Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi. Half Austrian and half Japanese and the son of a diplomat, the Count almost single-handedly founded Paneuropa in order to remind Europeans that they were one, and that any war amounted to some kind of civil war. He tirelessly went the rounds of the European capitals trying to persuade politicians of this ideal, and he sometimes succeeded. The Prime Minister of France, Edouard Herriot, even wrote a prescient book, The United States of Europe, in 1930, a phrase which was not to be heard again until Winston Churchill made his famous Zurich speech in 1946.

Archduke Otto was the right-hand man of Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, and when the Count died in 1972, the leadership of Paneuropa fell to him. Since then he has been the President. When interviewed in 1986, Otto von Habsburg was insistent that Paneuropa still had work to do, and would not be subsumed in the European Community (as it then was) itself. He himself was not uncritical of the European Parliament he had joined. Although he could address it in no less than seven languages (including Latin, which he once did) he could see its short-comings. In a letter of 1985 he wrote: 'Over 60 per cent of the budget of the European Parliament is spent on travelling between the three centres of Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels, and this could be cancelled at the stroke of a pen, but they [the MEPs] will not do it'. There was a note of political frustration here.

But Otto von Habsburg had never been afraid of political controversy at any level. At a meeting, mainly of his supporters, in a London hotel in 1960, he had made them sit up when he declared that 'Crowns were no more to kings than top hats to Presidents'. …

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