Otto von Habsburg – first honorary member of the EPP-ED Group
At a celebratory meeting of the EPP-ED Group in the European Parliament, former deputy Dr Otto von Habsburg was accorded honorary membership of the group. To mark his 90th birthday the group presidency and leaders of national delegations unanimously decided to make Dr von Habsburg the group’s first-ever honorary member.
The President of the European Parliament, Pat Cox, also took part in the meeting, along with former EP President Egon Klepsch and the mayoress of Strasbourg, Fabienne Keller.
To loud applause, Dr von Habsburg accepted the honour from Group President Hans-Gert Poettering, who in his speech talked of "a quite exceptional person, a personality it is almost impossible to compare with anyone else.“ His parliamentary work had shown him to be a great European and a great parliamentarian.“ His commitment, his presence, and his passion had been a constant example to his colleagues in the group, Poettering said.
He recalled Dr von Habsburg’s uncompromising opposition to totalitarianism in all its forms, whether National Socialist or Communist. Throughout his time in the parliament, which he had joined in the first direct elections of 1979, and only retired from in 1999, Dr von Habsburg had always warned against forgetting the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
Poettering reminded his audience of the famous August 19, 1989 Paneuropa picnic at Sopron on the Austro-Hungarian border organised by Dr von Habsburg. His daughter Walburga had cut through the wire of the Iron Curtain, dealing a final blow to the tottering edifice of Communism in Europe. 700 Germans had seized the opportunity to flee from the so-called German Democratic Republic, the biggest mass escape since the Wall had been built in 1961.
Poettering thanked Dr von Habsburg on behalf of the whole parliamentary group for his years of friendly cooperation. His example was a model and a spur to the group to work tirelessly and with conviction for the unification of Europe.
Otto von Habsburg cordially thanked the group for the honour it had conferred on him, and said the 20 years he had spent in the European Parliament were the happiest of his life. European Union enlargement had been his principal goal ever since 1979.
EP President Cox also paid tribute to Dr von Habsburg’s work in the parliament, and in particular to his commitment to the Central Europeans joining the Union.
On November 19 2002, the day before his 90th birthday, Dr von Habsburg had been on the grandstand at the extraordinary sitting of the European Parliament alongside representatives of EU candidate countries, an occasion at which he was personally and very warmly welcomed by President Cox.
Otto von Habsburg was first elected to the European Parliament in 1979, the year of the first direct elections, and remained a Member until his retirement in 1999. His work was above all concentrated on foreign policy, his activities as leader of his group in the Foreign Affairs Committee, and also his vice-presidency of the Hungary delegation. Dr von Habsburg was also active in the Legal Affairs Committee.
Further information: Katrin Ruhrmann GSM +32 475 493357
Photos of the ceremony