My congratulations to the Institute for Human Dignity for persuading His Imperial Highness Otto von Habsburg to become their patron. Don’t worry too much about the institute — it’s a Continental conservative Catholic outfit with my favourite Italian politician, the brave Prof Rocco Buttiglione, vice-president of the Italian parliament, as the other patron.
The point is that the appointment shows that the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the last great Catholic imperial monarchy, is still active at the age of 98. That is Otto at the left, with his parents King Charles and Queen Zita at their coronation in Budapest in 1916. At that point, Otto was Crown Prince of Austria, Hungary and Bohemia.
The archduke has been pretender to what seems like every throne in middle Europe since 1922, in particular, he would be Emperor of Austria.
I interviewed him in 1981 at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He was a member of the parliament — yes, alas, the emperor is rather a pan-European, but you can understand why: apparently he is a citizen of Austria, Hungary, Germany and Croatia, and could be king of Bohemia.
At that time, the parliament had no power but a great deal more style. Alongside the would-be emperor in the parliamentary ‘hemicycle’ was a Bismarck and also the heir to the Duke of Wellington. The blood had all thinned a bit by then, of course.
And what was the archduke like? Charming, simple, with gentle humility and graceful manners.
But maybe sometimes the humility went further than it had to. One day a fellow journalist came up to me at the parliament building in Strasbourg, quite shaken. He said he had just seen the archduke queuing in the cafeteria with a string of little Habsburg princes in lederhosen, ‘all of them holding trays of Coca-Cola. It wasn’t supposed to end like this!’
I can (almost) forgive the archduke for his support of pan-Europeanism — though a unified Europe without Turkey, the old Catholic emperor insists on that — because he also supports the Austrian school of economics. That means the free-market brilliance of Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.
So, all in all, if you look at Otto von Habsburg’s CV, I’d say he is a far more obvious candidate for the post of president of Europe than this jumped-up-from-nowhere Belgian, Herman von Rompuy.
Of course, you could say, ‘Who elected Habsburg archduke?’ The answer is, nobody. But then if you ask, ‘Who elected von Rompuy president?’ the answer is the same.