Georg Mayer is an Austrian politician and MEP, member of the Freedom Party of Austria. In this exclusive interview for 45north, Mr. Mayer discussed the migration issue, the deteriorating US-EU relationship, as well as Austrian politics and its relation with Romania.
This interview was taken in June 2018 by Dragoș Tîrnoveanu, in collaboration with journalist Akos Istvan Posta.
45north: At the time of this interview, the Dutch-flagged migrant rescue ship Lifeline, operated by a German NGO, after being in limbo near the shores of Italy, has been allegedly allowed to dock by Malta , with Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini saying the 226 migrants that were rescued of the coast of Lybia, “will only see Italy on a postcard.” How do you think the European Union should deal with the refugee crisis and how do we reconciliate between our duty to preserve the dignity and safety of human lives, and the European voices, politicians and voters alike, who make a case against mass immigration?
Georg Mayer: Matteo Salvini’s reaction is, in my opinion, absolutely reasonable. Since 2014 more than 650.000 migrants from Africa and the Middle East, have landed on Italian shores. Later they headed north towards other countries, so he now helps the EU to make a step forward against illegal mass immigration. Of course it is necessary to give asylum to people who need it, but in the last years the EU was not interested and able to differ between asylum seekers and economic migrants. Because of that, we should save the European borders intensively and create reception centers outside the EU to realizefast asylum procedures there.
45north: What are your comments on the current tough trade talks between the E.U and the U.S.? Where do you see the U.S. – E.U. relationship heading, taking into consideration the rift between the two in the case of Iran?
Georg Mayer: Trump acts in this context quite informal and simplifies a complex situation. I think that the EU has to protect their automotive companies and has to represent their interests in a first step. With regard to the US sanctions which are due to take effect from August, the market may not return to the same position it was in prior to the Iran nuclear deal. I think Chinese car firms are likely to try and capture a larger share of the market if the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. won´t change the situation until august. That would cause many problems for the EU carmakers and I hope that this could be avoided.
45north: Austria will take the presidency of the Council of the European Union in July 2018. Taking into consideration that the European Council has executive powers in terms of the EU’s foreign agenda, what are the main topics that Austria will and should bring to the table in terms of foreign policy?
Georg Mayer: In the last weeks we have a totally new situation in Germany and we can see that Angela Merkels migrant policy is not mainstream anymore. The consistent opposition policy, even from the ENF, has changed the discourse within the last months, but the results of the EU summit are not clear enough and look to me like a compromise. I see Austria’s main task, in the time of presidency of the European Council, to clarify how the considered activities can be implemented consistently and strengthened furtherly. The purpose is a total stop of illegal immigration.
45north: In terms of regional politics, what is your opinion and the Green’s perspective on the Paks II lawsuit that Austria brought up against the European Commission? Is this an issue of unfair subsidies or, in equal measure, it is an issue of Russian fuel dependency and financing?
Georg Mayer: The FPÖ represents an antinuclear policy and because of that it was important to bring up the lawsuit against Paks II. I am supportive in this activities and don´t mix up this topic with my attitude to Russia. In my mind it is important that the EU becomes a more independent partner for Russia and even for the USA not only in energy affairs. I think we should force innovation and research for alternative energy systems. In my role as a member of the TRAN-Committee I see the importance of a change in this resort and I advocate the idea that the EU should become a leader in battery industry.
45north: With regards to the Austrian political environment, how do you see the ÖVP – FPÖ coalition evolve in the long-term and what are the main strategic goals that you think you can accomplish with your partners?
Georg Mayer: The culture of making politics has completely changed in Austria, since we have the ÖVP-FPÖ government. The main topics that are on the agenda now, were in most cases brought in from the FPÖ in the last years, as an opposition party. I think in the long term there is an opportunity to effectuate reforms that bring more fairness for the people. Social equity is very important but was interpreted in the last years in a way that supports people who don´t want to work, are from other countries and in some cases also criminals. Our strategy is simplified strict the other way. We want to make politics for Austrians, support people who work, are willing to integrate themselves in the Austrian society and maintain our own families and children. I am confident that this is the way to create a good future for coming generations.
45north: On the same topic of Austrian politics, for long time there were complaints against the big coalition, that they can’t do any reforms. Currently, the ÖVP – FPÖ government can do reforms, but – for example in the case of the unification of the pension and public healthcare systems – it is often discussed, whether the planned reforms will result not only in less administration, but also in more political control upon these institutions?
Georg Mayer: It is observable that some groups of interest in Austria want to uphold the old fashioned structures. That is the reason why reforms in pension, public healthcare and administration are that timeconsuming. The new government has initiated reforms in so many resorts and I am sure that people notice very well, that they do what they have promised before the elections. We should not forget, that the new government works less than one year. The structures that are against the necessary reforms had time to grow for some decades. I look forward that the ÖVP-FPÖ government reforms also these fields.
45north: With my final question, I would like to take the issue of family subsidies, and the payments, something that concerns directly many Romanians. The Kurz government has said that it wants to stop paying,or at least lower, social assistance to children of foreign workers, that leave in their native country, not with their parents in Austria. Do you think is this fair and how do you think it will affect Austrian – Romanian relations?
Georg Mayer: Of course this activity is the correct way to deal with the problem that Austria pays about 114 Mio. EUR, too much for child support to other countries. Children who don´t live in Austria are confronted with different cost of living, so in my point of view it is an important step in the right direction of fairness. The amount of money that is payed should be adapted individually to the wage level of each memberstate. Since the Austrian government communicated this proposal some other states like Germany agree with this opinion. I don´t think that the relations between Austria and Romania are stressed seriously because of this discussion.