Martin Schulz — “Democracy in Europe needs to be defended”
20 July 2012
Martin Schulz speaks his mind. In an interview to Presseurop, while passing through Paris on an official visit, the president of the European Parliament noted that the institution is still struggling in the EU political landscape. It is struggling against the markets, trying to impose its own agenda; the work of MEPs is overlooked; and it is also struggling against European leaders who still have a very poor vision of how to make the EU function democratically.
You have been president of the European Parliament for six months and your term continues until 2014. What will be your guiding principles?
The European parliament is where democracy in Europe happens. Democracy in Europe needs to be defended, not subjected to the principle that the needs of the markets rule democracy. The markets need to be controlled by democracy.
That is true not only at the national level. We need a trans-national parliament which would provide legitimacy to the trans-national executive institutions. That is the duty of the European Parliament. This has never been very welcome by the executive. But never, throughout history, has a parliament owed its rights to the powerful. Parliamentary rights have always been fought for. This is my primary duty.
Does the Parliament dispose of all the tools necessary to achieve this goal?
The Parliament has all the tools. It is sufficiently powerful to use legislative procedures. For example: the Council of Ministers of the Interior unilaterally decided to exclude the Parliament from the management of part of the Schengen Area. Parliament is boycotting cooperation on five major issues and will not negociate until the Council abandons this bad idea. I have already seen some signs that the Council will return to the negociating table.
The presidents of the European Council, of the European Commission and of the European Central Bank recently worked together to present a report called "Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union". The president of the European Parliament was not included. Would you have liked to have been asked or is this in the scheme of things?
It demonstrates how some representatives of the European Union think. We are not living at the time of the Congress of Vienna, when the European powers gathered behind closed doors to later inform their surprised subjects of what issues should be dealt with. We are a multinational democracy. That the president of the European Parliament is excluded shows the degree of democratic thinking among those people.
I was surprised that only José Manuel Barroso [president of the European Commission] made any objections. I didn't expect Herman Van Rompuy [president of the European Council] to do it, because he is the representative of those who do not want a parliament – not all, but the majority. From Mr. Draghi [president of the ECB], I expect nothing and, to date, Jean-Claude Juncker [president of the Eurogroup], has yet to comment on the subject.
But there is some progress, the Parliament is now integrated into the process and will be consulted, like the national governments, on the bill proposed by Van Rompuy – after that we will see.
A federal Europe implies a more powerful Parliament. That does not seem to be the current view of the future. The European Parliament is very powerful. I think that we are among the most powerful legislators in Europe. ACTA [Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement] was rejected by the European Parliament. SWIFT, a method of transferring banking data to the United States, was rejected by the European Parliament [later approved after being renegotiated]. Remember the Services Directive – the so-called Bolkenstein Directive? It was rejected by the European Parliament. Even the decision to lower roaming costs for mobile phones is due to the European Parliament.
We have a problem. We are powerful legislators perceived as being weak. The role of the president of the European Parliament is to fight against that.
How do you explain that?
National governments, which are the right arm of the legislative system in Europe, have the advantage of having a domestic public. That allows them to change each of our victories into a domestic victory. Parliament is often overshadowed by that. Furthermore, there is no government of Europe.
At the moment the Commission is the European government, backed by a governmental majority behind a Commission president and an opposition that is against this state of affairs. We have a system well-known to voters at the local, regional and national level but not at the European level.
I hope that with the next European elections, after which the president of the Commission will be elected by the European Parliament, we will create such a structure – an elected Commission president backed by a majority which approves and supports him against a minority opposition. I hope that will make the Parliament more visible to the public.
A Parliament draws its legitimacy from the ballot box. The European Parliament could increase its legitimacy by a truly European election. As president of the Parliament, are you able to take action so that European elections are held with trans-national ballots?
I think that we are moving in that direction. The Lisbon treay applies here and it provides that the European Council will propose a candidate for president of the Commission, in keeping with the result of the election, for the approval of the Parliament.
Europe's major political currents are developing a procedure aimed at running a candidate for this presidential post at the European level. That will create an electoral campaign which, for the first time, will not be to elect a European Parliament. The strange thing is that the identification of voters with their political leanings is reproduced in the battle between the candidates but not by a call to elect an institution.
Voters have trouble understanding what their vote means. What do the MEPs I elected do? What are they doing with my vote? That reduces the European elections to a kind of national lithmus test. I think that next time, we will already have a different approach. That should increase participation. And that increases the legitimacy of the Parliament.