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Spy scandal: Vienna leaves Berlin's orbit of influence

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

The Austrian leadership uses a spy scandal to reduce the influence of Germany and the European Commission on the political course of the EU member states
22:37, 20 June 2018

Read original article at 112.ua

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A spy scandal broke out in the relations between Germany and Austria. The Austrian Profil magazine, close to political circles, published the material, which states that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in 1997-2006 followed the activities of 2,000 institutions in Austria, including ministries, banks, companies, arms manufacturers, Islamist movements, embassies of the United States, Iran and several other countries, and representations of international organizations. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz demanded explanations from the German authorities about the activities of the BND in his country. He also stressed that the Austrians had previously suspected the Germans of espionage on their territory. In 2015, Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner suspected BND of collecting information for the US National Security Agency.

Since the time of the Anschluss in 1938, Vienna has been wary of Berlin's attempts to interfere in its affairs. However, another point is interesting in the Austrian-spy scandal: why suddenly the authoritative Austrian edition began to stir up the events of 12 years ago. The spy scandal is very much like a pre-planned information attack against Germany, which is used by the Austrian leadership to implement goals that are not directly related to national security. The Profil already had experience of cooperation with the Austrian authorities in the information field. At one time, the former Profil editor Hubertus Czernin helped investigate the ties between former Austrian President and former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim with the Nazis during the Second World War.

The reason to get out of Berlin's orbit of influence

There is nothing surprising in the fact that intelligence services of influential countries work in Austria, where right-wing sentiments are strong in recent years, a migration problem and Islamic extremists are active. Not to mention that Austria is one of the most influential players on the world arms market and took part in the implementation of the Russian gas pipeline project "South Stream", when it was still relevant. A small and quiet at first glance, Austria is an object of intersection of interests of Russia and Europe. In addition to the German scouts, in Austria probably work their colleagues from the USA and Russia. The Austrian authorities do not make huge scandal, since the activities of foreign special services on the territory of any state are interference in its internal affairs. The limitation period does not matter.

It's only the Austrians who apparently want to use the espionage scandal to get out of Berlin's orbit of influence and tackle the migration crisis without looking at German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open door" policy, which is being imposed by the European Commission on other EU member states. Following the last parliamentary elections, a conservative coalition of the Austrian People's Party of Sebastian Kurz and the Austrian Freedom Party Heinz-Christian Strache came to power in Austria, and proposed to tighten the migration policy. In January 2018, Merkel criticized Kurz for opposing the implementation of the European Commission's plan to resettle Muslim refugees by quotas to EU member states.

Kurz believes that it is possible to resolve the migration crisis in the EU by strengthening external borders and assisting countries from where refugees and migrant workers go to Europe. When Kurz was Austrian Foreign Minister, he criticized Merkel for the decision to open the borders of Germany for a large number of refugees in 2015. Refugees are an urgent problem for Austria. The previous government of the Social Democrats placed 90,000 Muslims on the territory of the republic. Austria is the gateway to refugees on the way to other European countries. Kurz proposed to impose a fine of 15 thousand euros and send to prison those foreigners who refuse to voluntarily leave Austria. During his last meeting with Merkel and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, Kurz confirmed his interest in preventing refugees from receiving political asylum in EU member states.

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Despite the fact that Merkel sees Austria as Germany's foreign political ally and has recently begun to advocate for a collective solution to strengthen the external borders of the EU, she is wary of Kurz's office. The German chancellor said she would judge the new Austrian government by its actions and closely monitor it. With the help of the unexpected exposure of the BND in Austria, Kurz made it clear to Merkel that the Austrian special services are also not a blunder and will not allow anyone to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, even to countries like Germany, which is the leading economy of the European Union. Kurz tells Merkel that the Austrian leadership does not need the advice and supervision of Berlin and will independently sort out the internal political issues. Diktat of Merkel, who recently proposed to find for the European Union a permanent membership in the UN Security Council, has bothered the small states of Europe. The espionage scandal is a kind of slap in the face of the German government from its Austrian counterparts.

In Vienna, a convenient moment was chosen to remind the Germans of the activities of the BND in Austria. In Germany, there are differences over the resolution of the migration crisis between Merkel and her political partner Horst Seehofer, leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union party, who advocates starting to return asylum seekers outside Germany. Even the allies of the Christian Democrats are tired of the uncontrolled flow of refugees to Germany. Against this background, the approach that Kurz offers is seen as a more acceptable alternative to the "open door" policy. A small scandal in relations with Germany is very welcomed by the Austrians. It is one thing to express disagreement with Germany and the European Commission on the settlement of the migration crisis only because they do not want to accept new refugees, and it's quite another thing to sabotage Berlin's initiatives in response to the interference of German intelligence in the internal affairs of their country.

Negative consequences for Germany

The determination of the Austrians, who expressed Germany's protest over the events of 12 years ago, creates a precedent for the leaders of such European countries as Poland, Hungary or Italy, who also do not share the "open door" policy of Merkel, began looking for a trace of German intelligence . Austria has exposed Germany as a state that imposes its will on other EU member states and allows itself non-transparent actions to influence their domestic and foreign policies.

The actions of German intelligence in Austria are no different from the espionage conducted by Russian special services in Poland and the Baltic countries. Through its actions, Germany demonstrates a lack of confidence in other EU member states. No wonder Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen said that espionage in friendly states is unacceptable. The same thing Merkel said in 2013 to the US, when WikiLeaks published secret information about the activities of American intelligence services in European countries, including Germany. The espionage scandal with Austria will leave an unpleasant siege in Germany's relations with other EU member states.

Interests of the USA in Europe

The espionage scandal between Germany and Austria is covered in the American media, including in a media resource close to the conservative circles - Fox News. Information noise around BND arose shortly after President Donald Trump appointed Richard Grenell as the new US Ambassador to Germany, an open gay and supporter of European politicians who disagree with the political course of the traditional elites. He said in an interview with the American Breitbart that he was delighted with the activities of European conservatives, he was interested in their strengthening of European countries and promised to support them. The espionage scandal and the emergence of a misunderstanding in the relations between Germany and Austria, which will be taken over by the EU presidency in July, is more useful to the US than ever.

The American president has no real allies in Europe, who share his approaches in the sphere of foreign and domestic policy. Whatever US President Donald Trump says about "good" relations with Angela Merkel, at the present stage the interests of the US and Germany differ on almost all issues: from the trade and migration policy to the nuclear deal with Iran and the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. At the recent G-7 summit in Canada, the participating countries were outraged by the US imposed high duties on steel and aluminum and did not come to a mutual understanding on various issues. The US wants to establish relations with Eurosceptics, close in their views with the American Republicans, in various countries of Europe with the help of Grenell.

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Apparently, Austria is also a priority for them. Grenell flattered about Sebastian Kurz, calling him a "rock star" among European conservatives. On a number of issues, Kurz and Trump's views converge. In February 2017, Kurz said he understood Trump's desire to build a wall on the border with Mexico, since no country in the world would allow uncontrolled migration. Like Trump, Kurz supports the idea of tax liberalization. During the campaign, he promised to cut taxes and other charges in Austria by 12 billion euros to stimulate economic growth, increase investment activity and create new jobs. It is not without reason that the European media jokingly called the young Austrian politician "little Trump".

The US can act as a counterbalance in the uneasy dialogue of Austria and a number of other countries with Germany, which have disagreements with the German authorities on the settlement of the migration crisis and the future development of the EU. With the help of an alliance with European conservatives, the States expect to strengthen their influence in Europe. The Conservatives are in power in Italy (the "League of the North" of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini), Poland (Law and Justice Party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski), the Czech Republic (ANO-2011 party of Prime Minister Andrei Babish), Hungary ("Fidesz"of Prime Minister Viktor Orban).

Using the example of cooperation with Kurz, Americans can draw the attention of opposition Eurosceptic parties in other European countries to cooperation with the United States. The largest faction in the Bundestag is represented by the opposition party Alternative for Germany, which, like Kurz, proposes to strengthen the protection of the borders of Germany with neighboring countries in order to detain persons who are trying to cross them in time. This party has a reputation as an agent of the Kremlin's influence and advocates the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions, rapprochement with Russia in the trade and economic sphere. Eurosceptics with similar views are in opposition in France ("National Front" of Marin Le Pen), in Holland ("Party of Freedom" of Hertha Wilders). It is possible that some Eurosceptics may withdraw from flirting with Russia and move under Washington's wing, given similar positions on domestic issues and more generous funding that the Americans can offer.

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