EU, Austria mourn death of Otto Habsburg
Austrian and European politicians mourned "a great European" Monday following the death of Otto Habsburg, heir of Austria's last emperor and a long-time advocate of European enlargement.
"With Otto von Habsburg, a great European has left us who gave an important impetus to the European project throughout his rich life," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement from Brussels.
"Otto von Habsburg's commitment to Europe should set a political example for all of us, especially in difficult times," he urged.
Habsburg -- he was only known as Otto von Habsburg outside Austria, since the state abolished his family's titles and confiscated their property in 1919 -- died early Monday at his home in Poecking on Lake Starnberg in Bavaria, aged 98.
The eldest son of emperor Karl I, who reigned for just two years before the Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrated in 1918, Habsburg became a major proponent of Europe after years in exile, serving as a deputy in the European parliament from 1979 to 1999, and heading the International Paneuropean Union for over 30 years.
An ardent anti-Communist, he also organised in August 1989 the now-famous "Pan-European picnic" in Sopron, Hungary, during which some 700 East Germans were able to escape to the West, just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
With his political activities, Habsburg "marked the European success story" and "made a central contribution to the opening of the Iron Curtain and the peaceful reunification of our continent that had been divided for too long", Barroso noted.
European parliament president Jerzy Buzek also remembered "a European giant", a friend and "a champion of European integration".
"He kept the flame of hope for the reunification of Europe alive when many others had given up."
"Otto von Habsburg... was a true heir of the best Europe stands for. We will always remember him. He will always be with us."
Austrian politicians of all stripes meanwhile praised Habsburg's endless commitment to Austria and his fight against Nazism and communism.
Chancellor Werner Faymann especially remembered the former EU deputy for his "valiant stance in favour of a peaceful and united Europe and for the fall of the Iron Curtain".
"All Europe is crying," added Othmar Karas, Austrian conservative deputy in the European parliament, describing him as a "a personality whose greatness can never be replaced".
© 2011 AFP