Debating Europe wants to give students the chance to question policymakers, debate with fellow students from other European countries, and learn more about the work of the EU.

To achieve this goal, we are working closely with schools and colleges across each EU member state to launch a series of student-led online debates. You can read our previous debates with students from GreeceDenmarkBulgariaSweden,SpainBelgium, Italy and our special-guest debate with students from the USA.

Our ninth debate is with students from the G.F. Abela Junior College in Msida, Malta. We took their questions to Lucinda Creighton, Irish Minister of State for European Affairs and a member of the centre-right Fine Gael party (part of the  Centre-Right in the European Parliament); British Liberal Democrat MEP Chris Davies, a member of the  Liberal Democrats group; Scottish Labour MEP David Martin, from the  Social Democrats group, and Irish independent MEP Marian Harkin, who sits with ALDE in the European Parliament.

1. Could more relaxed public finances stimulate growth in EU countries?

The first question came from Jasmine and David, who asked if a less strict approach to public finances might help stimulate economic growth in the European Union.

We began by taking this question to David Martin from the S&D group.

david-martinI think that’s an excellent question. I am strongly in favour of ending austerity. I think austerity, by any measure, has failed. It has failed to reduce public debt, it has failed to get people back to work, and it has failed to make Europe more competitive; all it’s done is pile up misery. I’m an old-fashioned Keynesian. Keynes’ supporters believe that when you’re in recession you spend more, and when you come out of recession governments should spend less, so that you balance the books over the economic cycle. But, at the moment, we have the opposite of Keynesianism; we have governments cutting expenditure when the economy is already in recession. And, for me, that is deepening the recession, so I’m very much in favour of ending austerity.

Next, we took Jasmine and David’s question to the Irish Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton. Ireland has just completed its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, and this was one of the most divisive issues debated during the Irish Presidency. How would she respond?

lucinda-creightonI’m a big believer in restrained public expenditure. Certainly, in the experience of my own country, we saw in the past that when governments failed to control public finances they did so at a cost to the taxpayer, and it actually ruined the competitiveness of our country and made it almost impossible to emerge from recession. That was our experience back in the 1970s and in the 1980s.

Now, I think at the moment the difficulty is that public finances and their consolidation has been happening for so long, that there comes a point where not everybody can contract at the same time, especially when you look at export-orientated countries, you need your markets at least to be growing to help to stimulate demand. So, I think within the European Union there is some scope for limited inflation. Some countries are performing better than others, and a little bit of inflation – I know that some find that a very scary word – but a little bit of inflation in some parts of Europe could help with the countries going through a very difficult period at the moment.

2. Is abortion part of a woman’s rights?

Next, we had a question from Luisa on abortion. Reproductive rights are not an EU competence, which means that it is up to national governments to decide about these issues. However, we have debated this question very recently, and we also took Luisa’s question to Irish ALDE MEP Marian Harkin to respond.

My own view is that I’m very much pro-life, and that I believe there should be equal rights for both the mother and the baby. Obviously, if a mother’s life is in danger, then the mother’s life has to be saved, and it wouldn’t make any sense not to because if the mother dies, the baby dies. But, do I believe in the woman’s right to choose? The answer, in short, is ‘No’. Not divorced from the circumstances of the right of her baby, which has an equal right to life. It’s a very difficult issue, and in practical terms it can be very difficult to balance one with the other, but, I think that is what doctors have to try and do.

3. Is an integrationist approach to immigration better than a multi-cultural one?

Next, we had a question from Bradley, asking whether MEPs preferred an integrationist or a multi-cultural approach to immigration. We asked S&D MEP David Martin to respond.

david-martinI don’t think, Bradley, that you can force integration one way or another. I think you should certainly make it possible for migrants to learn the local language and to work in the wider community, and you certainly shouldn’t have a housing policy that ensures all migrants live in one part of a town or a village, whilst all the indigenous community lives elsewhere. However, if migrants choose to continue to have contact with their country, with their former country, then that is perfectly their right. If they decide they want to live near people who speak the same languages as them, then that is again understandable.

So, I think the host country should do as much as it can to facilitate integration, but there’s a limit beyond which you shouldn’t force it. You should still leave people freedom of their own expression, and allow them to retain their own identity. And, there’s a lot of strength in allowing them to retain their own identity; I look around Europe, and it’s a much more interesting and varied place because of migrants than it would be without them.

4. How does the Common Agricultural Policy affect countries outside the EU?

Next, we had a question from Rachel about the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). How does it affect agricultural sectors outside of the EU, and does it lead to regional inequality? We asked  Liberal Democrats MEP Marian Harkin to respond.

maria-harkinI think one of the differences between European farmers and New Zealand, Australian or US farmers is that we, in Europe, have tougher rules. We have traceability from farm to fork, we have strict regulation with regards to the environment, we have strict regulation on the medicines that can be administered to animals, etc. We try to raise the bar in the interest of consumers, and that costs money. But that is also why I think the CAP continues to be largely supported by European citizens.

For farmers in developing countries, especially the least-developed countries, a number of them have agreements with the EU where they can send their products to us tariff-free. But, as far as developed countries are concerned, such as New Zealand, Australia and the US, they’re fine and our CAP doesn’t do any damage to them, I can assure you…

You also asked me if the CAP leads to regional inequality within the EU. In my view, it actually leads to the very opposite, because many of the agricultural regions need the support of the CAP, and they need the direct payments coming to that area in order for the communities to survive, so within the EU the CAP certainly doesn’t lead to regional inequality.

5. Should environmental standards be put aside to safeguard employment?

Finally, Stephan sent us a question asking if the economic crisis in Europe meant that environmental standards should be relaxed in order to protect employment in the manufacturing sector.

We took this question to Lucinda Creighton, Irish Minister of State for European Affairs.

lucinda-creightonThere is something of a myth that, in order to promote manufacturing, you cannot do it hand-in-hand with a robust environmental policy. But all of the research shows this is not true. Various organisations – including the OECD, the World Bank and others – have demonstrated that being environmentally conscious can actually help in terms of efficiency, in terms of saving money for business, and it can actually help to stimulate your economy. If you’re reducing costs through a green agenda in terms of energy, water and other resources, that’s beneficial to everybody. Of course, it’s beneficial to the environment, but it’s also beneficial to business. So, I think we have to stop thinking in terms of those two concepts being mutually exclusive.

We also asked Chris Davies, an ALDE MEP with the British Liberal Democrats, to react.

chris-daviesNo, I don’t think that at all. I think if we did that, then we’re cutting ourselves off from the export markets of the future. And it would simply mean that, from a technological point of view, we’d end up drifting backwards because the world is seeking higher standards. The world wants to do something about climate change, it’s expecting better air quality, and if we simply say we don’t need to, for example, improve emissions standards for motor vehicles, then we simply slip backwards.

Vote 2014

Voting is closed in our Debating Europe Vote 2014! The results are now in, so come and see what our readers thought!

11 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think? Could more relaxed public finances stimulate growth in EU countries? Is abortion part of a woman's rights? Is an integrationist approach to immigration better than a multi-cultural one? How does the Common Agricultural Policy affect countries outside the EU? And should environmental standards be put aside to safeguard employment? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we'll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

  1. avatar
    Borislav Valkov

    When there will be debated the protests in Bulgaria? The violations of the democracy? And the usurpation of the parliament? The controversial appointments? The political crisis?

  2. avatar
    Mariana Manolova

    Where is my country Bulgaria on the map of the EU? Why do you allow all this to happen? What`s happening with the European institutions who deliberately tend to ignore the rights of the Bulgarian citizens! I`ve been asking so many times why the European Union does not have a common policy in the energy sector and no reply! Diversification of the energy resourses is one of the key factors for economic development and political stability for small countries like Bulgaria , and not only Bulgaria! People are becoming more and more disillusioned about the effectiveness and power of the EU to cope with the problems of its memeber countries!!! Stop ignoring the situation in Bulgaria and treat us as citizens of a distant province whose problems and instability do not refer to you ! We are a family! :) :) :)

  3. avatar
    David Fuzzey

    where is your Country on the map?…It should be somewhere near the Black Sea . Yes more and more people are getting sick of the eu !!! brilliant isn’t it ? :D . I really wish MY Country did not appear on the eu map and no we are NOT a family.

  4. avatar
    Mariana Manolova

    How come , David! I do not share your opinion about the familily thing and I do not think that disillusion should further extend! Let`s agree to diagree! :)

  5. avatar

    We are not a family. We in Netherlands are sick of seeing our money stolen by corrupt Club Med/Balkan politicians. We are sick of being flooded with ‘workers’ from eastern Europe who undercut local workers here and are causing unemployment to double in just four years time.

    The undemocratic Eurosoviet Union and the wealth-destroying Euro are our misfortunes.

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