Europa Forum

Fischer, Scharzenberg, Slaughter and Soros: The makers and Interpreters of Europe’s Recent Past, on Stage in Vienna

Anne Marie Slaughter, George Soros, A. Foderl-Schmidt, Joschka Fischer, Karl Schwarzenberg | Photo: Matthias Cremer

It was a remarkable gathering of minds that came together at the Burgtheater in Vienna on Jan. 20 to discuss the future of Europe, people who themselves were makers and interpreters of this history:

There was George Soros, the Hungarian born financier who dedicates his time and his fortune to the reintegration of Europe; Joschka Fischer, former German foreign minister and vice chancellor and for nearly 30 years head of the German Green Party; Ann Marie Slaughter, the respected director of the Woodrow Wilson School of Government at Princeton University, daughter of a Belgian mother and “proud to be half European,” and perhaps most European of all, Karl Schwarzenberg, The Czech foreign minister, a descendent of Austrian nobility – who grew up in Prague and lived most of his life under Communism – and in Vienna is still called “Prince”.

“A lot of Austrians still wonder if you are not an Austrian citizen,” teased moderator Alexandra Föderl-Schmidt, editor in chief of the Austrian daily Der Standard, turning to Schwarzenberg.

It was perhaps not surprising that the voice of optimism came from Slaughter, for whom Europe is “the model of the 21st century,” the kind of comment that makes many European roll their eyes. Slaughter seems unperturbed.

“Europe doesn’t understand itself,” she said. “It sees itself through a 20th century lens, measuring how it behaves as a unitary actor. That’s the wrong lens.” What is should see instead is a vision of itself in the frame of the 21st century.

“It’s much harder to link 27 states across a vast area and maintain their autonomy, yet work together when they have to, with high standards social justice, sustainable development and tolerance. This is what everyone else – the Asians, etc – wants to learn. It’s a fantastically flexible organization.

“It’s the model,” she concluded to hearty applause.

George Soros agreed, at least about Europe as “a prototype of an open society” that he holds as the ideal, patterned after the work of Viennese philosopher Karl Popper with whom Soros studied at the London School of Economics a half a century ago.  And as such, it was up to the Europeans to take a greater leadership role, rather than continually defer to the United States, who he thinks has overplayed its power position.

“Military power is the greatest way to lose this power, and this America has done to a large extent,” said Soros.

“It’s up to Europe to recreate the West.”

Still, he sees Slaughter’s picture as a little bit idealistic.

“In business, you have a management that decides you do this or you do that. In Europe you don’t have this,” he commented. “It’s a great challenge just to develop a European debate. The media are still national – so the challenge is how to bridge.”

As usual, through, Soros is ready to put action and resources behind his ideas and the Forum at the Burgtheater was also the occasion for the launching of his new European Council on Foreign Relations that will have offices in a half a dozen European cities, as a EU-wide think tank that could help forge a European identity.

To Joschka Fischer, the picture is more blurred, with the persistent difficulties of giving up national sovereignty and the reluctance to claim larger authority. Europe could be a role model, based on cooperation, “whether we want it to be or not.”

But he saw the vision of Europe as a model as an outsider’s perspective.

“From the inside it looks a little different,” he said. “There is a question of whether the traditional integration model can really work, because Europeans are not ready.” For another, while the EU economy is 16 larger than Russia, in reality, Russia is able to treat the EU like a plaything. And in the Middle East, Europeans are sitting on the sidelines.

European integration remained at the center of the discussion, with Karl Schwarzenberg arguing it was over rated as an issue.

“The Old-New business is nonsense,” he said “Europe doesn’t understand itself. Fine. Why should it? It has never understood itself! This would be a revolutionary event!”  Schwarzenberg sees a Europe unified since the Treaty of Westphalia which established freedom of religion for the principalities within a Christian Europe.

“Today, we have replaced Christianity with democracy, and we feel we are free to fight these who do not agree,” he said. “So you see, there are not so many new ideas.”

The deeper crisis he sees is one of a lack of political will.

“Perhaps we will only have it when a crisis will bring us to this point,” Schwarzenberg said. “We can bemoan it, we can regret it. But we have no will to lead.”

Slaughter from America was undaunted by the blanket of European pessimism, wryly acknowledged on all sides.

“With all due respect, you are asking the wrong question,” she countered. “The 20th century was a progression out of war, of creating the institutions, the mechanisms” of a prosperous modern social welfare state.

“You’re saying, ‘the problem is, we don’t want to act together, so it won’t work.’ But the point is, you need both,” she said, “and that means the ability not to act together if you don’t want to.”

Again, Fischer urged caution.

“If Europe were to act in the way you describe, it would blow up,” he told Slaughter, pointing out the “very hard facts” of finances that must be negotiated on every new initiative, and at the various levels.

Using the example of the French proposal for a Mediterranean Union, he saw it foundering on the issues of regional funding.

“The others would say, ‘If you have enough money to do that on your own, perhaps we should reconsider the agricultural funds.’

“Europe means institutionalized compromise.”

Share This Post

Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » appearance » Widgets » and move a widget into Advertise Widget Zone