The next Statutory Congress will take place in Rome on March 30-31, 2006 and will coincide with the 30th Anniversary celebrations of the EPP. At the very onset let me congratulate your able leadership and the success story of European People’s Party over last 30 years. Today, 30 years later the EPP has come a long way since its inception as a trans-national party of European Christian Democrats and currently boasts 71 Christian democrat, reform and conservative member parties from 36 European countries and is the most influential political party in all major European institutions: 11 heads of government in the European Council, nine Commissioners including the President, and the largest Group in the European Parliament with 264 members.
How do you feel to be in the driving seat and what are your plans to bring transparency to the European institutional working? In your endeavour what are the difficulties you are facing?
It’s a great honour for me to have led the EPP for all these years. I think my work, so far, has been quite successful since we are the largest and most influential European-level party on the continent. One major pillar in our political ideology is, of course transparency. All our political documents vigorously defend the need for transparency in order to have open and public debate on the major issues that confront Europe.
After the failed referenda in France and the Netherlands, only real and thorough transparency will bring us out of this Constitutional deadlock. We all have to start setting new examples. The Members of the European Parliament, for instance, should sooner rather than later, have a uniform electoral and financial status that can be scrutinised by the European public at any given moment. MEPs cannot serve the European interests of their citizens in national terms.
It is a fact that the political groups are vital to running the European Parliament and with your group being the largest it has extra responsibility. What are your views and perceptions to improve the power and structure of the European Parliament to enhance efficiency?
On the basis of the recent European Treaties, we managed to implement a form of co-decision in European legislation between the Council and Parliament. The ultimate goal is to have equal status between these two institutions. Parliament also scrutinises the nominees for the European Commission.
Apart from Treaties and procedures, the European Parliament and the politics that surround it, has become more important. In fact, in 2004 the EPP managed to set a precedent by stating clearly that the winner of the European elections must have the privilege of nominating the President of the new European Commission. In 2004, the EPP was the winner and, after a difficult political fight and two EPP Summit meetings, we managed to table two nominations: first Chris Patten, who was unfortunately rejected, and then Jose Manuel Barroso who was thankfully accepted and is now doing excellent work.
The Parliament’s Budget Committee was unified in rejecting the agreement reached on the EU’s 2007-2013 budget by heads of government in December 2005. What is EPP’s position on the future budget scenario of the European Union? In the middle of the crisis last December, a solution was found on the basis of the common understanding that was reached among EPP Prime Ministers during the EPP Summit. Chancellor Angela Merkel translated this common approach during the difficult Council negotiations and was the basis for the final solution.
Now, our Group in the European Parliament is in the process of clarifying some outstanding issues and I’m confident that the whole process will move forward.
How do you see the EU solving problems of immigration and asylum with new countries acceding? Problems such as forced prostitution also pose a threat to a widening Europe – what are the steps necessary to enact EU-wide education and monitoring of social problems such as these? These are indeed major challenges for Europe and our Congress in Rome, on the 30th and 31st of March, aspires to produce new and concrete solutions. This is why we have to deal with the root of these problems, which affect the everyday lives of our citizens and to tackle them swiftly and effectively.
But to summarise our position: we are in favour of immigration but we are not in favour of illegal immigration and all related side-effects such as forced prostitution.
What issues in the Constitution do you feel are the most controversial and do you think that a revised edition will correctly tackle these?
I think that the issues themselves and the solutions that are provided in the Constitution are not controversial. I think the format which the Constitution is presented – long, complicated and legalistic – is probably the main reason for certain public scepticism. Yet, I do not know if a revised version will be the solution.
Regardless of technical formulas, it is absolutely essential to better communicate to the European public the great benefits they will have when the Constitution is finally ratified.
What is your opinion on the newly-elected leader of the British Conservatives, David Cameron? Despite the many concessions of the EPP towards the British Conservatives in past years, why do you think there is such a strong anti-EPP bloc in this party.
In the UK, there has always been a strong Eurosceptic tendency. Yet, for many years, the EPP had a very constructive and productive relationship with the British Conservatives.
This cooperation was achieved in the framework of our parliamentary Group, the EPP-ED. In the so-called “Malaga agreement” we created the “ED” section in our Group that would accommodate the British Conservatives and give them autonomy on institutional questions.
Unfortunately, Mr Cameron has committed himself to a position that is in breach of all our previous agreements. He has done so in order to appease, during his leadership campaign, the radical Eurosceptic bloc of his party. Ironically, this bloc apparently feels more comfortable with strange parties such as Law and Justice (PiS) from Poland, with policies that are so bizarre they would be definitely ridiculed in the UK.
Do you think all EU states – including the UK – should adopt the Euro as a single currency and will it happen?
I think that all EU Member States should ultimately adopt the Euro. Of course, this should be done on the basis of the set criteria and the proper economic conditions. Also, the new Member States are actually obligated to join at some point the Euro.
Through globalisation, our present world is merging into one. It is a dangerous illusion to believe that nation states alone are still able to confront this challenge and to secure the conditions for a strong economy. Only a strong and concise EU economy can compete on equal terms with other major and emerging economic powers.
Would you say that there is enough thematic or opinion exchange and communication of views between the political and the executive structures of the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean – the EU and US -, what can be done to increase understanding between them at the non-official everyday level and is there a non-official, open and independent medium for politicians and executives from the two sides to communicate? If not, is there a need for a new link?
Actually, I think that there is a great deficit in the exchange of opinions and communication between the two sides of the Atlantic. There are, of course, a few voices from both sides that have monopolised these exchanges and are not very interested in clarifying some misconceptions. I think from our point of view, US opinion-makers have to understand that a strong EU is the interest of the US. A strong EU means a stronger transatlantic partnership and, therefore, a stronger resolve in dealing our common global challenges. Those Americans who deal with individual European leaders that claim to be pro-American and Eurosceptic at the same time, is a short-sighted course of action that undermines the EU dimension of the transatlantic relationship. For us, a pro-American and Eurosceptic politician is a contradiction in terms.
Thus, it is important to expand the channels of communication and the EPP is always open to this. Last year I visited Washington and I had a series of very fruitful contacts with the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department. I will again visit Washington in May and will also include a stop in Ottawa, Canada.
Last but not least, What’s your opinion on Europe’s leadership today considering that Europe in the eighties was characterised by a strong leadership, Helmut Kohl, Margaret Thatcher, Francois Mitterand to mention a few?
Europe is now starting to experience a new generation of leaders – such as Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Costas Karamanlis, Wolfgang Schussel, Victor Orban, just to name a few. We are entering a new phase of European politics and I think that this new generation of leaders will be capable of convincing and committing citizens to the European idea and assuring the future of a strong Europe.