German politician Martin Schulz is the current President of the European Parliament, and a candidate for the role of President of the European Commission. He gave Yahoo an exclusive interview in which he discussed how he believes UKIP leader Nigel Farage is a danger to Europe, and why he thinks the UK still has an important role to play in the EU’s future.
Why do the right wing parties get so high numbers in the pre-election polls and are those parties like UKIP, FN and Lega Nord a danger for Europe?
The danger with these parties is not just about the number of seats that they get, but also about how they pull other more mainstream parties towards them. To see somebody like Silvio Berlusconi campaigning for ‘more Italy, less Germany’ sends a worrying signal. The danger with these parties is for Europe’s citizens. If a French voter elections Marine le Pen, or an English voter chooses Nigel Farage, they will have nobody representing their interests in Brussels. Voting for them is a lost vote. They have a scapegoat for everything, but no solution for anything. These people do not do the job they are elected and paid to do. The fold their arms and shout from the sidelines. People desperately need politicians to roll up their sleeves, get involved and find practical solutions. As a Parliamentarian and a democrat this offends me greatly!
Apparently you don’t travel to the UK: Why is that and why do you think are the British increasingly anti-European minded?
The election in the UK is a unique one, with a lot of focus on the question of EU membership, rather than the policies of the EU. I believe that they still have an important role to play in the EU’s future as a full member. The Labour Party will be at the heart of the social democratic delegation in the European Parliament and can play an important role in Europe’s future.
You are travelling a lot through Europe these days. Where did you experience the biggest enthusiasm for Europe?
I must tell you that the people I have met have been enthusiastic all over Europe. People fully agree to the idea that peoples and nations work together across borders to find common solutions for common challenges, because they know that together they are stronger. People of course have different views on its current situation, but they have all positively engaged in a discussion about how to get our institutions moving in the right direction again. The biggest enthusiasm across the continent, in every country I have visited and party I have met, is for a more progressive, more social Europe that puts the needs of ordinary people first.
Mr. Schulz, you want to become President of the EU-commission. What would be different with you and what would the profit be for the everyday life of every EU-citizen?
I want a Europe of citizens, not a Europe of banks and speculators. This is one of the most important messages of my campaign. I will prioritize the fight against unemployment, especially of young people, by creating the conditions which help businesses to hire more people. For example, I will put in place a new credit scheme for small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy. They are the biggest job creator but they cannot get access to credit to hire people and grow as fast as they wish. My Commission would put in place a scheme which gives lower interest rates or longer repayment terms for loans that create jobs for young people.
I would also have a fairer Commission. I would seek nominations from Member States, an equal number of male and female Commissioners so my Commission is more representative, and I would also lead the fight against the shameful 15% gender pay gap in Europe.
My Commission would also provide fiscal and social justice, by fighting against tax evasion, tax havens and tax fraud. These two enemies take away billions of Euros from our public purse every year, which could be spent on much-needed public services across the EU.
When you became an EU-assemblyman in the 90s, was there more enthusiasm for Europe? And what changed?
I would not say there has been more or less enthusiasm for Europe in the past twenty years, but I do believe that there is more anger and frustration now in Europe with the current economic and social policies. These policies are result of conservative and neoliberal policies that dominated the last decade. This manifests itself in lack of solidarity national egotism and inward looking leading to euroscepticism, my job is to convince people that there is a different political choice to make.
The scepticism towards Europe is growing every day. Why is that and how will you change that?
I am confident that my Commission would be fairer for all citizens and therefore address some of this anger. People see a system that has not looked after them during the crisis. They see hard-working bank clerks losing their jobs while irresponsible speculators make six-figure salaries; they see pensions being cut while pension fund managers make huge bonuses; and they see digital giants dodging taxes whilst small start-ups struggle to get off the ground. I want to fight all of these challenges and put Europe back at the service of its citizens, which will hopefully help us rebuild the image of the EU
The EU financial crisis led to a growing mistrust in many countries. Angela Merkel pushed through her strict austerity policy. Was that the right way?
No it was not. Austerity alone cannot be the solution. Of course, our states need healthy public budgets and deficits which respect their treaty obligations and many overdue economic and structural reforms. However I don’t believe that cuts are the only solution. I think that we need to invest to generate growth in Europe. I discussed this last week with the Italian Prime Minister Mr. Renzi, who agrees that we need to make a distinction between current spending and forward-looking investments. Economic growth requires commitments, not just cuts.
The EU should be a major player in the world politics, but isn’t even able to solve the conflicts in front of its own doors, like Ukraine and the Middle East? What needs to be done so that Europe can solve these problems themselves and get emancipated from the USA? And what exactly are the most important steps in those two conflicts?
Foreign policy remains primarily in the hands of national governments. The EU can only do what it is empowered to do by them. I praise Cathy Ashton for the work she has done in the past five years, which has often gone unrecognized. She was instrumental in a number of international negotiations and agreements. For example, she played a key role in bringing Iran to the negotiating table and securing new steps in the fight against the country’s nuclear plans.
Especially in many southern European countries the scepticism towards the German leadership grew. How do you want to bridge the gap between many EU-countries and Germany?
Let us be very careful about avoiding stereotypes. I think that, via this campaign, Europeans have come to understand that this is not about a clash of countries but rather a clash of political ideas. I have found that when I visit the South of Europe I am not seen as a German but as a social democrat or socialist. I was the first European politician to travel to Greece during the crisis, and to offer my support to the Greek people. I have also spent a lot of time campaigning in countries like Spain and Portugal. In these countries they feel that the PES has the right answers to the strict austerity policies imposed by the conservative governments.
The unemployment rate amongst young people is in some countries alarming, shouldn’t therefore be more concentration and effort on growing the economies? If yes, what exactly needs to be done?
Absolutely. Yes there should be more attention, and for me it will be a number one priority. I am yet to hear one concrete idea from my political rivals about how they intend to fix this. They keep saying it’s important, but I’m not sure what their solutions are; Do not forget too that in the past five years under their leadership there are ten million more Europeans out of work – so you could certainly make a strong argument that they don’t have the answers.
My credit scheme for small businesses is a concrete solution which will help create many jobs. I will also propose an increased budget for the Youth Guarantee, which was proposed by the Socialists in the last Parliament but rejected as we could not secure a majority. With a better result in this election we can deliver on these plans to support young people, which the last Commission was not willing to support.
You were in favour of Eurobonds. Why hasn’t one heard much about that from you recently?
Eurobonds were on the table at the height of the crisis when interest rates went through the roof. It still makes sense at some stage to have common bonds for a common currency. But it is clear that the conditions are not right yet and there is at present no political will to introduce them. It remains a project for the future. Luckily, the ECB did their job and this is no longer an immediate priority. The priority today is to kick-start the economy and create jobs.
You want to become President of the EU-Commission. But not the citizens, the country leaders are in the end deciding who will get that job. So you see the danger that somebody becomes President who hasn’t the backing of the majority of the voting citizens?
It is clear from the Treaty that the Parliament has the last say on the Commission President. The biggest political groups have all committed to the process, and clearly announced that only one of the candidates running for the EP will get a majority in Parliament. So no new candidate, the result of a backroom deal, can become Commission President. Also, 27 of the 28 leaders in the Council have named candidates in this process. They know this is a democratic new process and I don’t believe they will take the risk of nominating an alternative candidate. If they did, they would seriously damage the European democracy and it would be a dream come true for eurosceptics, who would be proved right in their argument that the EU is undemocratic.
If you could write an anti-European minded citizen a tweet and convince him to vote, what would you write?
The socialists are the only party who will change Europe and make it serve the voters again. Vote for us and you will see a real difference.