EU needs new treaty and ‘generational change’ in Brussels, says Kurz

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz | Frederick Florin/AFP via Getty Images

EU needs new treaty and ‘generational change’ in Brussels, says Kurz

Austrian chancellor says tougher penalties needed for countries that break EU rules.



The EU must negotiate a new treaty with stronger collective rules and tougher sanctions for member countries that step out of line while at the same time reining in expansive projects such as an EU army, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Die Presse.

The bloc should also abandon overt signs of waste such as the “wandering circus” of the European Parliament relocating monthly between Strasbourg and Brussels.

Kurz — who at age 32 is the EU’s youngest national leader — added that what is really needed in Brussels “is a generational change at the top.”

His comments in a wide-ranging interview with the Vienna-based newspaper on the day his party launched its European election campaign are particularly crucial because he occupies an unusually strategic spot within the European Council, which must nominate the next European Commission president.

He is a member of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), which is projected once again to win the most seats in the European Parliament. He is a fierce supporter of the EU, but has also taken a tough line on immigration that makes him something of a bridge to more conservative leaders to Austria’s east. And he is part of the millennial generation that his fellow, older EU leaders see as a potential wellspring of pro-European support.

Kurz’s most substantive argument was that the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in 2009, needs to be renovated to meet modern challenges, including stiff punishment for countries that violate rule of law and democracy standards or penalties for those that fail to enforce immigration laws.

“Since the Lisbon Treaty, much has changed in Europe,” Kurz said. “We had a debt crisis, a euro crisis, the migration crisis, the climate crisis and also the Brexit chaos.”

He said the EU requires a new accord adapted to the modern challenges. “It needs a new treaty with clearer sanctions on members that incur [excessive] debt, penalties for countries that do not register and wave through illegal migrations, and harsh consequences for violations of the rule of law and liberal democracy,” Kurz said.

On the EU army, for which there is little appetite in Austria, Kurz said Brussels should better focus on increasing military and defense cooperation. “There will be no EU army, with member states giving up command,” he said.

Kurz has endorsed Manfred Weber, the EPP lead candidate for Commission president, but the interview offered some warnings for Weber, particularly the cautionary note on an EU army. Weber strongly endorsed the idea of an EU army, at least as an aspiration, at a candidates’ debate in Florence on Thursday night.

The Austrian leader also issued a particularly pointed challenge to Emmanuel Macron. He demanded that the French president back up his claims to be an EU reformer by agreeing to a single seat for the European Parliament in Brussels, and ending the monthly plenary sessions in Strasbourg, which remains the Parliament’s official base. “We have to end the EU Parliament’s wandering circus,” said Kurz.

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The monthly plenaries in France have subjected the EU to persistent ridicule because of the expense and logistical headaches involved in maintaining the symbolism of a Parliament housed on the Franco-German border.

“Macron presents himself as a reformer,” Kurz told the Die Presse interviewers suggested that the French leader would never agree. “Those who call for reforms, must also be ready to do them where it hurts,” Kurz said.

In the interview, Kurz also criticized right-wing populists — a point that some might view as hypocritical given that his governing coalition in Austria includes the far-right Freedom Party.

“Our goal is to make the EU better, not to destroy the EU or to play with exit fantasies,” Kurz said.

David M. Herszenhorn