Q1. You’ve visited Korea in 2007 during your term of office.
How do you like it this time comparing to your last visit to Korea?
My first visit was in an official state visit, and now, in the last two years, I’ve been three times in the past two years in the capacity of co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Center for Global Citizens. Of course, [the past ten years] was a big step forward. Korea has very fast development it’s a leading nation in many fields of technology and in fighting against the spread of nuclear weapons in full compliance with many European countries’ positions. I cannot make a prognosis on the negotiations between the North and South, but we shall keep our fingers crossed that reunification shall be possible as it was between East and West Germany.
Q2. You were elected as the President of Austria for the first time in January 2004. Soon after in May of the same year 10 countries joined the European and also in the same year the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was voted down in a referendum in Netherland and France whereas obtaining signatures from other EU leaders. As a President elected amid the turmoil of integration and division, how did you see Europe’s problem-solving process?
It was a disappointment that France and the Netherlands had a negative result in the referendum. But it was a big step forward on the other side, where finally an additional 12 new countries joined the EU. After Austria, Sweden, and Finland—then 15. Then it jumped to 28 countries. This was a big success, no doubt. Looking back, frankly it was easier to reach consensus in a of 12 members than in a with 27 or 28 members. There is a mood in Europe now, a discussion, where we should reduce the number of oppositions. It makes siding much more difficult.
Q3. There is widespread concern in Europe about the advent of the extreme right wing that hinders the social integration and as far I know Austria is no exception. Since the current Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has come into office, the concern is growing for a right-wing surge. What is your view on the concern? How do you think it will pan out?
You are right—it is a concern. In my opinion, it has to do with the fact that right-wing nationalism was very much discredited after the end of WWII, because the roots of WWII were an aggressive right-wing nationalism. After ’45 this philosophy was totally out, and a pro-European, multilateral policy was dominant. Now, in the last ten years, the right-wing nationalistic feelings are growing, and not only in Europe. It is not good for international relations. We have to explain to people that nationalism is a philosophy of the past and what we need is cooperation and readiness to cope with other nations and countries and religions. At the end of May, Sebastian Kurz lost a vote of confidence, and now we have a caretaker government and will have new elections in September.
Q4. I think the European integration is an ongoing process winning over crises.
How do you expect the Brexit to be settled?
At the beginning, it seemed to be clear that people in Britain were in favor of Brexit. There were difficult negotiations between Britain and the EU, but finally an agreement was reached—the so-called “soft Brexit.” Then, an unexpected situation came: in the British Parliament there was no majority for the deal, but there was also no majority for other options—neither for a second referendum, nor for staying in the EU. After some time, the British prime minister has resigned and the British need to find a new prime minister. I think at the moment the game is very open.
Q5. The Helsinki process is a good example of multilateral cooperation in Cold War era. Korea is trying to follow suit by learning a lesson from it.
What do you think a prerequisite for making multilateral cooperation?
The Helsinki Process was a success story, but it took place more than 40 years ago. Times have changed. Empires do not exist anymore. The Soviet dismantled. I believe that foreign policy teaches us that you need a balance of powers that one nation, one country, one superpower dominating everything and the others having to obey—that is not a stable situation. You need to speak to international rules and international tribunals. I was quite sad and disappointed to hear when President Trump quit the agreement from Paris on climate protection and also canceled the agreement with the security powers on Iran’s nuclear proliferation. I think the rule of law in the full sense of the word must be obeyed.
Q6. The development of nuclear weaponry and ballistic missiles by North Korea is a hot potato for security in the Northeast Asian region. The North-US negotiation has reached an impasse at this moment. May I ask your advice on the matter?
I know several people like my friend Ban Ki-moon who are much better experts on this issue, but what I can say is until two years ago, the thinking was that the problem cannot be solved eventually and the North Korean system would collapse. But that is not a good solution—then there would be many refugees, there would be a new change in power relations. A peaceful, common solution would be best. That will happen when the leader of North Korea can go so far and wants to go so far that he gives up his nuclear ambitions and is trusting or reliant on agreements and compromises. The only thing I know well is that no one must every use nuclear weapons in war against another nation. This is the most serious war crime you can imagine.
Q7. Austria is, like Korea, not so big in terms of its size.
It is also located between much bigger countries like Germany and Italy just like Korea is surrounded by China, Russia and Japan. Both counties share the complexity of history as well.
What do you think Korea can learn from Austria in coping with the surroundings?
You are right in principle that Austria and Korea are relatively small countries and have big neighbors, but the size of the neighbors and the nature of the neighbors is of course different. Our relations with Italy and France are our problems. But the neighborhood of Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Switzerland is relatively easy situation Korea is different. In all cases, we should rely on international law we should respect decisions of the UN and we should respect policies that make the neighborhood as good as possible. That allows us to an atmosphere where solutions are possible. The Korea question is a very complicated situation. But the German example shows us that even very complicated situations can be solved in special circumstances.
Source: Jeju Peace Institute