"Europe means compromise".
By Andreas J. Schröck
26.09.2016, Café Landtmann, Vienna
Do you miss a certain identity in Europe - a European consciousness?
There is a discrepancy in most countries, probably more in Austria than in other countries. Only a small part of the population has an emotional attachment to Europe. This gap has widened as Austria has done too little to "bring Europe closer" and, secondly, that Europe has often failed to do what it / we promised. The population is not to blame. There are many mistakes at European and national level.
Due to the current security crises, there is always talk of a necessary uniform European security and defense policy? For you a necessity?
Yes! You have to implement those in stages! The defense policy requires that one begins with the security policy! A pure military invasion, see the cases of Iraq and Libya, does not improve the situation, but worsens it! Security policy begins with prevention and a development policy, especially with regard to Mediterranean countries. First you have to know what it's all about!
Do you see a kind of "crisis of confidence" in large parts of the population, and if so, which "ingredients" does the Europe of tomorrow need to overcome them?
I believe that Europe has done too little to respond to the crisis. Europe has been under-oriented and has not really made an effort to fight unemployment, and has failed to see that some things got mixed up. Take the euro crisis: The development in Spain and Greece was completely different and had other causes. However, one has tried to answer with a single recipe. A global answer is given where one does not try to look more closely at the individual regions and countries. What is the actual cause?
Do you that what is missing is the essential link of the actions of the EU and its citizens?
It lacks the feeling that you (institutions of the EU) are doing something for me and understanding me.
"There is no strategy on how to refresh the parties, be it by young people or unconventional ones." Could European parties with European programmes be the solutions to address a wider range?
Parties have fallen into disrepute, even through no fault of their own, so that I do not see the remedy that would have worked ten years ago. It has to be worked on at a deeper level. At the moment it will be very difficult to realise this idea because of the national differences of the Union countries. The EU must arouse the interest of young people!
What role do the respective representatives play? Is there a lack of communication?
I always wonder with the media why they do not ask the responsible minister why you do not say at the beginning: Do we need more transparency and more pragmatism? It is always portrayed as if what we are discussing here (meaning Austria) would be a European debate. TTIP is a good example. Europe has a variety and the difficulty is to bring this diversity to one common denominator.
Keyword Public Relations: What experience have you had regarding Europe?
It must be clear that we can not assume that the same political public debate will take place in all countries. But we still have to rely on finding a common solution. EUROPE means COMPROMISE! Europe means “to negotiate”. The compensation has become outmoded. You either want a YES or NO! It depends on how we negotiate something.
The citizen chooses compromises because he chooses a diverse party landscape.
Will the diversity of Europe be increasingly displaced as a potential strength?
It is a fundamental mistake not to say in the first place: yes, we have this diversity and we have to look to bring it into agreement. If you do not realise that this is a lengthy process, then there will never be a European unification. This is a difficult and necessary process. Remember the past: the Peace of Westphalia, the Congress of Vienna, etc. were always compromises. This has always kept Europe exceptions.
Charles de Gaulle said that Europe is not a chestnut rice, that it is not easy to mix nations into a pulp. Subsidiarity, coupled with the respective national diversity, as a possible strength of Europe? To consider the smaller entity, and to leave it crucial competences, as a possible future compromise?
I believe that is a very important aspect that needs to be highlighted. We have to focus on essential issues. If we have the euro, it must be functional. If we have Schengen, we have to control and consolidate it accordingly, otherwise it will not work. But we do not have to spend months and years talking about what the labels on the cigarette packs should be. The crucial questions, that we can only solve together, need to be asked.
How do you assess the current situation in the Eastern European countries? Have your accession expectations and the associated hopes been fulfilled?
Things are developing more slowly than we assumed. For example, in the case of free movement of workers, we thought that we would balance the economic standards, and so it would not have presented a problem. Well it did not turn out that way. There are still structures that have nothing to do with modern European thought.
Also interesting is the negative attitude of the Eastern European states. in the refugee question. How do you see the situation in terms of possible motivations?
The countries do not know the versatility! Those originated in the Soviet Union and have a different historical development behind them. These are profound conflicts that unfortunately mean that they are becoming more and more isolated. Unfortunately, and you have to criticise! I must also say that historical developments can not be made to happen overnight!
Is there a risk of a domino effect that spreads to other states such as Austria?
Yes! You know the situation in Austria. Right-wing parties are germinating, currently in connection with the presidential election. There are currents that are there and express an anti-attitude - so you have to expect it too.
Are closed borders the new consensus in Austria?
No! I do not think that's it. Many people are afraid and do not handle it constructively. I do not think you can push the fear aside and say, "We do not care”, but you have to be aware of the fear and take note of it and offer constructive solutions.
How did the pathetic "We Can Do It" (Merkel) lead to closed borders being the new consensus in Europe?
One should have emphasised more strongly that one fights poverty and setbacks everywhere. Even with the people who are already there! You feel that something is taken away from you. The middle class no longer has the career opportunities as it used to be. Here, politics must find an answer. It's probably the biggest problem.
What does responsibility in relation to Europe mean for them? What elements does Europe have to meet in concrete terms?
You have to be open! Especially war refugees who have no other chances. Openness must also include the fact that Austria does not cut the funds that are being provided. For example, for the UN World Food Program (WFP) and for the refugee camps that exist. One reason why we are dealing with the refugee problem in Europe is that the European countries, including Austria, have cut funds for the camps in Jordan and Lebanon. I was in Ukraine two weeks ago and I also heard that the food aid, the UN World Food Program (WFP), has been cut because there are no funds left.
That is this discrepancy when we say that we are helping on the ground! In reality, we are giving less help locally than a year ago! I'm primarily for making sure that people do not come to Europe, but you have to help them! More development aid, UN World Food Programme, etc.
That does not happen! You have to support here.
We cannot help everyone who wants to come! Either we help people in Europe or at close range of their conflicts. We need to do more in the immediate vicinity of conflicts - not just talk about it.
Is Populism the New Answer to Making Policies? How can we call for a Europe in the spirit of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, while at the same time welcoming the EU deal, with its associated human rights violations?
If we do not make the deal with Turkey, we will not change Erdoğan. Sadly that’s how it is. After all, we can not even ensure that human rights are respected within Europe, how should we in foreign countries, and when they are powerful and do not need us, how can we guarantee that there? This is an overestimation of Europe’s power! Therefore you should be more realistic here. Of course, we need idealism in the context of human rights. But we must not believe that we can solve it all. It is an ongoing argument. If we were to say that we are not interested in Turkey, we would only weaken those forces that are still there for Europe! Because then the others could say: Your friends in Europe will let you down!
For Erdoğan a confirmation?
No! He does not need that! He started his course long before there was a convention.
Again and again, the necessity of a refugee quota is discussed. Solution or evil?
The quota discussions were wrong from the start. On the contrary, we should have said that we are making a refugee fund, where all countries pay according to their economic capacity. The countries receiving refugees receive financial support! Assuming we had more refugees in Slovakia, it would not work. Those would immediately try to come back to Austria. Because the fact that you receive more attention in Austria than a Slovak pensioner says a lot.
The quota discussion is a pseudo problem, it does not solve the problem. As already mentioned, one should have made a refugee fund from the EU budget from the contributions of all member states. You have to do it financially and not via the allocation.
Is there insufficient understanding and lack of empathy for dialogue with Russia?
Yes! I am an absolute opponent of Putin's politics and ideology! But it must be noted that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West saw itself as the victor and saw no need to conduct talks and negotiations with Russia as two equal powers Russia has its own difficult story. You never really had a democracy there. From czarism they changed to communism and from this into oligarchic structures. It would have been useful to take a little more consideration here. On that condition, it would have been possible to avoid the conflict in Ukraine, even though the then President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who was in favor of the free trade agreement, had only recently given way to Russian pressure a few days earlier. It is not clear if he played a double game right from the start. It was not clear from the outset that the whole thing would be shipwrecked! One has to find a modus vivendi with Russia and integrate that state into a comprehensive security structure.
Turning away the sanctions?
I would not say no to the sanctions now. You have to have a concept, an offer, how you want to accommodate Russia and then Russia should also agree to a peace agreement, a "status quo" of Ukraine. Then you could do something! The Minsk process will be difficult as the pages are rather set in tone. The local leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk are not only the of Russia, but have also developed their own strange fantasies. The question will not be solved that easily!
How do you see the idea of a possible autonomy of the Crimea like Dr Busek has also suggested it?
The Crimea stays with Russia!
Should Europe, in the event of a possible compromise, recognise the illegal annexation of Crimea?
You do not have to decide that today, but someday later. Where you can do something, especially in eastern Ukraine. You have to help people in these regions to move more freely and to drive economic development. It’s the ordinary citizens who suffer.
Is Ukraine part of the European family?
Absolutely! I was in Lviv, formerly Galicia. In the Danube monarchy a part of Austria.
Accession status Ukraine?
We must first wait for the broad negotiations and see if the three big neighbors of the Union - the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Turkey - do not get a similar statute in a close economic integration and coordination. Admittedly, these are very different countries, I know that, especially in the structure.
I believe that this is not about joining, but about strengthening relationships and participating in programs. Even if you are not yet no longer a member, like Great Britain. How can we have links with countries that want to be connected to the EU without being or wanting to be a member?
Finally, on the topic of Great Britain and Brexit:
Do you see the cooperation between the EU and the UK frozen?
No! It works together on different levels. As an example NATO is mentioned, furthermore in the common market and as in Switzerland in research programs. No cohesion through fear! I find it quite feasible to participate in different levels!
Which priorities should we focus on?
We should ask ourselves as Europeans: what is the use of having a close connection with Great Britain, apart from peace? How can we work together with pro-European Scotland?
Brexit as a realistic chance to give Europe a new impetus to integration and action?
I see little creativity among those responsible for developing new ideas for Europe! I am very glad that there is an organisation like European Dialogue that emphasizes this essential creativity again! We have to communicate to the citizens: The EU wants to learn from the criticism!
Dr. Hannes Swoboda, b. 1946 in Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, was Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from 1996 to 2014 and, since 17 January 2012, Chairman of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S & D). In the elections to the European Parliament in the spring of 2014 Swoboda did not run for re-election. Swoboda is married to Brigitte Ederer, a former Austrian EU Secretary of State and later the Vienna City Councillor for Finance, who subsequently served as a member of the Executive Board of Siemens AG until 2013.