How has diplomacy served as a tool for preventing tensions and conflicts, most notably on a local level, during the 21st century?
George Habsburg-Lorraine: Naturally, diplomacy has changed over the past few years, and we now have communication means that did not exist 50 or 100years ago. However, one must bear in mind that diplomacy is not a technical tool like a computer, which receives and gives information. We, as diplomats, have the possibility to meet people, to talk with them, to engage in open discussion with other diplomats and officials. Consequently, diplomats have a viewpoint that is much closer to reality than the information we can find on the internet.
Diplomacy must always adapt to a given situation on the ground, it is a key tool for representation. A diplomat represents his country, wherever he is.
Regarding security, diplomacy is a necessary tool for avoiding conflicts. Developing collaborations and cooperations in order to find a pacifying solution to conflicts is one of the key objectives to this diplomatic tool.
What are the current key challenges to urban security?
There is an exodus from rural areas to large cities, which attract new habitants all over the world. In Europe, there is unfortunately not always enough housing for people who want to move to the limited space cities provide. Naturally, this situation – where citizens from different cultural, religious and socio-economic backgrounds are living together in a limited space – can cause tensions and conflicts. This issue of overpopulation is a significant one facing local and regional authorities, most notably large cities.
Fortunately, there are organisations that seek to find solutions to these issues and can relieve tensions on a local level. In order to maintain peace, we can always turn to technological tools. That being said, education and raising citizens’ awareness are, in my opinion, the most suitable, agile and relevant tools to prevent and diffuse conflicts.
During a conference at Texas Tech University in 2013, you mentioned that one of the merits of the European Union is that it guarantees its citizens a certain level of security, along with stability. What role can cities play, as the level of governance closest to citizens on the ground, by cooperating with European institutions in strengthening security and stability?
In this speech, I was not specifically referring to urban security. I was reflecting on the fact that the European Union has had great success in uniting different countries that have been coexisting peacefully since its creation. When we consider Europe’s history in the 21st century, we must remember the number of conflicts that destabilised the lives of its citizens: two world wars, the separation of the continent into East and West with the Iron Curtain, communism, national-socialism and fascism. We have seen a multitude of traumatic events, with millions of deaths and enormous catastrophes. There is no event more destructive than a war, which in two weeks can annihilate what peace has developed in forty, or even more, years.
After such horrors, the European Union was able to consolidate the situation and ensure peace, which is an indispensable basis for stability and security. It is this stability which has allowed economic development in many countries; and when neighbouring countries develop economically, risks and conflicts between them are reduced. Peace, stability, security and economic development go hand in hand. Unfortunately, we often have a tendency to only focus on this economic aspect whilst forgetting the rest, which is also crucial.
If the European Union operates well and the economy runs smoothly, this naturally ensures stability for cities and regions. In cities that prosper economically, and where the large majority of citizens have a good quality of life, there is a relatively low rate of crime.
Within the European Union, what tools would you suggest when it comes to strengthening multi-level governance for better cooperation, particularly on issues such as managing health or environmental crises, which risk fueling tensions and social polarisation?
The European Union was right in giving stature to different levels of governance. Since the Treaty of Maastricht, which was one of the most important treaties for the European Union, the notion of subsidiarity has been reinforced. Subsidiarity means that a larger entity does not have to handle problems that a smaller entity can solve in a more efficient and adequate way. Therefore, if a small city can find a solution to a problem, it is not necessary for the regional, national or international levels to intervene.
This notion allows a structure and way of operating which gives smaller entities more responsibility. This approach is very relevant, as it concerns the actors who are present on the ground, such as local officials and the Municipal Council, who understand the lived reality of their citizens, rather than those in power in the capital. I therefore think that if we respect the notion of subsidiarity, and if entities who are higher up listen more closely to what different local and regional authorities have to say, cooperation can be strengthened, allowing for better solutions.
You said in an interview for Le Figaro* that you are “a fervent European, because a Habsburg that is anti-European does not exist.” How can we, with the help of local and regional authorities, bring the EU closer to its citizens?
Indeed, no Habsburg could be anti-Europe. It doesn’t mean that everything that occurs in the European Union is always positive. We must recognise its problems, and, if justified, modernise the way the EU operates by adapting to the context and its current challenges.
I was naturally delighted when the European Union launched the Conference on the Future of Europe. It is essential to talk more about Europe and to bring it closer to the citizens who might not totally understand its role and what is decided at the EU level. Today, in the media, the EU is more often mentioned when there are problems and difficulties, such as the economic or health crisis. European issues are often covered through a negative lens while the European Union’s great success in ensuring more than 50 years of stability is rarely mentioned.
In order to engage citizens in a joint discussion, it is necessary to give them the chance to consider what they think of the future of Europe, what they expect from Europe, what suggestions can be given to the EU to improve its way of operating, and ways to bring the EU closer to its citizens.
I am very pleased that Hungary is one of the countries with the highest number of events organised for the Conference on the Future of Europe. Hungarian citizens who took part in the various events were able to give their recommendations to the European institutions.
Something I have noticed here in France is that Central Europe is not very well understood. We do not know its history from the past 100 years. Such knowledge would help to better understand the links between this part of Europe’s historic and cultural heritage and the policies that are carried out there. The same goes the other way round. In Central Europe, French history is not very well understood, nor how the situation has evolved and changed in France over the past hundred years. This knowledge could help us to better understand decisions taken in France.
The Conference on the Future of Europe can help us to know each other better, to become more aware and receptive to each other’s history and culture, and to try and understand certain decisions through a historic lens.
Today, a large majority of European citizens are in favour of Europe and recognise what the European Union has given to us. That being said, it is vital that we involve citizens in the future development of the EU. We have succeeded in creating this Union, but collective work is necessary to continue to make it function and improve it.
How can we better associate citizens to the co-production of urban security?
In short, via education. The term ‘education’ refers to many types of activities, not just to academic education. Education is so rich in possibilities that we can adapt methods to the relevant audience in order to have the best effects and resonance. We can, for example, think of education in terms of sport, because it offers the opportunity to take part in group activities and to find solutions to conflicts in a sport-oriented and recreational way. Education can also occur through music: learning to play instruments, spending time together, playing music together, can all allow for communal experiences. These educational tools are international and overcome differences between citizens. Naturally, education in schools remains essential to provide young people with key tools for life in society.
We can therefore see that education refers to so many areas and approaches that its possibilities are infinite. Every city, region and country can adapt their different forms of education to their context and challenges. It is an area in which European organisations can facilitate the exchange of good practices between cities and regions in order to inspire their peers.
BiographyThe grandson of Charles the First, last emperor of Austria and last king of Hungary, George Habsburg-Lorraine was born in 1964 in Germany . He studied law, history and political sciences in Austria, Germany and Spain prior to embarking on a career in television and communication. He moved to Hungary in 1992, where he obtained Hungarian citizenship. In 1996, he was named roving ambassador. In January 2005, he became President of the Hungarian Red Cross. He was appointed Ambassador of Hungary to France in December 2020.