With the European elections only six months away, Jan Zahradil, the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe’s Spitzenkandidat, or lead candidate for the European Commission presidency, sat down with New Europe’s Irene Kostaki for an exclusive interview about his vision for the future of the European Union.
Zahradil tabled the main points of his programme ahead of the electoral race that aims for a ‘grand review’ within the EU institutions and reform of the European External Action Service to try and revive the decades’ old scope of the European Commission. He also wants to further empower national parliaments, as ACRE proposes the introduction of the “red-card procedure” after a third of the EU’s national parliaments requested that they be able to halt legislative process at the EU level within a period that is twice as long as it is today – 16 weeks. The “return ticket procedure” will allow for the removal of any piece of EU legislation, with the institutions able to act upon the proposal.
What are the main messages that you will embody as ACRE’s lead candidate in the upcoming European elections?
I would be happy if people understand my party and my group as a moderate, common-sense voice between two extremes – anti-EU radicals and pro-EU fanatics. We want to be something in the middle that would better fit voters’ needs and wishes.
What is the significance of the Spitzenkandidat race and the process for your party? And why this time around have you decided to run as a candidate?
Speaking frankly, we didn’t invent this process. It was invented in 2014 and pushed by the ‘big guys’ in the European Parliament. We didn’t join then and we lost some space in the media. We lost some communication channels and we were not invited to public events, TV debates, so we decided to change strategy.
So it is not the process itself that is appealing to your party, but the media leverage mostly.
It is not only that, we think we could be self-confident enough to run a genuine candidate, why not. Greens are running, they are weaker than us, so we should be strong and self-confident enough to challenge the EPP (the European People’s Party) and the S&D (the Socialists and Democrats) and to come up with a real candidate for the European Commission president. We, however, – unlike the EPP and S&D – think that the European Council should pick the president of the European Commission and not the European Parliament. What we believe is written in the Treaties is – the European Council has the responsibility to pick the European Commission president nominee. Of course, the Parliament has to approve it, but the Parliament misinterprets our understanding. This is, in fact, stealing this right, the jurisdiction of the European Council.
What the Parliament says is that we are going to have a pool of Spitzenkandidaten, and you can pick up amongst those 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 people.
I disagree. They may wish to pick one of them, even one that didn’t represent the largest group, but who could be the compromise candidate. But unlike the EPP and S&D or ALDE, we say that the Council may decide to pick someone who is not a Spitzenkandidat. It is perfectly entitled to do so, and the European Parliament should respect that.
There could be a fight between the two and myself I am curious how far the European Parliament is able to come.
As for my personal decision to enter the race, I am no less experienced than Manfred Weber.
I have been in the European Parliament since 2004, before that I was a member of the National Parliament, I was a co-chairman of the joint parliamentary committee of the EU and the Czech Republic before we entered the EU and I have been supervising the process from the beginning.
I believe that I have enough expertise to know how this political EU business is going. I am a president of my party, I am a vice-chairman of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee. I think I am equipped well enough to enter the race.
How big is ACRE going to be after the European elections? What is the party’s role going to be in the jigsaw that is European governance?
There are some ongoing negotiations and I do not want to release any details. I can tell you more on the morning of May 27, because we will see more. I believe that we can still be the third largest, maybe even better. I expect a lot of reshuffling, a lot of changes.
No one knows for instance what French President Emmanuel Macron is going to do with his alliance with ALDE, whether they will split up after the election, or whether Macron will try to get MEPs from S&D or EPP or ALDE to form his group.
So, I expect a lot of changes. The process of creating European families in the next European Parliament is as open as never before, and we can benefit from that.