Who should be the next EU Commission President? Which of the Spitzenkandidaten do you support? With just ten days to go until the European Parliament elections, we’re putting your questions to some of the lead-candidates for Europe’s top job.
Today, we’re looking at Ska Keller and Bas Eickhout, the co-candidates for the European Greens. If you want to know more about their history and background, then be sure to check out our candidate profiles.
The Greens have been polling well recently, not to mention racking up victories in various national elections across Europe (though some are sceptical they can repeat the success at the European level). In the not-unlikely event of coalition talks following the elections, they have already signalled they would look for “tough concessions” from any potential partner (setting themselves up as kingmakers). So, what would they say to our readers’ questions and comments?
First up, what would their top priorities be? We had a comment sent in from Jose, who wanted to know what the priorities for the next European Commission should be. What should it focus on after the European Parliament elections? Should it make a radical break with the last five years? Push for more modest reforms? Or stick with the course the EU is currently on?
I think what we urgently need to do in Europe is on the one hand address those big challenges that are on our plate right now. Probably the biggest of them is climate change because that’s really about the future of our planet and the future of humankind on this planet. Climate change is one of those issues were it’s very clear that we need the European Union to act because it’s very nice if member states go ahead but we do need to have action at the European level. So, this is certainly one of the priorities.
Secondly though also, I believe that we need to get to the next level of the European Union. For me, the next level that’s to create a social union because we have a common currency but we don’t have a common economic and social policy. We also have all sorts of rules about how much debt a member state is supposed to have or not have but we don’t have any binding rules on social targets. We have a lot of nice words about social targets but we don’t actually have rules and binding targets there but this is something that really people expect and that is also something that we need in order to overcome the social division we have in Europe. We have huge differences. Youth unemployment, for example, in Germany is at 6% and in Greece it’s at 37%. This is just a divide that is really not acceptable.
Thirdly, I think we need to step up the game when it comes to rule of law and democracy in Europe. With that, I actually don’t mean so much the European institutions, I mean, sure, there are a lot of things that need improvement but the biggest challenge we have right now is that in several member states democracy, rule of law and also civil liberties are not being so much safeguarded any more by their governments.
So, looking at Poland and Hungary, for example, and there we need to develop new instruments for how to deal with that because for the moment, once you are a member state, then the issue of how you are dealing with the rule of law is not so much looked upon any more. We do have a rule of law instrument, this Article 7 procedure but that only comes in to play when things are actually too late.
As Greens, we are, for example, proposing a commission of independent experts who would be reviewing the member states all the time so it would also get out of the political bickering like the EPP says ‘Oh, we have to first look at the Social Democrat governments’ and the Social Democrats say ‘We have to look at the EPP governments’. So, to have a constant review and then also the commission could make recommendations to member states so that we would actually address the problem before it gets too late. That’s just one idea that we have, together with others, in order to create stability for the rule of law and democracy.
Next up, we had a comment from Hector, who says (citing Eurobarometer) that trust in the EU has still not recovered since the Eurozone crisis. Looking at the numbers, this does seem to be the case (average trust in the EU was indeed higher before 2012, though there have been signs of improvement in the last couple of years). How would Bas Eickhout help restore trust in the EU?
I think the biggest problem is that Europe has been run now for decades by the centre parties – Social Democrats and Christian Democrats – and then with every election they come and say “Oh, we want another Europe”, which is totally un-credible. They’ve been building the Europe that we have, they are fully responsible for that Europe. If you then every election are going to pretend that you suddenly want to do it differently, then of course people will have the feeling that Europe apparently is something that is developing on its own whereas it’s very clear it’s designed by political decisions that have been made every year.
So, we Greens will make very clear that we are defending Europe. We stand for a strong Europe but at the same time, we are serious that we want a green and a social Europe and so our enemies are the populists who fight against Europe but also the centre parties who made this Europe and never seem to be able to defend it.
Next, we had a comment from Cyril, who wants to know what’s the best way to create jobs and tackle unemployment. He suggests either greater public investment, lower taxes, or a comprehensive reform of tax systems to benefits working and middle class households. What would Ska Keller say?
Unemployment for the moment is something that’s up to the member states to deal with but I think that wouldn’t cover the whole picture. For example, when we do trade policies at the European level, rather trade agreements, then this has an effect on the job market. How we do our whole single market issue has affected the job market. I think we need to be much more concise and cohesive when it comes to having a European job creation policy, also having a European industrial policy. From my point of view, they should be focused on climate-friendly industry and technology as well as good jobs in social terms.
I think Europe could really have a big advantage if we were to focus on climate-friendly industry because that’s still not so developed anywhere in the world but right now what we’re doing is we’re letting China do all the solar panels all the battery cells and so on and we don’t do that in Europe. That is harming our employment and our economy not just in the long term but also in the medium term and we need to foster that and also make sure that our trade agreements are not harming the job market. That’s just 2 examples which I think would work well from the European level.
Finally, we had a comment from Ironworker, who says he’s confused by the debate over immigration. How should we think about migration? Is it good or bad for Europe? Or is it impossible to simplify such a complex issue that way?
I think it has opportunities but, of course, we all see that we have to make sure that it’s being done in a fair way. I think that’s the biggest problem, that European solidarity has failed. You can’t hold that against the refugees or the migrants. Migration is at all times so you cannot claim to say that you can stop it. What you can do is you can steer it, you can regulate it, and you can make sure that the distribution, the burden, the efforts to make sure that every society can adapt to it, that needs to be distributed in a fair way. There, European solidarity has failed and again this is in the countries led by the current parties that are not capable of changing the rules.
The reaction, then, to shift their rhetoric towards the right in order to copy the language of the populist parties is, of course, the wrong answer. You have to stay put where you feel you are, and you have to make sure [that with] the rules that we have [there is] more solidarity and that Europe is helping each other instead of fighting each other. I think with that you can solve it, not by turning yourself against the people who are just fleeing from their houses.
Will you support Ska Keller and Bas Eickhout for EU Commission President? Or would you prefer one of the other candidates? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!