Very sorry to learn of the death yesterday of Erhard Busek, a few days before his 81st birthday. When I first came to Brussels in 1998 looking for work, Peter Ludlow and Michael Emerson put me in front of him as a sort of interview rite of passage, to see if I could hold my own in debate with a former Vice-Chancellor of Austria. He was charming, modest, and tolerant of the young, and I passed the test. I did not know then of the brave role he had played within his own party a decade earlier, suggesting that maybe Kurt Waldheim was not such a good candidate to have as president. I did know that as Vice-Chancellor in the mid-90s, he had led his party and co-led his country into the EU.
We saw quite a lot of each other over the next decade, as he carried out his various roles in keeping the EU engaged with the Balkans. I was impressed that, as EU Special Representative in charge of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, he did not hold back from challenging his own paymasters for their lack of ambition towards the future EU membership of the Western Balkan countries.
But I also remember sharing a flight with him from Brussels to Vienna for a conference where we were both speaking. I remarked that I was surprised that he was not up in business class rather than slumming it in economy with the rest of us. He retorted something along the lines of ”Quatsch! I have my papers, my pyjamas and a book to read; why would I need to be in business class for an hour or two?”
I last saw him at the GlobSec conference in Bratislava in 2019. He was recovering from a stroke, but still radiating goodwill and constructive engagement, venerated by all of us there who knew his record. Someone who left his country and his continent in better shape than he found it.