“We must go back to politics. With ideas, values and projects.” Antonio Tajani is the President of the European Parliament: seated behind the desk of his office located on the 15th floor of the Assembly in Strasbourg, he agreeably found the time for an interview to SIR. Pressing issues looming, with elections for the renewal of the European Assembly taking place in less than a month: Brexit (“we respect the decision of the English people but leaving the EU is a serious mistake”), nationalisms, economic and labour problems, the financial framework 2021-2027 yet to be defined, many legislative procedures to be completed before the end of term, the election campaign … But a deep, overarching reflection helps us extend our gaze to the future. “The European Union is not and cannot be an organization machine – he remarked – It’s a community of values that requires reviving the integration process, that necessitates reforms as well as youths and adults engaged in political life.”
Let’s start with politics. The election campaign is in progress, but the thorny Brexit is unsolved while major global challenges are gnawing at the doors of the “common home.” The last plenary session of the current legislature is tabled for next week (April 15-18), at what point of the journey is the EU today?
It’s at a juncture, a critical point that should make people realize the fundamental value of this common home that protects 500 million citizens from globalization, that continues guaranteeing the rights of every person, that supports our economies. None of our Member Countries can compete on their own – at political, economic and business level alike –against global players such as China, India, United States, Russia. There is need for a European family that protects. And we need an EU that moves forward in full respect of the subsidiarity principle, in the areas of common defence and environmental protection. Regardless of populist winds, I support a political Europe as a guarantee for our present and for our future.
Does a European “people” exist?
There are strong common traits – historical, cultural spiritual bonds – shared by European States and by their peoples , whose specificities and differences ought to be respected and acknowledged. But three-thousand years of history helped shape our continent, delineating remarkable common traits – first and foremost the notion of freedom, along with artistic expressions, culture, music, the cathedrals… The same languages, different but with common roots. United in diversity – the motto of the EU –well represents this plural heritage which we share and which enriches us.
We see recurring criticism on the EU accusing it to be distant from its citizens. What are your thoughts?
I firmly believe that politics must return to put the person at the centre. This applies also at European level. Citizens – that as a European Parliament we represent – must be our primary concern. An efficient EU that delivers concrete results, that cares for the growth of its territorial realities, that protects: this is what we need. It’s also the right direction to bring Community institutions closer to European citizens.
Everyone agrees that the EU needs reforms. It’s true. We need reforms that will strengthen the tools of this political edifice to address the present challenges, starting by increasing Parliament’s powers t within the European institutional framework. For example, we need reforms that give legislative initiative powers to the European Parliament, which is now in the hands of the European Commission. However, it’s of the essence to have a budget that can guarantee investments and projects within the broad areas of responsibility of the European Commission such as the agricultural sector, small and medium enterprises, culture , Erasmus+, research and innovation, energy, identifying solutions to the migratory pressure, to security concerns. Then, extending our gaze across our borders, the fund for Africa’s development is increasingly urgent.
Elections are upcoming, what is the ideal role of communication to bring citizens to the polling booths?
Communication plays an essential role in explaining what the EU accomplishes for its citizens, territories and local communities. Also for this reason and in support of the work of journalists, European institutions communicate the results of the five-year legislature. The institutional campaigns #thistimeimvoting what-europe-does-for-me.eu were conceived for this purpose. Communication has been increased through Facebook and Twitter; Instagram is used to reach out to young people. The problem of fake news has also emerged. Countering disinformation that is threatening our democracy with serious, in-depth and credible information is another urgent area of intervention.
It’s easy to imagine that in the next hemicycle there will be an increased presence of so-called sovereignists. Will they manage to close ranks in order to put forward an alternative project to the EU or will they continue being – as nationalists – divided internally? Will they be able to influence the political and legislative dynamics of the EU Parliament?
I don’t think that sovereignists will manage to exert in-depth influence owing to their internal divisions; each give priority to the national interests that conflict with those of other States. The European People’s Party will remain the largest, prevailing political group in the next European Parliament.
You served as President of the EU Parliament for two and a half years. What’s your preliminary assessment?
It was a gratifying experience that has offered me the opportunity to represent half a billion people. I have tried to do everything possible to give them room, to make citizens feel that they are the protagonists. Indeed, I am not exempt from mistakes, nobody is perfect. But I must say it has been one of the most enthralling experiences in my life.
What message will the President of the European Parliament deliver to young people who will vote on May 23-26?
The first appeal is to vote: those who are absent are always wrong. Young people are the protagonists of today and of tomorrow. But in order to be a protagonist you must chose the person by whom you want to be represented and participate in the democratization process of European institutions. We also expect passion and a certain degree of youthful open-mindedness to give vitality to the political debate. My message is: come forward, be the protagonists.