Let’s act. Together!

By Bas EICKHOUT, MEP (The Greens/EFA Group) Co-Spitzenkandidat for The European Greens

Interview by Hughes Belin

Q: What is the future of Europe? After Brexit, what are we heading for?

A: We don’t know how Brexit will unfold. It certainly has stirred up a debate where people realise that they can also lose something. Europe has been taken for granted for too long. More and more people realise that it is vulnerable. It’s easy to criticise but in the end we need it.

I think support for Europe has gone up. But it’s a temporary correction triggered by Brexit. Now is a crucial moment because people realise something needs to happen. We must use this moment to fundamentally change the way we cooperate at European level, otherwise it may fall apart again.

Clearly from our perspective, Europe must become green, but even more important we also say ‘social’. Because people feel that Europe has become an unequal society, where companies use European schemes to avoid taxation, for example. And in the end, people pay the price. The growing inequality in our society is partly because of Europe, we need to be honest about that. But we can also fix it: it’s not a law of nature, but just because poli- ticians didn’t dare to put taxation policies in place. That can change.

Q: You are not the only ones calling for radical change: other parties are demanding the same and meeting with a lot of success among voters. What is your added value?

A: We see the rise of the populists, claiming they want change. However, the only thing they’re good at is claiming they want change; they don’t propose any alternative. They only know what they don’t want, they do not know what they do want. And that’s where we come in: we are also challenging the status quo, but we do know what we want.

The party of Manfred Weber, the EPP, has been a leading force in this Europe of today that so many people are protesting against. Manfred Weber now, in election time, is claiming that it’s time for a new chapter. But the EPP has been writing this book for decades! I don’t think that the new chapter of the EPP will be very exciting. It’s going to be business-as-usual.

And that’s not what people want. People take to the streets because they want another Europe, a clean Europe, a social Europe, a Europe fighting corruption, a Europe fighting tax avoidance, a Europe where companies pay fair taxes. And they can’t get that with the EPP.

This is going to be the core of our campaign because we want to avoid a kind of fake choice: “it’s either us or the others who are against Europe” because if you limit the debate on Europe to that question, you’re not serving the people who are calling for change. The Greens will fight for change, together with the movements that are out there. Our main campaign will not be against populism or “are you for or against Europe?” but “what kind of Europe do you want?”. We want a Europe of change, a Europe that is green and socially fair.

Q: There are indeed lots of protests in the streets, especially the young generation asking politicians to be serious about climate change. Will climate be one of the central themes in the European campaign?

A: Those kids on the streets are really the most full of fight and the most active, but the movement is much broader than that. Look at the rise of the green vote in several countries. It’s now the younger generation waking up the older generation. That’s the fight we are going into together.

Coming back to climate, it will be one of the central themes of the European elections, yes. I’m not sure it will be the same in every country, but I think it will be climate-centred in a many countries. In some, it will be more about energy dependence on Russia. In others, it will be more about air quality. But in some it will only be about climate. People are concerned about climate change. And our vision on the future economy and how to interlink it with climate policy is definitely going to be a big campaign theme for the Greens.

Q: How can you link climate and environ- mental policies with a strong industrial base needed by Europe to provide jobs?

A: I know that sometimes people say “Greens don’t understand economics”, but that was back in the 1980s. Since then, we’ve moved on it; now it’s time for the world to move on. We are definitely talking about the economy here: when we talk about green policies, we talk about green economy. It is about a vision for the future of industry in Europe.

Our message to Manfred Weber is that his vision is killing industry. The only way for European industry to have a future is as an innovative, green industry. That’s where the jobs are. Look at all the projections for circular economy. Look at renewable energy. This is where the future jobs are. The countries which are investing early have more green jobs than fossil jobs. Europe can only compete interna- tionally on innovation, green innovation.

So we have a very strong industrial vision, and when we talk about ‘green and social’, for us, economy is fully part of that. Adding the word ‘social’ is the core of economics’ need to change. This explains why we are putting so much emphasis on taxation: the level of taxation on bigger companies has gone down while the level of taxation on labour and consumption has gone up. This explains why you have the ‘gilets jaunes’ in France: they are not necessarily fighting an environmental policy, but rather another tax. This is socially unfair, we have to change that. Hence we are talking about a ‘green and social Europe’.

Q: What about your ‘Green New Deal’?

A: I’m very happy that other parties are now so convinced that the Green New Deal is a good idea. We have been talking about it for a few years already it dates back to the Green’s campaign of 2009. We battled against austerity right from the start. We said how stupid it is, especially in difficult economic times, to cut public expenditure. Because it is exactly in those times that there is need for investment. On top of that we also have a vision on where to invest, to change your economy, to make it less dependent on fossil fuels. We will continue. And the more people join our ideas the better. Because this is exactly the way we have to go: growth of investment but with a clear idea on where you want that investment.

Q: According to the latest polls, the usual grand coalition between the Socialists and EPP is not an option for ruling the forthcoming parliament. Would you be part of a governing coalition (and if so, which one?) and where are your red lines?

A: We know there will be no grand majority, no grand coalition and that’s good news. We now have more options for change. We will discuss, of course, with the party that becomes biggest and which will have the opportunity to form a majority. To form a majority, you need to talk to all the different parties in the European Parliament. And we will have our demands ready. They will be about social (taxation) and climate issues. Democracy will also be a key demand. But I’m not going to say this is our red line because this is going to be a negotiation.

If we can deliver fundamental changes in Europe economically, socially, environmentally and democratically then we will judge the package as a whole and go ahead. So yes, we will talk but we will not just say yes to business-as-usual’ with a little green touch. We want fundamental change.

If Manfred Weber is willing to shift from his past policies and move in that direction, then we can talk. We can form a majority with him. If he doesn’t want to, i.e. if he wants to keep moving to the right as the EPP is doing in more and more countries, then it will be without us. We are open for discussion, but we have our demands: our call for change is serious.

Q: What do you mean by ‘democracy will be one of our key demands’?

A: It is a lot about that right now: the rule of law is more party politics than a fundamental value. Look at the EPP: they are critical of Romania because it has a socialist government. The Socialists are critical of Hungary because it’s EPP. They’re both critical of Poland because it’s ECR. Juncker is praising Bulgaria only because its Prime Minister’s party is a member of EPP. Guys! The fundamental values of Europe are way more important than party politics. It’s killing the debate on the future of Europe.