Austria: Historic speech by President Van der Bellen – politics
When the newly sworn-in Federal President asked the members of the Austrian National Council to look deep into the eyes of their neighbors on the right or left, unrest broke out in the Federal Assembly in Vienna for a moment, coupled with incredulous laughter. Mind games in a state-supporting speech? Alexander Van der Bellen, who was elected President for the second time last October and was “sworn in” on Thursday morning, as they say in Austria, immediately reassured: Don’t worry, he won’t ask those present to shake hands.
But he wants to promote respect, for dealing with decency, even if you reject the beliefs and values of your colleagues. Not everyone, says Van der Bellen mischievously, could suffer, but if you expect the population to get along with one another, then you should be able to expect the same from politicians.
He reconciled, union, united
The old and new Federal President achieved what no Austrian politician had been able to do for a long time: he reconciled, united, united the political camps, so that at the end of his keynote address in the newly renovated parliament, he was greeted with minutes of jubilation, standing ovations and cheers from almost all sides. Only the FPÖ refused to respect Van der Bellen; the Liberal MPs did not applaud once – neither when the President campaigned to finally take the climate catastrophe seriously, nor when he demanded more for equal rights, nor when he called out that the atrocities and terror of the Nazi era should never be repeated.
One of the likely reasons for this is that Van der Bellen said in an ORF interview on the eve of his swearing-in that he would not automatically give the FPÖ the task of forming a government after the next national election if it became the strongest party. He left open whether he would swear in party leader Herbert Kickl as chancellor. The right-wing extremist party is currently between 26 and 28 percent in polls, well ahead of the ÖVP and SPÖ. In 2019, after the Ibiza video became known, Van der Bellen had dismissed the Australian Interior Minister Kickl at the urging of ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and later said he had often wondered if he should ever have sworn in to him.
The new and old President was clearly unfamiliar
The now 79-year-old former economics professor and former spokesman for the Greens was re-elected in autumn 2022, with no parliamentary party putting up an opposing candidate apart from the FPÖ. Van der Bellen was considered too popular, but he was accused of not being sufficiently critical of the FPÖ and ÖVP corruption scandals.
In his big speech in front of an audience of about a thousand, he became unusually clear. He called for sufficient funding for serious journalism, he taunted conspiracy myths and “alternative facts”, he condemned – clearly and very emotionally – Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Because there is not even a consensus on this in Parliament.