1. Quelles sont les raisons qui vous ont amené à prendre la fonction de Président du Parlement Européen?
Both because of my family experience and because of where I was born, I realised early in my life the necessity, the strength and the beauty of the European ideal. My interest in Europe was not motivated simply by the effort to avoid the replication of the fratricide history of the first half of the 20th century, I was also fascinated by the philosophy which sustained it throughout the centuries: from Dante to Kant, from Victor Hugo to Coudenhove-Kalergi.
Yet, I wanted to channel this interest in Europe into an active force. I felt that it was necessary to bridge the gap between the theory and practice in European integration and I thought that one of the best way of doing this was through European politics: there is not a better place for European politics than the European Parliament, where issues which concern all Europeans are actively and passionately debated.
To a large extent the reason for my bid to the Parliament Presidency was motivated by Willy Brandt’s famous dictum: “Wir wollen mehr Demokratie wagen” let’s dare more democracy. This is true not only at the national level, but even more so at the European one. A strengthened European democracy cannot but pass through a strong European Parliament. That is both my objective for the next two years and the reason for which I sought to become President.
2. Quelle est, à votre sens, le rôle que votre institution est amenée à jouer dans la société?
I think that the European Parliament has essentially one over-arching objective which is the consolidation of our common European identity which must be based on a set of values and practices to be debated openly and democratically. The European Parliament has the crucial role of translating into practical policies and legislations concepts such as: solidarity, anti-totalitarianism, human rights, equality, freedom and security. These debates have very practical implications whether we look at the distribution of funds in cohesion policy, the rescue programme for Greece or reversing the worrying signs which we witness in Hungary.
Moreover, I would like to single out three macro-areas which will according to me serve as battle-grounds in the actions of the European Parliament: making Europe fit for globalisation, reinforcing the rule of law within and outside Europe and fine-tuning the balance between freedom and security.
On the first point, a strong and cohesive EU makes the aggregate power of its Member States larger whether we are looking at negotiations with third parties on trade, environmental protection or foreign policy issues. This points to one of the fundametal rasion d’être of the European Union: making Europe fit for globalisation, but also making globalisation fit for Europe. Globalisation is not a panacea. It has brought opportunities, but also threats to many of our achievements from the environment to security. In this sense the EU provides a mutualisation of the risks which we incur in a globalised world, and at the same time aims to tame some of its worst excesses by persuading the rest of the world to compete in a level-playing field with us.
An example might be needed in this respect. Take a factory which does not respect any environmental standards, which can export to foreign markets which are open, but at the same time it is insulated by competition by protectionist laws in its own country. The same factory is also helped by the local authorities thanks to a loose competition policy, no labour protection, friendly state aid and a currency which is kept artificially low. Competition with a firm which externalises the costs and internalises the profits is difficult for law-abiding European industries. Our firms are not afraid of competition, they are rightly afraid of unfair competition. It is the role of the EU and of the EP to help rectifying these imbalances favouring world integration in an inclusive fashion.
This leads me to my second consideration on the rule of law. The European Union is a light administration: it relies on Member States to enforce its policies and legislation. It is a political project which has grown out of the smart idea of pulling together the management of resources in coal and steel. Yet to this day, the main trait-d’union which keeps the EU functioning is the rule of law, the European Union is first and foremost a legal Union relying both on the watchdog activity of the European Commission, but also on the mutually strengthening interaction between EU citizens, national courts and the European Court of Justice, acting on the basis of the treaties and secondary legislation
We should take stock of this success and state clear that our objective for our Union both at home and abroad is a fair, equal and binding application of the rule of law. The EU needs to continue to fight corruption, maladministration, delays and costs of justice so as to make sure that the EU is the best and most transparent place to live and make business in the world. This principle should also guide us in our external action as economic development without rule of law is both ephemeral and easily reversible.
The third macro-area which my institution has to confront everyday is the delicate fine-tuning between contrasting, and – to an extent – legitimate demands. The most pressing of these dichotomies is the one between individual liberty and security: we have experienced this when we voted on the SWIFT agreement, when we vote on the protection of passengers’ data, when we look at extradition demands or lately when we look at issues such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. The issues touched here are often very technical, but they ultimately boil down to the burning issue of how high, or how low we want to set the bar.
3. Quel sera, à votre avis, le plus grand défi de votre institution dans les années à venir?
I have no doubt that the greatest challenge of the European Parliament in the years to come has all to do with increasing its standing both among the people and within the structure of the European Union.
I am very aware of all the arguments involved in the democratic deficit debate. I find most of them over-blown as the EU is not an unchecked leviathan, it is not a mammoth administration: it is subject to a continuous system of checks and balances and also the incessant scrutiny of informed stakeholders which have contrasting views on the subject and keep a close eye on the legislative process: from its conception until the final vote in Parliament.
Yet, as the EP discusses more and more crucial issues, vital to the very survival of the EU and its long term future, the EP has to further consolidate its standing as the cornerstone of democracy at the EU level – not just in the EU architecture, but also and most importantly in the eyes of the citizens. In this sense I foresee two main developments.
The first is the direct involvement in the European Council debates, in its preparatory work and also in its deliberations. This would not be simply in the interest of the EP, but also of the Heads of State and Governments who often take hugely important decisions, with little accountability neither at home nor at the EU level.
The second development is obviously a reversal in the tide of abstentionism and anti-Europeanism which partly marks European elections. I believe the best way of reversing this trend is by making the European elections more political and less national, increasing the link between European political parties and the formation of the President of the Commission.