Sergei Stanishev is the leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Party of European Socialists. A former Bulgarian prime minister, he spoke to EurActiv Senior Editor Georgi Gotev at the end of the PES summit meeting attended by French President François Hollande and several prime ministers, including Elio Di Rupo of Belgium, Werner Faymann of Austria, Robert Fico of Slovakia, Zoran Milanovic of Croatia and Victor Ponta of Romania.
What are the messages from the pre-summit meeting of the Party of European Socialists (PES) [held a few hours before the start of the extraordinary EU summit on the Union’s budget for 2014-2020]?
The first message is the event itself. Because you could see that the EPP [the European People’s Party] gave up their pre-Council meeting this time, because there are too many divisions and gaps difficult to bridge among them. I think there is a clear message among all the heads of state and government of the Socialist family that we have common values, we have common aims for the European Union, and we are able to discuss even the most difficult issues like the MFF [the Multi-Annual Financial Framework, a jargon term for the EU budget for 2014-2020].
In all speeches and discussions we had, starting with President Hollande, there were two major clear messages. First, we understand that the European budget is a major manifestation of the European solidarity of nations between each other, and that this solidarity should not be undermined, that it should be a sufficient budget. Secondly, it’s a major investment instrument in these times of crisis, and we should clearly have a debate now in the European Council not only on the figure, but on the economic and social priorities.
For us, social democrats in Europe, a major priority is how to provide growth, jobs, and how exclusion should be overcame. Every sector of the European budget should be vey carefully discussed from the point of view – is it delivering instruments to achieve these goals in end? Look, the MFF is not simply an accountancy exercise of revenues and expenditures. It is not only important what is the volume, let’s say of the cohesion policy, but where has the money been directed and how has it been spent. What is the efficiency.
From this point of view, I think that this media-imposed division between “friends of cohesion” and “friends of better spending” is very artificial In our family, everyone is in favour of better spending. And in our family, we understand the importance of cohesion policy. As well as for example of the agricultural policy. It’s not only about the overall figure, but on the real internal priorities in the European budget and in every sectorial spending. It’s not an easy exercise. When I addressed Presidents and Prime Ministers I said “I don’t envy you”, for what you will be going through in the next hours, hopefully not days.
But you have experience from this from seven years ago [when he was Prime Minister of Bulgaria]…
And I told my experience to our Heads of State and Government. In 2005 we had several months of very difficult talks. The Luxembourg Presidency proposal failed because of the British position at that time. And then several British proposals were rejected by the Council, including on the day of the Council which decided in the end…
This was luckily enough under British Presidency…
Indeed. And you know, I was then a young new Prime Minister, I thought it could never work. Never. Because the positions were so different. But do you know why it worked? Because the spirit of solidarity and community, and common understanding that we are one boat, this is the reason why there was an agreement. Everyone made compromise. The cohesion countries, the more developed countries, everybody came with solutions. I believe that member of our family, Mr. Hollande go to the summit with good intentions.
Was President Hollande worried, did he appear overwhelmed by the magnitude of his task?
No, he was very solid in his presentation. And again, I will tell you the representatives of our family will go to the Council with good intentions to reach a compromise, but not any compromise. Because in the end, we need not only an agreement, but an agreement that would fulfill our objectives of growth, jobs and social cohesion for Europe. And this is crucial. You know, there is quite a cynical attitude of some countries and especially the UK who say: we want a rebate, and we don’t accept even the proposal of Van Rompuy. Does it mean that somebody gets everything and the rest nothing? This is not acceptable, I think, not only for the members of my family.
And I made also one particular appeal, which was perceived very positively in my view, that as a political family we have in the last months a major campaign on fighting youth unemployment, and on setting up a youth guarantee.
We have developed a real practical instrument – how can it be implemented at the European level and help every country in the EU overcome and reduce this very sharp political, economic and social problem of youth unemployment. And I requested the heads of state and government to express this position. We really need a special instrument for youth guarantee in the EU budget, which will be financially backed in order to deliver.
Because in the end, why was the EU in the past so positively perceived by the citizens? Because it was solving problems. Because it was giving better future to every citizen. I think we need to go back to this fundamental principle of the EU. The Council, the Commission and all the institutions should actually deliver and we should focus on such a programme as youth guarantee.
And I will make another comparison. Which is the most popular European programme, which is well known among young people?
Yes. And do you know how much is spent on Erasmus?
Not so much.
Not much at all! It’s like a drop in the sea!
But there is no money for Erasmus…
And this is also a problem. This is why we are saying: not any compromise. There should be clear principles, clear priorities. I would not support a compromise which is based on cutting such programmes as Erasmus, because this is counterproductive and will not inv=crease the credibility of the Union in the eyes of the citizens.