As a young person involved in politics, from the local, to the national, and then the European level, what significance do these three levels have for you?
We will need to present and communicate a continuum, a coordinated chain: that elected representatives at the local, national and European levels work to achieve the same objectives, in a concerted, planned manner. Same goal, one strategy, different competencies, all at the service of the citizens. Where no such connection exists, we will have to create it. Different levels can provide different solutions. But the aim must be the same: improving the lives of people. In that respect, all politics is local. People live at local level, they live in communities. The daily lives of citizens are mostly affected by local services: parking space, street cleanliness, nurseries, kindergartens and schools, daily crime, the feel and look of their neighbourhood. That’s where we need to have an impact. In the campaign next year, we will have to mobilise our local champions, our local heroes.
At the European level your politics are tied to the European People’s Party, a political family that has been coming first in the European elections since 1999. What are your expectations for the EPP in the coming elections?
The EPP will win next year’s election. But it is not simply about that, it is not just about winning. It is about succeeding. And we won’t succeed until everybody wins. Every European citizen will have to be better off, that’s what I call success. There must be something in it for every single European. At the EPP, President Joseph Daul and Secretary General Antonio López-Istúriz have been tirelessly working to achieve that, co-ordinating not only with the multiple levels of decision-making and power in Brussels, but with our member parties in Europe and beyond. They, and the leaders who came before them – I’m thinking particularly of the late Wilfried Martens, have provided inspiration and guidance for the youth of today, and have been part of providing real solutions to some of the most challenging political problems our [European] Union has faced since it came together.
Given the climate of change that is sweeping the political landscape, and the emergence of Emmanuel Macron as a leading figure of Europeanism, does the EPP need to adjust its narrative to distinguish itself in the elections?
The climate of change is not being dictated by any political leader: it is determined by what happens on the ground, by what people’s needs are. That is what has been guiding us, that is what will guide us. We’re not here to follow others. We won’t change our colours to win an election. We’re here to lead. And leadership is about providing solutions. If we need to adjust our course, that will be for us to respond to changing needs, to changing conditions, not to changing politics.
What in fact is the defining difference between the European political parties? Why do you believe your political family has the most suitable message for the European Union of tomorrow?
Because we know what to do, and how to do it. We have proven that we have solutions, we can manage change, we can make a change. Is there more to be done? Certainly. New challenges spring up every day. What is most important though is that we know why we do what we do: people are at the centre of our actions, of our policies. That’s rooted in our Christian values, that’s rooted in compassion, in solidarity, caring for your neighbour. We also know that those values cannot exist in the abstract; those inform policy, they are transformed into practical solutions. We do what we do because we want to move forward without leaving anyone behind. Moving forward, leaving no one behind.
Youth politics – is youth taken seriously by senior politicians across Europe?
It is not about been taken seriously. This is a very top-down approach, I do not agree with that. I do believe that you are taken seriously when you have something serious to say. Age is not a virtue. It is not a constraint either. Come up with a better plan, people will listen. That is what it is all about.
Communicating Europe: Surely much has gone wrong in the last decade; how can the EU be better communicated?
People will have to see the practical benefits, beyond peace or Erasmus. All Europeans will have to see what is in it for them, in very practical terms. The European Commission published a study in January putting the cost of the EU at less than a cup of coffee per day for each citizen. That’s a start. Let’s spin it in a more positive way as well: what does it give back to each citizen? A loaf of bread every day? A pint of milk? What has the peace dividend been? How much wealthier are we thanks to the Single Market? The numbers are there, the arguments exist. And for those who feel left behind: what is our plan to make Europe more inclusive?
Ultimately, what kind of Europe do you want, and will you fight for? Federal or a Europe of nations?
No one says that we can’t come up with a new model. I am fighting for a Europe that provides answers and solutions, a Europe that works for Europeans, a Europe that works for every European. I want a Europe that protects and defends but also inspires. I want a Europe that provides a new social model to the world: a Europe that embraces innovation, that leads change, that writes its rules, that makes it work for everybody. That can only be a Europe where each issue is dealt with at the level it can be most efficiently and effectively handled: we cannot deal with migration at the local level, as we don’t have to be dealing with culture at the European level. What do you call that? A Europe for all.
The defining issue of the last few years has been migration. What are your thoughts on how the EU has handled the most difficult humanitarian crisis since WW2?
Migration is about telling ourselves and others the truth: we can neither close our doors to those who are under threat, nor we can accept all of those who want to come here. If we close the door to those whose lives are truly in danger, we will be lying to ourselves: what will happen to compassion then? However, we cannot tell all those who want to create a better life in Europe that they will be able to do so: that will be lying to them. I do believe that we were unprepared; we will need to do more. We will have to understand that migration won’t go away. It will continue to exist as long as income and wealth differences, wars, disasters and climate change exist. We will have to do more to prepare ourselves. We will also need to find solutions on spot, where the problems appear.