Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen gave a passionate speech in favour of the EU at the European Parliament and said the challenges facing Europe could only be tackled together. Van der Bellen was addressing MEPs in Strasbourg on 14 February as part of his first official foreign trip. During the speech he said: “The European idea is great. It is unique. It is worth all the effort."
Parliament President Antonio Tajani welcomed the Austrian president and said: "Twenty years after its EU accession, Austria is at the heart of Europe, with a successful economy in the centre of the single market."
In his speech Van der Bellen warned about the consequences of growing nationalism and populism: "No single problem will be solved by violating people’s dignity, rejecting everything that is different, restricting fundamental rights, constructing new walls and nationalism. We will only create new problems.”
The Austrian president also stressed the value of the European project: ”The European peace is an accomplishment of our civilisation, which we should be proud of and should not be underestimated. On the basis of this peace we can accomplish a prosperity and growth that countries acting on their own are not capable of.”
Van der Bellen stressed the need to work together in order to create a better Europe: "I believe in a Europe that with its law-based value system can continue to be an example for the whole world."
He also pointed out that he wanted to encourage pro-European forces: “It is possible to win elections while being clearly in favour of the EU.”
About Alexander Van der Bellen
Alexander Van der Bellen was born in Vienna in 1944. His mother was Estonian and his father Russian of Dutch ancestry. After fleeing the Soviet Union, his family found a new home in Austria. Van der Bellen was a professor of economics at the University of Vienna before entering national politics. He served as a member of the Austrian parliament from 1994 to 2012 and was leader of the Greens from 1997 to 2008.
He was elected president of Austria on 4 December 2016. As a nominally independent candidate, he won the second round of the presidential elections against Norbert Hofer, a member of the FPÖ party. Van der Bellen took up office on 26 January.