Within Austria and abroad the region of Tyrol is well known for tourism and winter sports. From time to time one hears the Tyroleans’ voices in far away Vienna and even more distant Brussels complaining about being a transit country. But how does an EU election campaign actually work in Western Austria? Babel Wien talked to the Tyrolean MEP Richard Seeber (People’s Party/ÖVP)about the campaign, the ÖVP strategy and his experience in the European Parliament.Mr. Seeber, what are your impressions of the EU-election campaign in Tyrol so far?
: First of all, the message that elections take place at all has not reached all that many people. I therefore receive a lot of questions concerning the date of the elections and the competences of the European Parliament in general. Moreover, people want to know about the EP’s outcomes so far. Traffic and environmental protection are the main issues in Tyrol, as well as the fear of being ‘eaten’ by decisions taken in Brussels.
How do you perceive the election campaign strategy of the ÖVP? Don’t you think that it is ambiguous to present oneself as “the Party of Europe” on the one hand and on the other hand to nominate Mr. Strasser, who is likely to appeal to EU skeptics, as the top candidate.
: The ÖVP is the sole Austrian party which declares itself as pro-European. During his active involvement in Austrian politics, Mr. Strasser made exceptional efforts regarding European cooperation, for example by establishing the “Salzburger Gruppe”, a group dedicated to collaborate with the new Member States. The ÖVP strongly believes that Austria and Tyrol can only benefit through European integration.
How do you perceive your role as an MEP, keeping the balance between Austria’s and the EPP’s interests?
: This conflict of interests is non-existent. In general, what is good for Europe is also good for Austria and Tyrol. People tend to believe that there are always conflicts between the different levels, but that is not true. The main issues are peace, competitiveness and economic success and one should not create artificial contradictions. Within the ÖVP I represent the interests of the Western region characterized by a mountain area, high volume of traffic and tourism. These are the issues I focus on in the European context. Europe benefits from an active approach in these policy fields and at the same time we can push through our interests.
What would you identify as your main points of success? Where did you fail?
: The main success was designing the environmental package and REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals; information added by C.B.), in a way that respects consumer rights as well environmental protection. At the same time these packages can be implemented by industry and we have thus avoided detrimental effects to the labour market. As a matter of fact in the framework of environmental politics the main challenge lies in the balance between economic and environmental interests. Therefore, I am in constant contact with NGOs as well as with commercial interests. Unfortunately, bureaucracy is very high and restrictive in this field and so far, I have failed to reduce it. Especially the Socialist Party and the Green Party distrust industry.
As an internet platform with various blogs from different cities and regions, Cafe Babel aims to inform the European public. But, is there something like a European public? Is it at all possible to campaign at European level? The current election campaign is very dominated by domestic politics.
: I am grateful for the work of organisations like Cafe Babel which aim to create a European public – young people that dedicate their free time to it. I believe that it is your generation that will be successful in a few years’ time. However, it is a project that is still in the beginning of its implementation. Initiatives at grass-roots level like Cafe Babel are the key to the involvement and information of young people.
I have to agree that the current election campaign is dominated by domestic politics. Furthermore, I regret that European issues are hardly ever present in the elections for the national parliament. We have to be aware of the fact that with the national elections we simultaneously vote for important representatives in Brussels as well (European Council; information added by C.B). This awareness still needs to be created. Could you imagine the European People’ Party will nominate a European top candidate or a President of the European Commission?
: The future President of the European Commission depends on the election results as well as on the party of the President of the European Parliament. In this area thing develop fast – sometimes faster than their juridical implementation. Personally, I can imagine a European top candidate either for the election in 2014 or the latest in 2019, because the European public is about to develop further – not in contrast but in addition to the national one.
Cafe Babel: Thank you for your time.
Information on Mr. Seeber:
Born in 1962, Richard Seeber became an MEP in 2004. He is member of the Committee of Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and focuses on the issues of water and water quality, climate, air quality and mountain areas. According to ‘Vote Watch’, Richard Seeber participated in 96.66% of the plenary sessions. He voted in 93,82% in accordance with the EPP and in 75,22% with his national colleagues. Read our Babel Wien article "Old Warhorses and newcomers: assessing the Austrian EU candidates"