Austria and Leonard Bernstein

“These days you have to be in the majority”

This true and weighty sentence comes from one of my favourite works by Leonard Bernstein “Candide”. Bernstein would have been 100 years old this year. He was a 1908 vintage, so in 1938 he was 30 years old. For someone like me, who has been studying Leonard Bernstein for many years now, this is a strange fact.

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It is astonishing that after the elections on October 15 we will harvest what the black-blue government sowed in 2000-2006. Not diametrically but head on. We are witnessing the demise of the social democratic ideal, something which the great German liberal thinker Ralf Dahrendorf already foresaw in the eighties of the last century. Paradoxically this is taking place in their struggle against the “right”, aka the party decision against a coalition with blue.

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NIna Hoppe

Europe comes up trump(s)

Even the 5th series of House of Cards can no longer compete with this. American Realpolitik has now trumped the supposedly implausible manoeuvring of Frank Underwood. But the pleasing thing about this is that Europe is the benefactor.

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Nina Hoppe - Strategia. Politica. Media

Van der Bellen and the “Headscarf”

The debate is too polemical and undifferentiated. It implies that every Muslim woman with headscarf is a woman who “submits” to political Islam and its anti-liberal views. This is not the case. Until the advent of political Islam in our western world, the Muslim woman with headscarf was just as much part of our multicultural and liberal society as the orthodox Jewish woman (and no one talks about her religious oppression). This is precisely the situation that Alexander Van der Bellen highlighted, namely automatically stigmatizing a woman as an oppressed, right-wing Muslim because she wears a headscarf is simply wrong.

I am firmly convinced that many young Muslim women wear the headscarf as a sign of their new self-confidence and commitment to Islam and to the liberal Islam of the West. Wearing a headscarf does not evaluate a person and says nothing about him or her. This is exactly what VdB meant. It was not meant as a religious statement, but as a comment on the evaluation/ stigmatization of people on the basis of an external factor and expressed in the sense of freedom and personal rights of the individual. The fact that his statement is spot on is confirmed by the current discussion in social media.

Enlightenment – where r u?

What also amazes me is that the headscarf discussion shows how careless we are about keeping an eye on our values. These are the values ​​of a Europe that was the cradle of enlightenment. Europe obviously does not stand for the unconditional application of the rights of the individual and of liberty in people’s minds. This is exactly what Alexander Van der Bellen means. To live in a liberal society and to live the values of a liberal society is a challenge. The reaction to the statement made by Alexander Van der Bellen shows that we are further from this than at some other times in our history. To live according to the values of a liberal democracy is a strong and impressive force. The EU is more the “land of the free” than the US will ever be. Voltaire inspired the authors of the American constitution, such as Alexander Hamilton. Catherine the Great was also an inquisitive interlocutor of his and we should be aware of this fact. Even if it can be exhausting at times.

I supported VdB actively in the presidential election campaign out of my deepest conviction. Exactly because of attitudes like these that characterize his statement.

Van der Bellen

Alexander Van der Bellen and Independence

“The secret of freedom is courage.”

Even Pericles would have looked favourably upon Alexander Van der Bellen. Van der Bellen is courageous. His inner conviction has led him to stand as a candidate once again for the highest office in the land and to devote his life to public service for the Republic of Austria. He will stand as an independent coming from the Green Party. Or as I would put it as an independent spirit.

The reactions to Van der Bellen’s independent candidacy show once more how little digitization has entered public consciousness. Open innovation, which is increasingly gaining traction in the economy, remains foreign to realm of politics. The idea that someone has stature, is independent, has an inner freedom of spirit and can reach out to others across the political divide giving them courage and is a viable candidate for them, is something that is seldom recognized because of political ignorance. It is attractive to stay comfortably in the “mediocrity trap” (Hengstenschläger) and to risk nothing by putting your head above the parapet. Those people who are stuck in the analogue world of thought and of political unimaginativeness discredit independent candidates, who stand for a new form of society, throw traditional approaches overboard and take new and intellectually novel challenges upon themselves. Social Media reinforces old ways of thinking and behaving.

Van der Bellen’s candidacy: open innovation

The Van der Bellen candidacy represents a turning point:

  • Yes, it is supported by the Greens. Why should the Greens not set such a sign of solidarity?
  • Yes, the word “independent” was not the best one in this case because it was temporally occupied by Irmgard Griss. But how could a person like Alexander van der Bellen otherwise be described?
  • Van der Bellen has always demonstrated in the course of his political career that he is not an apparatchik. His attitude has repeatedly stirred up “his” party. He often made speeches in the National Assembly that support a strong parliamentary system and centre-liberal approaches. Liberalism is freedom and independence. A fact that many choose to ignore and also fear.
  • Van der Bellen is the first political candidate in the sense of open innovation. He is not obliged to follow classic party programmes and leaves much content and many ideas as they are. This approach is immediately attacked as fickleness rather than being seen as Van der Bellen’s open innovation approach.
  • The most important thing for me is that Van der Bellen makes the classic zoon politikon, modelled on Plato and Aristotle, once again  acceptable to the Imperial Palace where the Austrian president resides. Not because President Fischer and his predecessors did also not ascribe to this but because this has completely been lost in the policy making of recent years. This is although it must be said that Van der Bellen does not identify himself as a dedicated follower of Plato in his book “The Art of Freedom”.

His independent spirit, his intellect, his experience in the National Parliament, his support for the European Union, his commitment to parliamentarianism and to the eco-social market economy in his role as farsighted economist have prompted me to join his support committee. This is also because I can once again outwardly be my independent self.

Alexander van der Bellen is the first politician who heads an open innovation campaign and also has a corresponding vision for it. Perhaps he calls open innovation by another name but it stands for change.

Freedom and independence of mind and thinking are essential in such a process. Alexander van der Bellen will accompany us “courageously into these new times.” I trust him and believe that he will make something great out of the change. 

Nina Hoppe - Strategia. Politica. Media.

Europe – to a greater or lesser extent? 

Recent events have uncovered a startling truth: the European Union always fails when it comes to preserving its Enlightenment legacy – that of civil liberties, defence of those freedoms and an open society. The question of how to protect our security, defence and freedoms is an important issue for which the European Union has no answers. Does this raise the threat of renationalisation and spell an end to the tremendous vision of Spinelli, Schuman & Co?

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Nina Hoppe Strategia.Politica. Media, aussenpolitische Beraterin "Public Affairs"

Europe, Europe. 

I didn’t really want to say anything about the current debate over the refugee/political asylum issue: the unqualified, self-satisfied comments on social media, the helplessness of national and EU governments and the blindness to global connections and goings-on. But I have decided to give free rein to my emotions – in my own way.
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Nina Hoppe über Franz Vranitzky und seine politische nachhaltige Wirkung


Yesterday I saw Franz “Vranz” Vranitzky taking part in a discussion group, and felt quite emotional. He was the Chancellor who shaped my political awareness. I was 13 when he became Chancellor and 24 when he resigned, which is why I long for another politician of the Vranitzky mould. It is the social-liberal dimension that I miss in today’s politics.
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Father Weber and Mare Nostrum

Only 45.39% of Austrians voted last May in the EU elections, which was a disappointingly low turnout – and no better in the other EU states either. Fascinating to see, then, how the EU is now being called by “its citizens” to act (for Mare Nostrum reasons) in response to the refugee tragedies in the Mediterranean. In actual fact, the EU does not have any majority legitimation from the European population and hasn’t had it for years now.

Media coverage of the massacres by Boko Haram militants has so far been relegated to “other news”. Brief articles about warring factions on the African continent appear from time to time but that is about as far as the coverage goes – no word about who supplies the weapons (usually USA, Russia, China or Germany, for instance). No analysis to suggest it will trigger, or already has unleashed, a wave of threatened or persecuted migrants who, in fear of their lives, are turning to Europe and using the Mediterranean Sea route as their passage to a safer and better future. There is no research into the structures and political regimes that have set themselves up in the wake of the “Arab Spring”. Increasingly, radicalisation within North African countries tends to be treated as isolated events, with no connection being drawn between the removal of unpopular African dictators by major Western powers and their cooperation with local radical militia, (like the jihadists), and the impending tidal wave of asylum seekers, or the (deliberately engendered) political chaos.

Enlightened Europe – where R you?

The Europe I am so proud of is the Europe of Enlightenment, of humanitarian ideals, of the freedom and protection of the personal liberties of ordinary citizens. The EU certainly set itself the task of upholding those values, but it has yet to gain the widespread support of its citizens at the ballot box. Instead, national interests continue to prevail well before those of the Union. Particularly from an economic perspective, close cooperation over the harvesting of raw materials, fishing rights etc. is certainly on the agenda when it comes to Africa. Yet what tends to be overlooked in such cases is that the political partners involved are typically not democratic but rather authoritarian rulers of post-colonial countries. And that is fundamentally wrong. The task for Europe here, as it was more than 200 years ago on its own continent, is to give the African population access to the kind of education and enlightenment that makes individual citizens capable of critical thought – citizens able to economically emancipate themselves to the point where they can afford to live their own lives and engage as equals with their politicians, able ask questions and maintain their personal independence. This will ultimately serve to make their country an enlightened, liberal society.

Father Weber and Karlheinz Böhm

It was Father Weber, amongst others, who in post-1815 Austria laid the foundations for the self-sufficiency and personal responsibility of ordinary citizens with his idea of a bank account for every person. He and many others, who understood that economic security and autonomy lead to a contented and progressive society, are classic examples of protagonists for the social economy. In reality, that is one of the best export items Europe can bring to the African continent. It is not only a vehicle for transporting the approach of an enlightened and humanitarian Europe but also a form of development aid that enables the local people to be spared the prospect of an uncertain, or worse, future.
The EU has enough clout to carry out such a project. And the fact that such ideas can be successful was illustrated by Karlheinz Böhm more than 30 years ago in Ethiopia. He and Father Weber had the same bright idea.

There are not five billion humans, but ONE human being five billion times over, Karlheinz Böhm

Parliamentarianism – “Locke-ing it in”

The Hypo Commission of Inquiry was celebrated as a great achievement in the development of Austrian parliamentarianism – except, on closer inspection, it appears to be the exact opposite, or rather its swansong.

I first consult (Austrian legal philosopher) Hans Kelsen, who defines parliamentarianism as:

Development of decisive state will by a collegial body democratically elected by the people on the basis of universal and equal suffrage and according to the majority rule principle.

It is more than the will of the people that transparency, information and communication prevail in the case of Hypo. But it seems as if disclosure of all the facts and files is declining at the same time as the need for information is rising.

Separation of powers is painful

It is probably the blurring of a matter so important to our political system – the separation of powers – that is also at fault here. Montesquieu and Locke were the founding fathers of that principle. And they would be a little annoyed at the way it is being applied in the case of the Hypo Commission .

The Chairwoman of the Hypo Commission is the President of the National Council (the lower house of the Austrian Parliament). She is the second-highest ranked politician in this country, which means she holds a position of great responsibility to her people, i.e. to us. However, up until recently, that responsibility rested with Doris Bures in her role as SPÖ (Social Democratic Party) Infrastructure Minister in the government. And she has long been viewed as a trusted friend of Chancellor Faymann. To stay with that party: Jan Krainer is the Whip responsible for Hypo matters, Finance spokesman for the SPÖ and also a government advisor. No “Locke-ing it in” there either. And the current SPÖ party supremo is the former State Secretary, who was present for the nationalisation bail-out.

In the case of the ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party), on the other hand, there is a tendency for a protective wall to be erected in front of the ÖVP Finance Ministers (including Grasser). Yet the very opposite should be the case. After all, a new wing within the ÖVP – generally described as liberal – is now at the helm. Liberals tend to set store by values like the right to information. At the same time, however, that party is also obliged to uphold the liberal principles of data privacy and the right to private sphere protection (professional confidentiality and banking secrecy). It will be fascinating to see how that balancing act plays out. Judging by the first few meetings, stonewalling is the initial approach.

The opposition is divided. The FPÖ (Freedom Party) has to try and keep the damage away from its own party and frame it as a failure of the system and evidence of corruption – even though that party also contains members who had both federal and provincial government dealings with Hypo. Team Stronach is faced with similar dilemmas. Their man on the Commission of Inquiry, Robert Lugar, moved back in the day from the BZÖ (Alliance for the Future of Austria) to Stronach. They have to walk the tricky tightrope between denunciation and dismay – as do, incidentally, the Greens since they had MPs in the Carinthia provincial government when Hypo first got into strife. However, it has to be conceded that, to their credit, the Greens and the NEOS (The New Austria) – the only party, incidentally, that had nothing to do with Hypo thanks to its late birth as a political party – are fighting like mad for parliamentarianism, whether in an activist manner like Kogler or very pragmatically in the case of Hable.

95% of the Hypo Case files are not publicly accessible. This means that media reporting will be very much dependent on “Hypoleaks”, if any relatively objective or factual overview is to be provided. To which we as citizens of this country have a right, by the way – in view of the billions we are providing as financiers of this solution via such things as the tax system.

Transparency harms parliamentarianism?

Yet it would be really simple to arrange: an official Twitter account for the Hypo Commission of Inquiry, direct transmission of certain witness statements (with their consent and that of all parties involved), regular press briefings, etc.

The media is already casting aspersions that this minority commission is a unique phenomenon in the history of Austrian parliamentarianism. We can all only hope we are wrong, and that parliamentarianism will emerge strengthened rather than weakened by this Commission of Inquiry. As well as achieving clarity over Hypo, that should be the common goal of all the parties involved.

John Locke
…. The first and fundamental positive law of all commonwealths is the establishing of the legislative power; as the first and fundamental natural law, which is to govern even the legislative itself, is the preservation of the society and…of every person in it. This legislative is not only the supreme power of the commonwealth, but sacred and unalterable in the hands where the community have once placed it; nor can any edict of anybody else, in what form soever conceived, or by what power soever backed, have the force and obligation of a law, which has not its sanction from that legislative which the public has chosen and appointed ….