On Monday March 17, I addressed a Berlin debate between top candidates, heading party lists into the European elections: Alexander Graf Lambsdorff MdEP (FDP / ALDE), David McAllister MdL (CDU / EPP), Birgit Sippel MdEP (SPD / Socialists) and Gabi Zimmer MdEP (Die Linke / Left alternative). And last but not least, because she is a candidate for the Commission’s presidency, Ska Keller MdEP (Bündnis90/Die Grünen / Greens)
This ‘European evening‘ was organised by a number of partners including Europa Union, the trade union dbb, an NGO promoting citizen engagement, and EurActiv.de as media partner. The Vice President of the federation BDI, Hans-Peter Keitel, also addressed EU challenges from a business viewpoint.
>> Also check out EurActiv’s coverage on this debate:
- In English : First debate takes place among top German Candidates
- In German : Wenn der neue Kommissionspräsident aus dem Hut gezaubert wird
The panellists were asked to discuss the EU’s existential challenges, as well as their party’ proposals for the future EU orientations. I was asked, as a non-German, to give an impulse statement, putting things into a European perspective. To be honest, the response to my speech exceeded my expectations: several rounds of applause, heartfelt thanks in French, and more importantly: numerous references by the panellists to my points (and to France’ role, although not my purpose). I attribute this to my heavy accent and my nationality: German’s key partner in the EU, hence the organisers’ innovative invitation. As for the quality of ‘my ideas’: please judge for yourself (and send me feed-back), see below.
My general line was that these elections are indeed, different, with three stronger roles for Germany. I then asked politicians for their views (and gave mine) on ‘6 core issues’:
- two points on economic challenges:
- Replacing Europe 2020 with Innovation 2019 & creating a Youth Employment super Commissioner?
- Lack of EU energy policy beyond nuclear?
- two points on openness to the world:
- Updating immigration policy to reflect anxieties?
- Negotiating with the US to promote our norms re: data protection and capital flows?
- two points on Europe’s architecture:
- Clarifying EU Treaties around two circles, to keep UK and others ‘in’?
- and adding a third circle: a pan-European market, to help integrate Ukraine & Turkey while not excluding Russia forever?
One disappointment after all? German politicians did not provide any answers regarding Ukraine, the current crisis. Are we just dreaming about enlargement without updating our concepts?
But overall, I felt it IS possible to make these elections really European: politicians do wish to rise above domestic politics, when asked properly, by independent people outside their own circles.
Alexis Poulin, publisher of EurActiv.fr, will moderate a top candidate debate in France, and Editors in other capitals could play similar roles.”
MY SPEECH : “EUROPA WÄHLEN” (CHOOSE EUROPE)
by Christophe Leclercq, Founder, EurActiv Network
I would like to express my thanks for the invitation, particularly as a non-German. It as a sign of openness in these German circles. First a few words about myself: I am neither from the economic sectors nor from politics. I come from the media sector. I am not a French ambassador nor a eurocrat, although I do work primarily in Brussels. Like others, I am a travelling campaigner for Europe – but an independent one. EurActiv is non-partisan. We have 50 journalists in 12 countries, working autonomously in 12 languages.
The CEO of EurActiv Germany is Thomas Franke, co-organiser of this event. His team in Berlin will meet you at the information table outside after the event. There, you will find our newsletter containing a message from the French Minister for Europe, in German and intended for you.
The topic of my lecture is “Challenges for German politics from a European perspective“. The title of the evening is clear: it is not about domestic politics, but rather EU politics for the next five years, after the European elections. I will pose six main questions to the candidates. Simply worded, with my limited vocabulary…
But first I would like to say a few words regarding the setting for these elections, in three points. The voting process is “different this time?” “This time it’s different”, according to the official European Parliament campaign. Is this really true?
Compared to 2009, there are three differences. And in all three, the role of Germans has grown.
- The first difference: the EU is deeply affected by the financial and economic crisis. Several things must be reconsidered, without losing sight of the bigger picture. Germany as an economic power could continue to gain influence. The also means: more responsibility.
- Second difference, this time the parties have chosen candidates for the Commission presidency. This process was slower than in the national elections. But for a week now, everything is ready.
After the elections, the future Commission president will negotiate his programme with the Parliament to create a coalition majority. Just as it is in the Federal Republic, black-red (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union-Social Democratic Party) or something else, with Greens and Liberals. Meanwhile the mandate numbers will play a more significant role than before. That will also benefit Germany. The new Commission will explain, what kind of Europe it supports. And thus, which proposals it would like to push through the EU system.
- And here is my third preliminary remark. The EU policy-making processes should be modernised. Within the current treaties. So that an EU democracy can be created, that not only attracts other countries, but also… our own citizens!
Yes, EU voters still do not understand how the EU makes decisions. On the one hand, the standard procedures are complex and takes years. Whether it is true or not, it sounds like a lack of transparency. On the other hand, if it is urgent, like the financial crisis, it is completely different, extremely efficient. Important measures are determined during overnight council meetings… By very few people, without supervision of the parliaments and the media. Why? Precisely because the normal system is too slow. And all this takes place in the 21st century, the century of the internet and open communication.Can this not be done better? EurActiv, as an example, stands for transparency and efficiency of European stakeholders. With the internet, transparency has actually become quite good. But what about efficiency? Certain proposals were blocked online, like ACTA. Social media and the internet could soon support the creation of EU policy. Key words here are: “Participative democracy” with citizens, “liquid democracy” with stakeholders, influence ranking, visualisation of procedures, etc. EurActiv has projects in these areas, in cooperation with the EU, with Fraunhofer and others. Just ask us!
Along with Scandinavia, Germany is a leader in use of social media, in citizens’ initiatives for example. And Karlsruhe would like to strengthen the role of the parliaments. Both are compatible, participatory and parliamentary.
So the EU political process can be improved, also including German impulses.
Improving politics, but for which goals?
This is where I will pose my six questions to the candidates. They are also key questions for Germany.
1. THE POLICY FOR OVERCOMING THE CRISIS
Half of Europe still finds itself in an outward swing. It is suffering from significant youth unemployment. That is very harmful for the German economy as well.I ask myself, who here has heard of the Agenda “Europe 2020” …. It was supposed to be the umbrella programme of the current mandate. Not a huge success… A necessary compromise between competitiveness, social affairs and the environment. But which has hardly found resonance at national level.What replaces “Europe 2020” as a motto for 2014-2019? What about “Innovation 2019”, for instance? More reforms and shorter deadlines, directly linked to the mandate? Apart from that, I would suggest a Super Commissioner for youth employment. We need less of a compartmentalised mentality and more horizontal politics. This position could coordinate directives for education, labour, business policy; and perhaps digital economy as well. With a clear priority: Jobs for youth. But those are only my suggestions.Ladies and gentlemen, my first question for you: what is your motto for the Europe of years to come?
2. ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Security of supply is at the top of the agenda again. Particularly considering developments in the past few weeks, of course. And climate change remains a concern. But on one issue there will not be consensus, namely over nuclear power. But actually there are other aspects of the energy mix where there is also too little EU policy.[Although we currently have a German Commissioner in charge of this portfolio. We want to secure energy cooperatively. Renewable sources like those promoted in Germany. Generate cheap energy like in France. Search for shale gas like England. And create less dependence on Russia, like the central Europeans desire.]My second question for you: which EU energy policy to you stand for?
And here I will include two key questions on our openness toward the rest of the world on globalisation and migration.
3. TTIP & GLOBALISATION
In the coming months and years, the globalisation debate will be defined by TTIP. It is about the transatlantic partnership for trade and investment, meaning negotiation with the United States. From a purely economic perspective, it probably makes sense. But are we ready, regarding data protection and investment, to trust another system? Germany is especially sensitive in the first regard, and more open in the area of capital flows. The EU could play a leading role in global regulation. Even quicker, together with the US. Or would be rather seal ourselves off? And how will civil society react this time? So my third question is: Who here is more for or against opening up the markets?
And now a difficult issue: Migration. Aversion toward guest labourers and asylum seekers is growing. Now and again due to xenophobia: I am ashamed, as a Frenchman, of the election results for Front National. This tendency is also visible in other countries: these extremes will definitely have a political group in the next Parliament. But it is also about unemployment, and about national identities.Because of the common labour market, we already have a common migration policy. It is somehow being questioned.My fourth question for you: In the area of migration, what do you suggest?
And finally my last two questions concerning the architecture of Europe. With two aspects: EU treaties and eastward integration.
5. EU TREATIES
In the next treaty round, it is also about keeping euro-critical countries in. Many British want less integration, but with varying views. Maybe we could save a kind of ‘focused membership’ with more opt-outs. Several other countries are also euro-sceptic. Germany understands perhaps better than other countries, that we should not ‘lose’ the UK. Also because of its own interests.On the other hand, the countries in the eurozone are more for integration, although with differing accents depending on country and party. Germany is a little more reserved on this topic, if I understand correctly… [Others want the EU, but with less power, like the Scandinavians for example. And even some in Germany, but the eurozone without the Federal Republic or without France: that just doesn’t work]… Maybe we need to reform the EU treaties anyway… Or at least a clarification, so that everyone can read it! I see two alternatives.
- Either, alternative 1, we create two different circles of integration. In other words permanent circles, not only “l’Europe à plusieurs vitesses‘ as before. First a “Euroland”, with more integration, budget discipline and its own parliamentary control. And second, a larger internal market, with less competences, but still the EU framework.
- Or, alternative 2 is: continue with “l’Europe à dimension variable”, as it is today. Negotiate a few more opt-outs and so on, without a core Europe, no “Euroland”.
My fifth question is: are you for an EU with two circles, including “Euroland”? Or do you have another concept for the EU architecture?
My last question is up to date, concerning Ukraine and the Crimea of course. Nevertheless, this topic requires a geopolitical vision, I believe.
6. EASTWARD INTEGRATION
With the Ukraine crisis, we are coming to a renewal of European integration itself. The appeal and responsibility of the EU is clear. People have died for and because of Europe… Association with this country with EU accession possibilities, come to mind. But let’s not be short-sighted.Western Ukrainians dream of becoming like Poland… But aren’t they being treated like Turkey? Please, please, beware of sympathy now and empty promises later…[Enlargement in the current sense has been a concept of peace up till now, but not necessarily in the future. Cyprus, with its unsolved border issues has already caused concerns… Ukrainians should not choose between East and West every five years. Somehow they should be allowed to have both.]
For several years now, a new wall exists between development policy and neighbourhood policy. Not exactly like the former wall in Berlin, but still. [That can be seen on the Polish-Ukrainian border. And the current development dynamic is almost warn out anyway. And the Russia policy does not fit with with the neighbourhood policy.]
One third of Europeans live outside the EU. Among them Ukrainians but also Turks and Russians. I know these three regions personally and through the EurActiv Network. Which European “perspective” or which “horizon” do we offer? The concept which we are developing in 2014 should apply to the time after the crisis. And even for the time after Putin…
I believe, the people in these countries do not need a European Parliament soon. Even if that is you, the politicians, desire! Rather they need a good government at home as well as our fundamental freedoms. Above all freedom of movement and freedom of expression… Outside the current EU, without political integration. And likewise without the risky choice between “West and East”.
As an overarching concept for this, how about a pan-European market? Like in 1958 with the European Community. That would be 13 years after WWII…then the pan-European market would be the third circle of European integration. The Russians often proposed something quite similar, did we listen? Exchange of goods is fairly simple; freedom of movement for individuals would gradually follow.
At the moment there is not enough trust in the Kremlin to negotiate a greater Europe; that much is clear. Reconstruction will take time, but not 13 years, according to my calculations. Here, the German economy could play a deciding role.
In the meantime, we should think about the the people, not only the politicians and diplomats. Targeted sanctions yes, but also more Visas for normal Russians. “Test the West”, as it was called around here.
I see five positive measures as good investments in peace and stability:
Two are already in process, for Ukraine, as a part of the association
a) Financial assistance
b) Easier import of goods
In addition, a third operation comes to mind.
c) Visa facilitation or even doing away with visas for Ukrainians. So that even Russian supporters understand, which passport is worth more.Two more measures are possible but I would also direct them at Russian citizens:
d) Promoting free media and civil society. [Also in Russia itself, and there foundations can participate better as official institutions]
e) And last but not least, a significant increase in exchange programmes like ERASMUS. The next generation will help design the future of the continent.
So my sixth question for you is: Which form of integration do we offer Ukrainians and Turks? Do we need a new, sustainable concept for eastward integration? You, as German politicians, are in demand to develop such concepts.
I hope, you will answer these questions in light of German interests but also from a European perspective.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear fellow Europeans, I hope you will in fact choose Europe. Europe is your concern!
SOME OPTIONAL POINTS
The nomination procedure concluded with the selection of Jean-Claude Junker, from Luxembourg, for the Christian democrats. Franziska Keller is one of these European top candidates, for the Greens, together with the Frenchman José Bové. Others here are national top candidates. Martin Schulz, the current parliament president, will be at the top of the European and German list for the socialists. He is not yet allowed to conduct a party campaign. Guy Verhofstadt from Belgium leads the liberals and Alexis Tsipras from Greece is running for the radical left.
Several Europe-wide, presidential debates are being prepared. In my opinion this is quite late, considering the unfamiliarity with European parties.
What are the predictions, the surveys? The centre-right camp is currently leading the majority of governments and has the biggest political group at the European level. First forecasts indicate that this relative majority in the Parliament could be lost. The socialists and the Christian democrats will continue to be the biggest parties, but other parties will grow. Classic parties like the Greens and the Liberals, but also right-wing extremists and the radical left. (AfD cannot really be categorised well here)
The European Council, meaning the heads of government, will meet two days after the elections to seize the initiative. The top candidate of the leading party could be named Commission president. But that is not certain. Heads of government like Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Hollande have other ‘top jobs’ to fill.
The idea behind this process is that these elections will be more focused on individuals and become more political, according to parliamentary tradition. So that voters, in fact, choose Europe, instead of only national parties as it has been thus far.