By Antonia Schräder
“Bringing Europe back to the People” this is what the Europeans People Party is campaigning for. This is a big promise considering the growing EU scepticism and the ever widening gap between Brussels and the Europeans. The young Europeans play an important part, they are the future. But how will the EU manage to reach out them, to make them go vote, to make them feel that there vote matters? In an interview with Dirk Gotink, Spokesperson of Manfred Weber, I tried to understand the roots of the missing European identity, which is crucial not only for the upcoming elections, but for the future of Europe.
Manfred Weber is familiar with elections on both levels, on the national and the EU level. In what way is this different for a politician ?
Interesting to see is that actually the method is the same. You want to reach your candidate and you have your ideas and your programmes how you can directly reach people. There is not a Spanish way of doing that or a German way of doing that. I mean it is basically the same. Also the concerns of people are very similar.
A major point in both, the Maastricht treaty and the treaty Amsterdam is the endeavour to create a common European identity. But we still see a cleavage between national identity and a European identity. I was wondering how to overcome this cleavage and to follow what actually binds us together as European citizen?
Well the starting point is not the European identity. The starting point is first of all to consider that people have several layers of identity, loyalty and being part of community. The first one is of course local and regional, then you have the national one and there is a European one. What the extremist try to do is that they try to oppose this to each other. This perspective is a mistake, because they belong to each other and in many places it is totally normal. Take for example someone from Castilla la Mancha in Spain, they are proud to come from the region la Mancha, they are proud to be Spanish and are a proud European. Basically we do not need to fight for a European identity, but rather we have to take into account that those different layers of identity belong together. We shouldn’t allow extremist make contractions between them. Between regional and national and European one. That is nonsense.
Even though we have these different layers of identity, which may not contradict each other, we still see that there is a lack of identity at the European level and that the national identity is still much stronger. In his campaign Manfred weber is mentioning that he will give europe back to the people. How will Mr.Weber, as the future president of the commission redeem this promise to the European citizens?
Two things are here necessary. First, in the decision making process: taking another step in the decision making process, so that the level of prioritisation, is one step closer to the people and one step further away from the the technocrats. This is not easy, because the machine is obviously very big, but the most important message for the elections is, that we have to show the people, that how they vote and what they vote has an direct impact on what happens afterwards. Basically this is the simple process of democracy. Second, in the visibility: topics such as migration, economy and climate are most import ant to europeans. These three topics you will find everywhere in Europe. People are worried about Europe not controlling the external borders. Obviously it changes from one country to another, but almost in every country it is on the top concerns. Further people are concerned about a stable economy. Priorities in our program are to give young people a perspective to a job, and give young families access to housing.We need to make sure that not an entire generation will gonna grow up indebted and that the houses the bought once, will never be sold for the same price again. We saw this in Ireland. And then the climate. Which is basically this big categorical imperative. So bringing that decision making or the topics much closer to the concerns of the people.
How is it possible to achieve this? Currently European citizens see an ineffective commission and a slow decision making process in Brussels?
I don’t agree. I think the commission has done a lot in the last 5 years. The problem is that the last 5 years were really crisis management years. Just like the 5 years before. So we’ve been already in ten years of crisis management. Which means you can not really set up a positive programme, you always have to react to the realities and the political problems of the day. Essentially, what we need to do now is have a new start.We need to present a positive agenda again. That can also lead to quick decision making. Take for example the FRONTEX decision of stocking up extra border personnel to 10.000. The council agreed to the proposal to have this full capacity by 2027. This is 12 years after the start of the migration crisis. That is not good enough, so yes: we have to deliver quicker and of course this brings some big challenges like you also have on national or local level. We analyse the problem together and then we propose a solution. Between the two steps there is some kind of a link. Important is that people have to see this link, people have to see that their concerns bout the migration crisis in 2015 and 2016 and their experiences in that period have a direct effect on the decision making of the commission in the same mandate. And exclude that we already have managed a lot, but at the moment the migration files are stuck and that will be the top priority for the next commission, which is up to Mr. Weber to solve that.
Coming back to the quote from the campaign: giving Europe back to the people. As a student who has the chance to study in another european country and who benefits from various university programmes funded by the EU, it is easier to see what impact the EU has on my personal life. The ‘Standard Eurobarometer 89 Spring 2018’ on European citizenship show that a higher level of education represents an increased level in European identity, trust in the EU and higher voting rates. The EPP campaigns for reaching out to all people. In the past we have not seen this to a great extent. How will Mr. Reach out to those young people who are not going to university? What will the Commission do for the lower middle class?
First of all we need to make EU funds and exchange programmes also accessible to lower levels of education and we have done that with Erasmus. Those funds have been increased. Further Mr. Weber has introduced an INTERAIL ticket, to give 18 year olds the chance to discover the countries around them. Also those kind of programmes need to be accessible, not only to university students, because we know that university students, they normally will take care of themselves. But surely its important. So we need to open up those funds to lower levels of education, for example when you consider the technical professions. This is what we mean by giving Europe back to the people and this is indeed not just an elite project in Brussels of high educated, super flexible cosmopolitans, speaking 6 languages. It is really something that people get picture of Europe as taking their concerns into account and moreover that Europe is actually protecting them in a globalised world. This would be my best answer to the populist and all the extremist who are attacking Europe. That we deliver, that the EU is the only mechanism we have. To built on the success we already achieved in the last 60 years.
Unfortunately, we have not seen Manfred Weber at the Maastricht debate, which was an important debate for many europeans, especially young europeans. Will we see Manfred weber in another high profile debate before elections ?
He would have loved to be there, but in this case it was just not possible. Yes of course. There will be a very big debate on the 15th of may in the European Parliament. We will be there. And there will be a debate on German television between Timmermans and Weber on the 16th of may. ARD and ZDF respectively. He would have loved to be there, but in this case it was just not possible.