Former member of the European Parliament since the very first elections in 1979 and until 2014, president of this institution from the EPP between 2007 and 2009 and President of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), Mr. Hans-Gert Pöttering was invited by the Romanian branch of KAS to take part at a series of academic events. On this occasion, Mr. Pöttering, a truly European personality through his impressive professional activity gave an exclusive interview to Calea Europeană.
Among the topics discussed during our dialogue, Mr. Pöttering spoke about the European construction evolution, the European ideals, the changes undergone by the European Parliament, the adjustment of the former European Community against the communist threat and the development of the European Union after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Also, the former chairman of the European Parliament expressed his opinion regarding Ukraine`s, Moldavia`s and Georgia`s associations to the European Union, EU attitude towards Russia and its relation with the United States.
“Our values: dignity of the human being, liberty, democracy and legal order have prevailed”
Robert Lupițu (R.L.): Good afternoon, Mr. Pöttering. First, I would like to thank you for granting this interview for CaleaEuropeană, our multimedia portal dedicated to European Affairs and EU policies. You are one of the most experienced politicians in Europe with a substantial background in the EU history, former EP President and member of this institution since the first open elections in 1979 and until 2014. The main vision of EU founding fathers included peace, security, prosperity and unity between states, but after decades of evolution and integration and after the fall of the Iron Curtain and EU`s enlargement, the European construction seems to be at a crossroad and many people and politicians are oscillating between euro-skepticism and euro-optimism:
From your point of view as a man inside the EU development for 35 years, how would you describe this process of evolutions? Do you think we might have lost the European ideal?
Hans-Gert Pöttering (H.G.P.): Thank you very much, first, Robert for this very kind introduction how you described my person and I`m very happy to have this interview with you. I think we have all reason to be optimistic. I have seen so many critical situations in the development of the European Union or, before the EU, the European Community. So, I think we should see the development of Europe, which is, of course, not without challenges and problems in a long term. You rightly mentioned and I thank you for this, that the European Parliament was elected in 1979. If we look back to that time, how did look Europe like? My own country, Germany, was divided. There was a wall dividing in what is now the capital of Germany, Berlin and if you wanted to go from the east to the west, you would have been killed. There were nations which are now part of the European Union, occupied by the Soviet Union, like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Baltic countries. And your country, Romania, like Poland and many others country were part of the Warsaw Pact and the communist totalitarian world. Now, our values prevailed, succeeded. That means the dignity of the human being, freedom, democracy, legal order, which is very important and peace. And we are united, hopefully, by solidarity. So, if we see this development through the 80s and 90s, then I think we have all reason to be optimistic, because communism fell like national-socialism in 1945. And now coming to the present time, of course there are critical situations: we have the financial crisis, the banking crisis, in some countries we have big economic problems, unemployment of the young generation and I think we have to do our utmost to solve these problems. If we have a will, we will succeed and I`ve seen very often the situation that for instance, with the Constitutional Treaty, which now is more or less the Lisbon Treaty who came into force in the 1st of December 2009. When it failed, in May 2005 in France and early June 2005 in the Netherlands, there where many politicians that said: „Now the treaty is dead”. I had a different opinion because I`ve learned what Konrad Adenauer, the founder and the person who gave his name to our foundation said: „If most of the politicians think you can not solve a problem anymore, than the real work starts”. That is why I am optimistic, but it needs strong hardwork, it needs courage and it needs strong will to solve the challenges which we are facing and each generation is facing.
“We need that spirit of unity back”
R.L.: Thank you. In 1979 were held the first elections of the EP. On May 25 we elected a new European Parliament. This year the main campaign topics were unemployment, euro-crisis, energy and extremism. How was it in 1979 or in the 80s or 90s?
H.G.P.: It was a little bit different. I think the campaign now, in 2014 was a little bit different from country to country. But, you described rightly the main topics of the election campaign. In 1979 we had the very first elections and there was a lot of optimism and the people thought we need Europe, we need the European Community, which is now the European Union. We needed a strong Europe because the communist world was challenging the West and we were threatened by the possibility of a nuclear war. People had a feeling that we need to stay together in the Western Europe and so there was a great optimism for the future development of the European Community, which is now the European Union and I think we need this positive spirit back for Europe and I would like to see the people of the European Union being more optimistic, because if you look around the world, if you look to Russia, to China, to many parts of Africa or even to the United States, we, the European Union are not a paradise, but we are a better part of the world. We taught to be a little more self confident and after combining this attitude with modesty, I think we have all the possibilities to solve our challenges.
“The fall of the Iron Curtain was due to people, not politicians. We could not foresee Europe`s future development, but we helped in this direction”
R.L.: I understand. Going back in time, in 1989: revolutions against communism in Eastern Europe and the fall of the Iron Curtain, two years later the collapse of the Soviet Union. Was the European Community ready to enhance and promote its values? Did you foreseen that after 25 years EU will be the largest integration project?
H.G.P.: I`m not sure I totally understood your question.
R.L.: In 1989, when you saw the fall of the Iron Curtain and the revolutions in Eastern Europe, did you expected that in 25 years Europe will be where is it right now?
H.G.P.: I thought you meant whether we did foresee the fall of the wall, but nobody foresaw it. We should say this… This was due not to the politicians, it was due to the people and we have to thank the people that they stood up for liberty, for democracy and the legal order, which mainly started in Poland with Solidarnosc and finally in Romania and other countries as well. So we have to thank the people and then there were the states-man who organized the peaceful development. But this was not your question. Coming back to it, from 1989 to 2014, we could not foresee how Europe will develop, but we did everything that developed in this direction. I was as vice-chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament from 1994 to 1999 responsible for the questions of enlargement. For instance, the first project was to have only Estonia, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia to have the negotiation process for enlargement. We insisted in the working group which I chaired to include other countries. It concerned mainly Latvia and Lithuania and we insisted that they got a chance to be in the first round as well Estonia. They worked hard so they could become members of the European Union in the 1st of May 2004 together with Estonia and Poland and Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. So, we did something, but we could not foresee how Europe developed but I think the European Union was done its utmost to support its development to bring the former communist countries like Romania and Bulgaria nearer to the European Institutions, to the European Union and if take everything together we were very successful. It`s really a success story.
“Creating jobs is one of our most challenges, and we are unique in the world for respecting the human dignity”
R.L.: Thank you and I believe that, too. What are the main differences and how do you feel EU citizens perception regarding the European construction then, in 1979 or in the 80s and now? Do you feel the growth of a material view among people? I mean, they do not believe anymore in ideal. They are thinking only on the problem of unemployment.
H.G.P.: I think we have to do both. We have to tell the people our values and I have spoken about values and the main value, the human dignity. This is unique in the world, that we believe in the dignity of the human being and if you accept this as our main principle, then it has consequences for all of the areas of politics and also it is not acceptable that we have so many young people without work and without the perspective for the future and so we have to do everything to give good education to the people and then to promote the economic development. This means we have to give loans to the small and medium enterprises and so they can use this money to invest it and build new jobs. I think this is one of the great challenges, but there were other challenges as well, if you look to the foreign policy, Ukraine, the aggression of Russia vis-a-vis Ukraine, but you did not ask this question so far so I will not speak about that.
“What Russia does is an aggression against Ukraine. We do not live anymore in the 19th Century, we live in the 21stCentury”
R.L.: Actually, it is the next one. Since Vilnius, the EU has an outbreak of a conflict in its Eastern neighborhood. Also, there are many voices that say that the EU can`t play hardball in foreign policy because of its desire to use soft and multi-lateral approach. Despite all of this, last month, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine signed the Association Agreement. Everyone is thinking at this like a very big success in the ex-Soviet space. Do you think the EU is prepared to spread successfully its peaceful and democratic ideals and to carry on a diplomatic and economic dispute with Russia?
H.G.P.: This is a great bouquet of problems and challenges you are raising, Robert. First of all I think is good that we as European Union tried to develop united foreign, security and defense policy. That we tried. When I was elected in the European Parliament in 1979, nobody dare to speak about these questions in the framework of the European Community. I was for ten years chairman for the Subcommittee Security and Disarmament from 1984 to 1994 and we develop the idea that we should speak about every aspect of security, including the military aspects. You said the European Union is good in the software of foreign policy but not so much in the hardware and we need everything to have a strong European voice and we still have to work hard on that. As far as Ukraine is concerned we have to be very clear: there is an aggression of Russia vis-a-vis Ukraine. Russia broke the international law taking Crimea out of Ukraine. And, still in 1994, Russia agreed that the island of Crimea is part of Ukraine because Ukraine gave its nuclear weapons to Russia. And so, Russia can not behave like this and what happens now in the east of Ukraine, there is certainly a connection between those people who are using force and Moscow. This has to stop and the European Union should act, and so far it did, together to tell president Putin he can not go on like this and we should find a peaceful solution and support our friends in Kiev, but they need a new Constitution as well. They need to get guarantees to the identity of the Russian population in Ukraine. So, this is our principle: the majority can not do everything that they want. The majority counts, but you have to respect the minority as well, the culture identity and so on. As far as Moldavia and Georgia is concerned, is their decision what political orientation they want to take and they asked the European Union, like Ukraine. And if they want this, Russia has not the right to say no. We are not living in the 19th Century anymore, we are living in the 21st Century and democracy, liberty and the rule of law is the basis of this.
“If we make mistakes, if the Americans make mistakes, we have the right to criticise each other”
R.L.: I understand, thank you. As a former member of the EP delegation with the United States and former member of the Foreign Affairs, Common Security and Defense Policy Commission do you think that the EU is affected by the US last years rotation to Asia-Pacific? Do you sense that within the EU-US relations may be room for improvement?
H.G.P.: There is always room for improvement in bilateral relations between countries, but I don’t see so far that this happens, what you have said in your question, Robert, that U.S. are more oriented to the Pacific or to Asia. I don’t see this so far, if you look to the relations between United States and China, for instance, it is very diverse. I think President Obama and the Americans have realized, with the crisis in Ukraine, that they can not forget Europe and I think we have to teach the world what great advantages it is to have the European Union within the European Union. We are living peacefully together, we decide by majority voting, mainly, in the European Council, in the Council of Ministers and in the European Parliament. This is a revolution, if you look back to the past of Europe. But the European Union is not the whole Europe, and to Europe belong Ukraine and Belarus and other countries as well. We should tell the world how good it is with all the difficulties we have in the European Union. I am very much in favor of a strong alliance between the EU and USA and if they make mistakes, if we make mistakes, we have the right to criticize the other partner or friend. What the Americans do with the National Security Agency is incredibly wrong and we have to criticize them but given all those challenges I say we need the U.S. as a strong partner and I, as a German say, there was no doubt: there was no government supporting so much the German unification like President Bush (the father) did, and I say it in this context, because you asked about the relations with the United States, George Bush the father was always supportive of the German unification.
“In 1979 the EP had zero legislative power. Now it is co-decisioner together with the Council”
R.L.: Mr. Pöttering, as a former president of the European Parliament what can you tell us about the progress made by this institution and how will the elections outcome in France and UK for example will affect its activity?
H.G.P.: Europe is a long process and the development of the European Parliament is a process, as well. When I was elected for the first to the EP, in 1979, the EP had zero legislative power and my party friends asked me „why do you want to be a member of the European Parliament in Brussels? You have nothing to say”. And my answer to those friends was: we make the European Union, at that time the European Community, and the European Parliament strong. And so it was a development to make the European Parliament strong, we had the so called Single European Act in the 80s, that was a first step as a treaty to improve the power of the EP. And also the Treaty of Maastricht, which was not only the basis for the EU, it was a breakthrough for the EP to get co-decision power in the legislative process. And then we have the treaty of Amsterdam, the treaty of Lisbon was also a success. Then, we discussed the Constitutional treaty, that unfortunately failed, and then we had the Lisbon treaty and it was a extraordinary development. If I would have been asked in 1979 „do you think you will be so far in the EP in 2014” as we are now, if it would have been predicted at that time, I would have said „wishful thinking”, but we are there. We are very strong concerning the building of the European Commission and of course, politically, the events in some countries, the nationalism, the euro-skepticism are an enormous challenge for us, we have to give the right answers. And my answer is that, in some areas we should have less bureaucracy, less administration, but we need more Europe in those fields where we have to cooperate for the internal market, a strong European currency, and to develop a strong European Union foreign and defense security policy.
“We need a new generation of politicians who believe in the ideals that my generation did and does”
R.L.: As a conclusion for our discussion, how do you see EU`s future in the next decade? Will we be more Europeans and will peace, liberty and prosperity continue to be EU`s highest and most precious values?
H.G.P.: This is my great hope. But it needs engagement and it needs a new generation of politicians who have the same ideals as my generation had and still has. And we have to understand that the European Union is very unique, we are a very unique community, we are here now, in Bucharest, you are from Romania, you have your regions, you have your nations and we are Europeans, by our national citizenship we are citizens of the European Union. This means we have different identities and we don’t want everything to be regulated from Brussels, we have to defend our identity where we are at home and what we can get done in Bucharest or our villages should not be done by other country or the EU, but only those matters which need a national or a EU-wide answer should be discussed in Brussels, as far as legislation is concerned. We need this understanding of the unity in diversity, I think this is very important and if we believe in our ideals, then we’ll be successful, and our ideals: the dignity of the human being, human rights, the freedom, democracy, peace, deserve that we work hard to have a good future for the European continent and make our European contribution for a good development of our world in the 21st century.
“Together we are strong. Unity in diversity”
R.L.: Like Jean Monnet said: we do not bring together states but we want to unite people.
H.G.P.: Yes, I agree and he said as well “nothing is possible without the human beings, nothing is durable without institutions” and that’s why it is important to have strong European institutions which respect the identity of the nations at a local level. Together we are strong. Unity in diversity.
R.L.: Thank you very much mr. Pöttering, for this pleasant conversation for CaleaEuropeana „und wir wünschen Ihnen einen schönen Besuch in Rümanien”.
H.G.P.: I thank you very much, Robert. It was very nice answering your intelligent questions and I don`t know whether my answers were as intelligent as your questions, but I hope I did what you expected. Thank you.
MEP Vasile Blaga: EU must create solid programs in order to rebuild the labor market
MEP Vasile Blaga, a member of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, stresses that the European Union must create solid programs for consolidating and rebuilding the labor market after the COVID-19 period.
“Economic data for the second quarter of 2020 show a worrying decline in the labor market across the European Union. In Romania, the number of closed employment contracts has increased alarmingly – we are approaching one million closed employment contracts, and the number of closed contracts on 15 July is double compared to 1st June 2020. The most affected sectors are manufacturing and it is possible that in the next period we will see a massive increase in contracts in the hospital industry, still affected by the restrictions generated by the pandemic “, said the MEP for Calea Europeană media platform.
According to the Liberal MEP, protecting jobs must be the number one priority for the European Union.
“It is clear that the European Union must be massively concerned with protecting existing jobs and financially stimulating the creation of new ones ”, he added.
Private sector employment must also be a priority for the European Commission: “Direct funding through various forms of private sector employment must be a priority for the Commission in the next period, complemented by the stimulation of sectors severely affected by pandemic – the hospitality industry and the arts and entertainment sector are a priority in this regard “, said the EPP MEP Vasile Blaga.
MEP Vasile Blaga: The European Parliament was divided between East and West in the vote for the Mobility Package
MEP Vasile Blaga (PNL, EPP) points out that the European Parliament was divided between East and West in the vote for the Mobility Package during the week’s plenary session and criticizes protectionism in a market declared “free”.
“The East lost the vote even if, this time, the ideological separations were erased and it voted in corpore for the defense of the rights of the eastern carriers. All amendments tabled to address some of the discriminatory provisions contained in the legislative proposal have been rejected. Anyone with common sense understands that thousands of trucks that drive even empty every eight weeks to the country where they are registered are a major source of pollution, a substantial addition to traffic, and an aberrant waste of resources. Some provisions appear to be dedicated to Eastern carriers, which do nothing but operate fairly and honestly in a freely competitive market. In essence, protectionism is practiced in a market declared free “, the MEP said in a press release.
The Liberal MEP hopes that the analysis of the European Executive will turn the whole process upside down: “There is still hope that the European Executive will show the truth in the impact analysis it has to carry out by the end of the year “, added Vasile Blaga.
EC Communication chief warns: Disinformation is a real threat to public health during COVID-19 crisis
Disinformation has presented itself as a real threat to public health during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, the head of the DG Communication of the European Commission, said on Wednesday.
During the conference “Communicating Europe: corona, recovery and beyond” the director of CaleaEuropeană.ro platform, Dan Cărbunaru, asked the Director-General of DG Communication of the European Executive, regarding the European Union instruments used in the hybrid warfare, but also how the European Commission intends to act through its expertise against misinformation and to protect the citizens against fears.
Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, as Director-General DG Communication, explained to CaleaEuropeană.ro the steps that the European executive has taken, in order to take effective measures against disinformation and mitigate the real threat to public health.
Dan Cărbunaru: ”As you finished your presentation, initially, talking about misinformation, I would like to ask you something about it, because each crisis that hit Europe was treated as an opportunity usually to develop new tools for providing an increased European approach in solving European citizens problems. And in the last years, we saw the pressure, we felt the pressure heavily put by the propaganda and the tools of hybrid war. And my question for you is, as we know that we have some tools; EU is stuck on the task force, for instance, do you intend does the Commission intend to protect the public’s fears, using this expertise, this kind of expertise already, let’s say tested in combat, and which is on the European Union, the major risk identified so far in terms of hybrid war in Europe.”
Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen: Thank you very much for this very important question.
”Of course indeed as you also stressed there are several actors in this at the institutional level in the European Union. You are right, that it’s absolutely something that has grown very rapidly since the beginning of the crisis, and it has continued to spread, as we saw the crisis the coronavirus crisis, playout and indeed, it has been playing very much on people’s fears, in relation to this particular crisis and, and the increased use of social media. And it has, in the context of the coronavirus crisis, it has really even presented a real threat to public health, as well as, indeed, and that’s not new. Those who have propagated this information have taken advantage of the situation to sometimes push political agendas. As far as the action that we have been taken. We have definitely reverted also in this crisis many myths, a lot of misinformation because there’s misinformation and then there’s disinformation this deliberate malign attempt to manipulate opinion and information, but I mentioned, everything that has been circulating about the health aspects of the disease, of course, or the, the disease itself or the treatments or the vaccines I referred to it already, as well as also. And there are, indeed, some foreign actors have come in as well. When it comes to the perceived lack of EU response or perceived lack of solidarity.
Our president was very conscious of this from an early moment and asked us to have as part of this website that she asked us to create, to communicate what Europe is doing to fight the coronavirus crisis. She also asked us to have a disinformation section there.
So that we actually in all languages, and in a format that makes it very easy also to share these stories setting the record straight if you like on social media.
This is one part of the, of the strategy, it is of course to provide the stories, and the facts in a very accessible way also when it comes to the crisis but in a broader frame when it comes to dealing with this information it’s also about informing and educating the public about this disinformation itself, how it works as a phenomenon, and indeed the danger that it poses in this case both to public health, and to democracy, and this is something that this commission is also very concerned about, you will have heard our vice president Jurova also in addition to the president herself and other members of the college have been very strongly voicing their concern in this area. So, communicating actually very actively and regularly, about how you actually identify disinformation, and how a typical online user can protect himself from disinformation is also part of the response. So, without having the time to go into all the details, a very multifaceted approach is needed. Also involving working with platforms as we do and we have done for some time now, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and since this month, also Tick Tock on developing standards to maintain the online information environment clean from harmful misinformation and disinformation.
And then we have our code of practice which is actually the first of its kind of a self-regulatory effort in this area which is definitely called upon to grow even more important and ambitious as we as we go along, and we will see to which extent, it needs to be complemented with with with regulation.
We also need to fund, and that’s what we’re doing, we’re funding researchers and civil society organizations that are dedicated to studying also the phenomenon of disinformation and to finding solutions and, and fact-checking is also very independent fact-checking of course it’s not something we do, but we support it, as well as developing new technologies we will also be able to be helped by artificial intelligence in this respect, definitely. And therefore, and then also protecting elections and public information to do this.
You refer to the EEAS and it’s true that the EEAS has played a truly a crucial role in fighting disinformation as a foreign policy threat, you refer to that and that has expanded to now, including more teams that are focusing on different regions outside the EU, where this information might originate, and you will find in relation to the corona crisis, which quite comprehensive information on where we are stepping up the action, and this includes also doing more on social media in the debate and the Member States.
On the 10th of June when we published a document on how we intend to step up the action and learn the lessons, from the coronavirus crisis when it comes to disinformation. But by the end of the day, it’s also about building trust in institutions having a strong communications environment, and this support to independent media that I mentioned, in addition to because it happens, it starts with ourselves and how do we actually explain things that we know to our friends and families and how do we think about sharing social media posts that we see, this is something that all of us have to pay very much attention to. So, checking your sources and thinking before sharing I think is also the part of the reflex that everyone needs to embrace so promoting that is very important as well.”
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