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Antonio Tajani: “Europe is under attack. It’s time to defend our values.”

Updated: Oct 23, 2018

by Francesco De Marzo (European Political and Governance Studies – Manuel Marín Promotion)

On October 9th, Antonio Tajani, current President of the European Parliament, delivered the opening address for the inauguration of the academic year of the College of Europe, held in Bruges. During his speech, Mr Tajani invited the students of the Manuel Marìn promotion to cultivate their courage and commitment to the cause of European integration. A return to politics for the EU, the President argued, must be accompanied by a highly qualified and motivated rank of civil servants. The threats posed to the European project will require both.

La Voix du Collège, in partnership with “Burst the Bubble”, the College podcast, met the President after the ceremony for an exclusive interview.

Antonio Tajani at the College of Europe

La Voix du Collège (LVC): During your speech, you mentioned the Spitzenkandidaten process. Do you value it as an effective tool directed at promoting the democratisation of the EU institutions, namely the Commission? What are its weaknesses? Is it destined to last?

Antonio Tajani (AT): It is, without any doubt, a system aimed at making explicit, vis-à-vis public opinion, who the candidates are for the role of the President of the EU Commission. Thanks to this innovation, citizens are then mobilised to engage in a vote which has entirely European characteristics, rather than merely domestic ones. As a consequence, by duly respecting the Council prerogatives towards the nomination of the President of the Commission, the spitzenkandidaten process enhances accountability and transparency. I am not sure this mechanism is welcomed by the Member States, since they always prefer to take decisions within themselves. On the other hand – and this must be clearly stated – if we do not pursue a democratising process for the EU institutions, our citizens will be more and more disaffected towards European elections.

LVC: Apart from the institutional innovation, the spitzenkandidaten process also seems to have brought about increased media attention to the protagonists of the campaign – let’s take the case of Alexander Stubb, one of the leading candidates for the European People’s Party (EPP). Do you think this could help to bridge the gap between EU politics and public opinion?

AT: Of course, it does. We should definitely reinforce the link between EU politics and citizens. The candidates must engage in a dialogue with the citizens, explaining their choices and political priorities. All the media platforms are, in this sense, welcomed: television, and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We need to use them in order to create a real debate. Democracy is participation, and this will, by consequence, lead citizens to engage more strongly in the electoral campaign.

LVC: The rise of populist and reactionary parties has modified the European political landscape. How does Forza Italia, on the one hand, and the European People’s Party, on the other, cope with the threats posed by these movements to the 2019 European elections? How can we reconcile, too, the growing divergences taking place within the EPP?

AT: We should be at the forefront of the reform of the European Union. We need to change a Europe which is too bureaucratic, incapable of answering the demands of its citizens. The image of the EU is that of an institutional apparatus tailored to cope with little issues, not the big ones. Of course, Europe has given us peace, freedom, an internal market, and fairly strong economic growth. Nonetheless, today we need a change: unemployment, migration, the fight against terrorism, foreign policy – these are all challenges that reveal that the EU has not worked well. That’s the reason why, unfortunately, a growing number of citizens decide to vote against the EU.

In this scenario, my political family, the EPP (of which I am also vice president) has to be at the forefront of this reform, while, at the same time, defending the EU from external threats. Today, Europe is under attack, from both the Russian and the American side. There are American lobbies, together with the Russian Federation, that try to weaken and divide the EU. Our interest is exactly the opposite: to have a stronger EU.

LVC: Italy is now under scrutiny by the EU institutions for its budgetary policy. Do you consider the policy a threat to the Eurozone? If so, which role would you play in order to mediate between the Italian government and the EU?

AT: I don’t have to play any role, but I’m also convinced that the financial proposals of the Italian government are negative ones. It appears that no solution concerning economic growth is being provided. We can just find some subsidies for unemployed people, while completely bypassing public investments and tax cuts. In this sense, the markets, not the EU, have already made their judgements. Unfortunately, the problem is not in Brussels. It’s in Rome.

LVC: How do you consider your personal experience as President of the European Parliament? Which reforms would you suggest to your successor? Could the power of legislative initiative be a useful instrument?

AT: I am extremely happy to have served as President of the European Parliament. It has been a great honour. The EP is the first EU institution, the only one directly elected by citizens. For future challenges, I am of the opinion that we should strengthen the EP’s prerogatives, and the power of legislative initiative is, in this sense, an absolute priority. The EP must play a leading role in order to bring the EU institutions and public opinion ever closer.

New Beginnings - Issue n. 1, 22 October 2018



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