Princess brings a touch of Europe to Stockholm

As a member of the Swedish parliament she might still be wet behind the ears, but Walburga Habsburg Douglas is no stranger to politics. A princess and the granddaughter of the last Austro-Hungarian emperor, she comes from a family that has shaped much of modern Europe.

A lifelong supporter of greater European integration, Habsburg Douglas says she hopes to be a European voice in the new Swedish Riksdag.

Habsburg Douglas, newly elected to represent the Moderate Party, was brought up near Munich. Long before arriving in Sweden 14 years ago she was involved in the International Paneuropean Union, of which she was secretary general between 1988 and 2004.

Through this, she helped organize the 1989 ‘Paneuropean Picnic’, in which participants cut the barbed wire between Hungary and Austria, allowing 600 people to flee from behind the disintegrating Iron Curtain.

Why did you get involved in Swedish politics?

When I moved to Sweden, I thought it would be good to get more involved in my new home country. I was always very involved in European questions, and I moved here at a time when people were discussing whether Sweden should enter the EU. Because of my experience, people started asking me to participate in debates, which got me involved.

I then went on to join the local council in Flen, in Sörmland – when you come to a new country you want to understand how things work, and joining the council was a very good way of doing this.

How about learning the language?

My desire to get involved in Swedish politics certainly helped motivate me to learn. Besides, since I had married a farmer in Sweden, I knew that this was where we would stay, so I had to learn Swedish.

The political language came as I learnt – whenever I have a conversation, it usually revolves around politics, so it came quite naturally. My husband tried to teach me using articles from the Swedish newspapers.

How does your family background influence your politics?

When you’re born into any family, you are raised with a certan view of the world – in my family we talk about politics a lot.

I also think that coming from a part of Europe where there are lots of peoples and languages has helped give me a different view – I have a very wide network in Europe.

How can Sweden help immigrants integrate into society?

I think a lot of this is about tolerance and respect. But also I think that what we managed to achieve at the Moderate Party in Flen was a good way to start – of our list of 20 candidates for the council, 6 were foreigners, of which 3 had non-European backgrounds.

How can immigrants get more involved?

I started by going to SFI [‘Svenska för Invandrare’ Swedish lessons]. There I was able to learn social studies as well.

I think the key is to try to meet people and try to make your voice heard. For me politics was a very good way into society – it’s better than sitting and waiting for things to happen.

How does your experience during the fall of the Iron Curtain influence your politics today?

In the Paneuropean movement we’ve always said that pan-Europe must mean the whole of Europe. For us, the main aim of European union was to get in touch with Europeans behind the Iron Curtain.

Today, I think that anyone who fulfills the criteria for joining the European Union should be allowed in – enlargement isn’t finished with Romania and Bulgaria. The next countries we have to look at include the former Yugoslavia, Moldavia, Albania, Ukraine and others – they’re all interested in joining the European Union.