The hated wife of Louis XVI, who was executed in 1793 during the terror that followed the French Revolution, was the daughter of Empress Marie-Thérèse and Emperor Francis I, the rulers of the Austro- Hungarian – and, as a Habsburg – distant relative of György.
But despite the fact that it may be the distant relatives of these readers of Le Figaro who relieved Marie-Antoinette of her head, György Habsburg does not share their enmity.
“Thank God we have a free Europe, everyone has the right to their own opinion,” he told Euronews.
Either way, he said, he received far fewer negative comments after his first appearance in the French press than he typically does when speaking to the media in Austria, the headquarters of the Habsburg for more than 400 years until the dissolution of the empire in November 1918.
Hungary’s relations with France have improved somewhat since the end of World War I – not to mention the French Revolution – but Habsburg told Euronews he was aware there was still hostility towards Hungary in the French press and public.
One of his tasks as ambassador to France, he said, was to improve the perception of his country in his new home, and to emphasize that beyond newspapers, the links between two nations in 2021 are strong. Euronews’ Nóra Shenouda spoke with him to explore the issue further.
You are the descendant of a very powerful dynasty, grandson of emperor and king, son of the last heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, Otto, who was there in the early stages of the creation of the European Union.
Yet today the Hungarian government is criticized for its Euroscepticism. Do you find that a contradiction?
“I don’t see the Hungarian government as very Eurosceptic. I see a government that criticizes political processes and structures in the European Union – and I see this as legitimate because there are a lot of problems in the EU, a lot of things that are not working well, and that could work better . I have not seen a single politician in Hungary who can imagine that it would be better not to be a member of the EU. I see no intention to leave the EU. We are in this family and it is important to address what could be done better.
“Hungary does not represent its positions alone but with the cooperation of the Visegrad countries, together they can represent a position as a central European power. There are debates between them, but if they represent a common Visegrad position, there is a much greater chance that something will change in Brussels.
You said in your interview with Le Figaro: We believe that some of the practices or decisions that have been observed recently in the European Union do not correspond to the basic ideas of the founding fathers of Europe.
“Unfortunately, the European Union wants to influence too many details. We forget that the most important element in the European Union is peace and security. Making the economy work between countries helps, but peace and security are paramount.
“In the last century there have been the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, the continent has disintegrated in the East and the West and what the European Union has succeeded in building after all it’s incredible. But, unfortunately, we often forget that the most important principles of the European Union are peace and security. We deal with too many other issues. “
You have been Hungarian Ambassador in Paris since March. What do you want to achieve during your tenure?
“From July, Hungary will take over the presidency of the V4 countries, and in this way, it is possible to give greater visibility to the V4. Of course, the French Presidency of the EU will be extremely important next year and will offer many opportunities to give more visibility to Hungary.
“Then the French presidential elections will be held at the same time as the Hungarian legislative elections. The senatorial elections will be held in 2023, which may be a somewhat quieter year, but 2024 is the year of the Hungarian EU Presidency, and at the same time, the Olympic Games will be held here in Paris. So in the years to come there will be quite a few opportunities to represent Hungary.
“In France, unfortunately, an image of Hungary has formed in the press which is not very favorable. We have to work to change that.
In your interview with Le Figaro, you recalled some interesting details about Hungarian and French relations throughout history, including the fact that Louis XIV of France sent military aid to Hungary during Rákóczi’s War of Independence to help fight your ancestors.
You also noted that in most cases the two states were historically opposed. There is a certain negative image of the French in the minds of the Hungarians while the French also have a partial image of the Hungarians. As an Ambassador, how can you solve this problem?
“I saw that there were criticisms in the press, but when we look at all of the relations, we see that trade and economic relations are very good, there are a lot of French investors in Hungary: more 40,000 jobs are provided by French companies, including 550 in Hungary. The climate issue is also very important for both countries.
“As for my personal background: my father got married in Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, and developed a very special bond with this French region. When he worked in the European Parliament, he was a member of the Francophone Working Group.
“A lot of politicians I meet in France worked with my father in the EP, and I have a personal relationship with them because of that and it helps me in my work. “
It has been ten years since your father passed away on July 4th. He was a highly respected figure around the world. How does inheritance help you in your current job?
“It helps a lot. I miss my dad very much, he was the best advisor. The world we live in today, the challenges, the difficulties, the problems… how good it was when I could still ask my father what he thought of a particular political situation.
“He lived to be 98 years old and was born in 1912 – the Austro-Hungarian monarchy still existed at that time. In 1916 he became the heir to the throne, so he really knew the whole story of the last century. And he’s always been active in politics. He had a lot of experience. It would be great to know his opinion when an issue like Brexit, COVID-19, other European issues arises.
“It’s his knowledge of what happened in the last century that I miss a lot. I try to think a bit like him. He’s always been an optimist, I don’t remember ever being a pessimist about a political process. I also try to be optimistic, and I always try to deal with the issues where something is working well, and that’s where the issues are most manageable. “