Talking Europe: 36-year old Polish sociologist and Chairman of the European Young Conservatives, Radosław Fogiel, chats with New Europe’s Irene Kostaki to discuss the year ahead in European politics and the upcoming 2019 elections.
NE: How do you see Europe in the forthcoming elections?
Flourishing, of course. It is going to be interesting. A lot of people ask, politically, what will happen with the parliamentary fractions, will the EPP (European People’s Party), the ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) survive?
This is a very tricky question, as the Chinese say “may you live in interesting times” and we do, suddenly everything is changing. There is a rise in Eurosceptic, and even close to nationalistic, politics. On the other side, there is (French President Emmanuel) Macron trying to build something of his own by being a new different type of politician and not a classical liberal or Christian-Democrat.
We will probably see the more traditional political fractions like the EPP and S&D in decline. It is definitely an opportunity for change…Europe needs some sort breath of fresh air, but the question what kind of change this will be.
NE: Were the Italian vetoes at the EU Summit a jolt for Europe?
That is exactly the question. They did pursue some issues that gave them power, and right now they are trying to figure out what’s going on. We do need the EU as Europe, the only thing is how we perceive it. It is the federalist idea that I am not comfortable with. But a union that creates a structural playground for its citizens and the nations by enabling free trade without any tariffs and a Union that focuses on things that are useful for the members, such as Erasmus and getting rid of roaming charges. It is hard not to talk about the elephant in the room, which is of course Brexit. For me, it is a unique problem itself, it is the result of a problem.
NE: So is it Europe’s problem or the UK’s?
I think it is more Europe’s problem. If we want to avoid such situations in the future, like in the Czech Republic and the possibility of a “Czexit” referendum – it is still marginal – but it is appearing in the mainstream political dispute. For Poland, this is not an option, but we have other issues. As for the new infringement case on Supreme Court law and judges, they have to put the request for their term prolongation to the (Polish) President (Andrej Duda). It is a political factor, but on the other hand, the President is the most democratic element of the Polish political system, as we have direct elections.
NE: Can Europe keep pressuring Poland over the rule of law?
We are facing two issues – the problem of understanding each other, It may be a problem for someone from Luxembourg or the Netherlands, who did not leave under Communism, to understand that not all things changed after the fall of the Berlin wall. In Poland, the Czech Republic, and in Hungary, the judicial system remained intact, so this reform that we are doing was thought to be the final farewell to the remnants of those totalitarian times.
The Polish government believes that those reforms, as long as hey are in line with the Polish constitution, are possible. Judges are not stripped off their duties, they will remain judges until their death. But they will retire and they will not be active anymore. We believe that these are internal matters, not matters that the European Commission should be debating on.
This is a problem for the EU as a whole, which resulted in Brexit. Remember the slogan “take back control”? It was loudly spoken by the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal – Democrat electorate. Regular people still believe in their national state, in their governments, the ones they have the ability to elect directly. If the EU is going to continue the way it is right now, we will face other problems like this. We must inspire ourselves with ideas that were at the very heart of the EU – a free union of nation states that decide together about certain things and are not “run” from Brussels.
The fact that the EU Commission is getting more and more powerful is far from totalitarianism, but it is not a good idea that people who are not elected have so much power.
Is the pure will to change an urge for the better or are national governments using this rhetoric in a populist way to debate things with Brussels? Is their (Brussels) control too much, or is it the national governments that are using the argument?
I think it is both. Of course, someone can use this for political gain, but there are definitely problems. For example, the migrant crisis and the struggle between the EU Council President Donald Tusk and the Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker – or was it between Tusk and (Secretary-General Martin) Selmayr and the Commission trying to hijack the meeting.
NE: So what is the answer for Young Conservatives?
The answer is more freedom for making decisions by the national governments that are elected. The only EU elected institution, the European Parliament, has not much to say and is very far from the voters, which leads to low turnout for the elections.
The general turnout in Poland is 50-55%, and for EP elections it is only 25-30%. People see Brussels as something distant and put more of their trust in their own governments. Furthermore, we should apply the subsidiarity rule to tackle problems on specific levels. If it is on a local ot national, let’s keep the EU away from it so we can beter respect our traditions and heritage.
The most pressing issues are always the most ideological, like abortion and gay marriage. These should be decided on a national level, as it is now, but there are bureaucrats that want to harmonise this based on the human rights umbrella. I am not saying it is good or bad, but that it should be decided on each individual Member State.
NE: So what would you give back to the governments? Is migration a multi-national issue or we are just picking subjects that suit us according to the balance of political powers?
This is a subject where a European solution would be a good thing, but since the very beginning, the solution was not decided via a consensus – it was imposed, and both Greece and Italy did not fulfil the Dublin regulations. This was the first problem. Then comes the idea of quotas and a general confusion as to why the Turks and Poles should take migrants. A common decision would be one on an EU budget for the outer border security of Schengen. Th chaos (from the migrant crisis) led some countries to go back to establishing border controls, but calling this a small Schengen is a bit too much at this point. We dom however, see a common idea that is forming since the last Summit, as many spoke their minds and there was finally some sort of understanding, but without insults.
Of course, you can have Macron shouting to the Italians that they are “immoral bastards” for not taking migrants, but this is counterproductive.
NE: So what is going to be the central debate ahead of the May 2019 elections?
The migrant crisis will continue to dominate; the tariff war with the US will also be big. Also, an anti-ACTA II (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) will be on the agenda, depending on how the EP handles the issue. I do hope the general idea of EU reform will also be important. We should recognise the problems and start talking about how to tackle them in ways that are not always accepted by the mainstream elite.
NE: How about the Spitzenkandidaten and your favorite?
It is too early to say, but our former Prime Minister, Beata Szydło, is considering running. I’ve heard a few other names disucssed, but we should expect a decision in autumn, considering the ECR and Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE) party’s internal schedules.