Martin Schulz is the leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group in the European Parliament and the incoming president of the institution. He spoke to EurActiv Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti.
To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.
EU leaders are meeting today and tomorrow for a crucial summit: What do you think would be a decisive action to save the euro?
I think what we need are decisions about the role of the European Central Bank. Is the ECB for some member states in the eurozone a kind of lender of last resort? In my eyes, yes, but then we should confirm it. Then, we should decide how far-reaching the measures taken by the ECB should go. This is important because the ECB board must know the position of the member states.
Secondly, we need a decision about eurobonds and in the case there will be no eurobonds, because Germany is against it, then they should explain to us what they propose, [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel and [French President Nicolas] Sarkozy, by saying what they anticipate for the European Stability Mechanism.
They could anticipate a sort of a bank licence, where the ESM could act as a bank and lend money to the states at risk with appropriate interest rates or not? This is I what I expect. It is a pity, the tendency in preparing the summit is not to deal with the problem, but rather talk about the treaty change.
Are you against a treaty change?
Yes, and it is not the Social Democrats alone, all groups in the European Parliament are against, I repeat, all groups in the European Parliament will send President [Jerzy] Buzek tomorrow to the European Council’s meeting with the message that we are against a treaty change, because it is not necessary.
It was just seven weeks ago, when we endorsed the so-called six-pack [on economic governance], that we heard from the European Council: “This is a historical breakthrough.” And now, seven weeks later, the same people tell us the markets didn’t accept the historical breakthrough, now we need a treaty change.
These are not the necessary measures, a treaty change is not necessary, the means, like the budgetary discipline, the Germans especially wish for, are already available.
Do you see an ambiguity in the way Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy are presenting the solution?
There is a contradiction, Sarkozy wants more flexibility for the ECB and Merkel not, Merkel wants more budgetary discipline and Sarkozy is against. The so-called German-French couple is in reality a German-French disaccord and permanently, by the way.
Going back to the turning the ECB into a lender of last resort, which goes against the Treaty of Maastricht. The ECB already said it will consider greater intervention if there is movement towards a fiscal union. How do you manage this situation?
First things first, is the message of the Danish presidency. If the member states agree about a stability mechanism in the form of a European Monetary Fund through which you can lend money with normal interest. If such a decision is taken in the European Council, then a treaty change for more budgetary discipline - especially for those countries which now get the money, let’s say for 2% instead of 7%, and to avoid this money [being] spent for consumption and used to reduce sovereign debt - then it makes sense.
But to say budgetary discipline exclusively, only for ideological reasons, without taking the necessary measures on the other side, especially investments in growth, makes no sense and that’s why what is on the table is unbalanced.
You’re basically criticising Chancellor Merkel …
No, I am criticising the [European] Council. Chancellor Merkel is acting with a lot of power. But why Chancellor Merkel is so strong? Surely, because the Germans are economically very powerful, but there are 26 other members, mostly men in the European Council, sitting around the table. I wonder whether one person can be so strong, only because she is so strong, or because the others are perhaps not strong enough?
That makes me think of Thomas Mann’s phrase: What are we seeing today a German Europe or a European Germany?
We are in an undecided situation. I don’t believe Europe in the end will be exclusively dominated by Germany. Germany is dominating, for the time being, a lot of debates, but I trust the responsibility of the German government and that of other governments that the European institutions, the so-called communitarian method on which the EU are acting and are built upon, is not an invention to torture people or to reduce the importance of countries. It was created because within the communitarian institutions, big, middle-sized and small countries can balance their very heterogeneous interests.
Putting the strong states in front of less stronger ones, in order to give them orders and lessons instead, is always counterproductive. This is the mood in which we are now – the German-French couple acting beside the institutions and then sending letters to the institutions and not asking, but giving more or less instructions on what they have to do.
And this is for the time being possible, because the others are so weak, but in the long run, this is completely counterproductive.
Do you think possible the break-up of the eurozone and disintegration of the EU as some like to predict?
That would be a disaster. I think that whatever we should do must have a goal: to keep Europe united - the eurozone and the member states that are not in the eurozone.
The fastest growing economy in Europe is Poland - it is not in the eurozone. But Premier Donald Tusk announced that he wants to join the euro, which is a good signal for the euro, because the most dynamic economy wants to join our common currency.
Like this, you see how counterproductive, how wrong it is to split the EU. That would mean to exclude a country like Poland. But this is not only historically wrong, it is economically a mistake. Therefore, I hope that the responsible people keep the Union together.
Looking beyond the summit. January 2012 you are poised to be heading this institution, the European Parliament, for the next two-and-a-half years. What do you think will be your major task?
To guarantee, first of all, the democratic transparency in the European Union. The European Parliament is in a place where all the questions raised have to be discussed openly.
The Council, the Commission, Merkel and Sarkozy, everybody is dealing behind closed doors. We must open the doors. We must give visibility to our citizens – tell them what is going on the EU and why, who is behind the decision-making. This is the first task.
The second one is: whatever is decided about executive measures in the European Union needs a democratic accountability system and the place for that accountability is the European Parliament.
I think I will raise my voice in front of the 27 powerful or less powerful people in Europe by saying: “We are the place of the European democracy”.
How do you expect the next two and a half years to be in the run-up to the elections?
I think we are living in turbulent times and the development of the European Union is unpredictable. We could succeed in a lot of things but to failure is not excluded.
Therefore, I think the European Parliament must play an important role as a place where the unity of the union is guaranteed by using all the instruments and tools the Parliament has available to keep the 27 or soon the 28 member states together.
And this is by fighting against those who want to split the EU to bring to an end the communitarian methods.
What countries do you have in mind when you say "those who want to split the EU"?
It is easy to understand that the UK has no interest in deepening the integration, on the other hand there is the risk that the euro members go ahead or that the Europlus members go ahead without taking into account that the EU is strong if we understand the relation between our common currency and the economic power of the EU, which is a result of the internal market and the international trade role of Europe.
So to split the currency from the economic frame is a mistake. This is not about splitting states, it is also about splitting the concept.
Beside the UK, you have those who feel pressured by the markets to speed up too fast and not sufficiently sustainable in a direction of a change of the structure of the EU.
Do you foresee any possible scenario in which Britain would just fall out of the EU?
It’s difficult to predict, I have seen the rebellion of the backbenchers against [Prime Minister David] Cameron in the House of Commons. This is, for sure, for him an alert signal. And for us as well, because his reaction is clear. He is now trying to blackmail the European Union to give him something by saying: if you don’t, my eurosceptics would put even more pressure on me. But this is not the problem of the 27 member states, this is the problem of Mr. Cameron.