Vienna, September 20, 2021.
Was the Austrian intellectual and politician Caspar Einem one of the last “real” Europeans? Sadly, he may have been. Here, our Austrian AEJ colleague Brigitte Rambossek remembers a fine and generous man who died suddenly after the recent European Forum Alpbach . Edward Steen, S-G
Last encounter with Caspar Einem
September 3, 2021: the third and last day of the Political Conversations in Alpbach. “Where is Caspar Einem?”, I ask the bookseller at the bookstall in the entrance hall of the Forum. “He was milling around here a moment ago,” he replies. I leave a card and ask him to pass it on to Caspar Einem with my warmest regards. His latest book, published in 2021 and a cutting-edge account of political courage and Europe, is on the bookstall. Some have been signed, the dealer says.
This year, the European Forum Alpbach took place in hybrid form – live and online. The leadership has been new since autumn last year. Andreas Treichl, a banker of many years, is the new president after former EU Commissioner Franz Fischler, Caspar Einem (73) was vice-president for eight years.
The number of visitors is limited due to the corona, the rules of admission are strict. If the obligatory PCR test expires at 15.37, as it did for me, no more admission is possible after 15.38, double vaccination or not. Fortunately, the results of the next test arrive in time.
In the halls, there are almsträußerl (bouquets of Alpine flowers) on every second seat to keep to the rules about keeping a distance. For the first time, the Forum language is exclusively English. The local ministers, for whom Alpbach is always a stage and a challenge at the same time, are well represented: Edtstadler, Gewessler, Kocher, Köstinger, Schallenberg.
I miss the usual rebellious questions from the young people, who challenge the expected political statements.
Around 2 p.m. I happen to meet Caspar Einem in front of the Forum. The bookseller has fulfilled my request. He greets me with “I was pleased to register your presence,” and doesn’t dwell on Corona, although he also wears a mouth-nose mask.
The conversation is all about the session in Alpbach, the general theme this year is ‘Transformation’, the seminar week for qualified young people is his turf. He has been the chairman of the board of trustees since 2015. Young people from up to 90 nations took part in it, pre-Corona.
In no time at all, the two of us find ourselves in a lively conversation, about discourse and discursiveness, whether debates are tamer than usual, and politics. For his taste, there is too much domestic politics on the panels: “This is not a domestic politics event. We’ll have to discuss that with Treichl in the autumn,” he says energetically. He hands out a few attitude notes for the politicians present.
We also talk about the long-ago EU Convention, where we spoke on the phone before and after every Convention session. In 2002, I had initiated and become involved as a journalist in the citizens’ forum “Our Europe: Have your say” on ORF Teletext as an editor. Teletext readers were able to contribute their thoughts on Europe.
They were passed on to the Austrian representatives – Einem (SP), Voggenhuber (G), Farnleitner (VP) and Bösch (FP). More than 1,000 proposals for the future of Europe, some of them very elaborate, were received by the end of the Convention and were also reflected in the National Convention Report.
At the government’s own youth convention, Chancellor Schüssel (VP) and Vice-Chancellor Riess-Passer (FP) listened to the proposals of the young people in the Hofburg – from apprentices to law students, everyone was represented. I’m trying to imagine what that would be like in the current state of the EU and domestic politics.
We all agree that the EU is still suffering from the failure of the Convention due to the egoism of the governments. It was supposed to serve as a preparation for the great wave of accessions with the ten countries of 2004, and the candidate countries were also involved in the Convention.
The state of the rule of law, freedom of the press, freedom of opinion, and the independence of the judiciary in a number of these countries is well known. The possibilities for sanctions are almost non-existent.
The compromise that was painstakingly reached in more than a year of Convention work, abolition of the unanimity rule and its replacement with a double majority – of Member States and population – was then picked apart in the Intergovernmental Conference and was ultimately rejected.
The negative referendums in France and the Netherlands brought the crushing end to everything. What remains is the Treaty of Lisbon. At present, attempts are being made to generate new momentum with a non-binding conference on the future. None of the political actors in the 27 countries was likely to dare to draft a new EU treaty.
After this tour d’horizon in splendid weather in front of the Congress House in Alpbach, I bid farewell to Caspar Einem with best wishes. Einem was at the Forum from the first to the last day, and on the evening of September 3 he will take part in a staff meeting. Afterwards, the “ardent Alpbacher” returns to Vienna.
Then on September 9 – six days later – the surprise announcement of his death. All the media pay tribute to the exceptional politician, the intellectual of aristocratic origin, the man who always put attitude before party line.
I track down Wagner’s bookshop in Innsbruck, the bookseller immediately remembers my call and my question,”Do you still have a book signed by Caspar Einem?” He checks: “Two are still there, one is for you.”
This book resembles Einem’s legacy, the different stages of his life, his political solitude, and at the same time his optimism. It ends with a PS: “And what will I do when this book is finished?”
profil Kaspar Einem obituary 10/09/2021 (DE)
Kaspar Einem’s influential 2004 book on crafting the European Constitution: “Squaring the Stars – This is How We Wrote Europe’s Constitution (and What It Has Become)”