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European elections: Spitzenkandidaten debate. “Defend the EU against nationalists and egoists”. “The power to change comes from you. Voting is power”

(Brussels) Dutch social democrat Frans Timmermans approached all topics with pragmatism. Speaking about taxation, he proposed a corporate tax minimum level of 18% for all; Liberal Margarethe Vestager spoke in a relaxed and positive way about the subject of tax havens in Europe. Responding to the question put by the French journalist, she joked: “For me, a tax haven is a place where everyone pays their taxes”. According to Spanish-Belgian trade unionist Nico Cué, those €850 billion lost to tax fraud are a theft to the detriment of our social Europe and must be recovered; Czech MEP Jan Zahradil was less trenchant. He said “tax evasion should be forbidden”, but Member States should retain their tax autonomy. With great emphasis, German Green Ska Keller called for “transparency” in taxation and “coherence” in foreign policy: the EU is a force for peace and human rights, but our countries export arms to countries at war. According to Frans Timmermans, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are Europe’s main enemies: “weak and divided, we will not be able to stand up for our values” (and he criticised some European leaders, namely Mr Salvini and Mr Orban, for their relations with Russia). Nico Cué pointed the finger at international free trade agreements, for they undermine social and environmental standards. Margarethe Vestager, too, talked about the need for trade to “respect European values”. For Jan Zahradil trade is the engine of the European economy; it must be supported, but also defended against protectionism. As a response to the risks outlined by Nico Cué, Manfred Weber would consider limiting international deals on industrial goods. In foreign policy, he called for decisions to be made by majority vote rather than by unanimous vote (with a reference to Italy and Greece, for it took Europe 4 weeks to reach consensus on Venezuela).
Different views were also expressed as to how to make Europe more democratic: by taking care of people (Cué); by speaking in a different, more understandable and transparent way (Vestager); by not responding to all problems with more Europe (Zahradil). Then a final call: Frans Timmermans used his minute to make a passionate appeal to vote “whatever you choose, never become indifferent”; Manfred Weber made an appeal to “defend the EU against the egoists and the nationalists”; Margarethe Vestager proposed a change towards a “gender-balanced Commission”; “the power to change”, she said, “comes from you, voting is power”. Jan Zahradil repeated his slogan about a decentralised Europe; Ska Keller criticised those who talk a lot and do nothing: we “need to act for a better future”. Finally Nico Cué, who was the last to speak since he opened the debate, said: “The European Left is the only party who can bring about change”.

 

 

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