Graham Watson, the European liberal democrats leader, wants to set up a new centrist pro-European political group to form a rival power bloc to the European parliament's two main groups, the conservatives (EPP) and the socialists (PES).
Graham Watson was elected as leader of the Liberal Democrat political group of the European Parliament in January 2002. He was the first British Liberal Democrat to be elected to the European Parliament in 1994. Read theinterview news.
Are you satisfied with the elections' results? Did you expect more liberal MEPs to be elected?
I am very pleased with the ELDR 's results. It is clear that in the new Parliament, the liberal democrat group will be at least as strong as it was in the last Parliament, and probably a little stronger. We had a particularly good result in Germany - where we elected 7 MEPs - and in the United Kingdom.
Will the liberal political group change its composition and name?
There is a good opportunity for liberals to get together with other forces in the Parliament and to create a new group in the centre which would a be a pro-European group, involving the liberals, the UDF of François Bayrou, Romano Prodi's troops in Italy and quite possibly others. This group would create a dynamic of its own as a third pole between the socialists and the right-wing.
Is it confirmed that French UDF and Italian Magherita MEPs will join the liberals to form a new group?
There is a good chance of creating a new group. François Bayrou announced on French TV that he will definitely be leaving the EPP.
Do you think the majority or coalition will change in the new Parliament?
The experience we had in the last parliament of a Centre-right arrangement, rather than a grand coalition between the right and left was a good experience - one that I would be prepared to repeat.
I certainly don't exclude the possibility of a centre-left arrangement or the possibility of the the Socialists and Christian democrats doing something together and any new centre grouping remaining in opposition.
What is important to me is to manage to build a new centre grouping in the Parliament which would have the strength to have two or three committee chairmanships, to secure a number of interesting reports during the life of the European Parliament, particularly because the anti-Europeans are increasingly strident on the right-wing, not just in any new right-wing group, but increasingly also in the EPP.
In your view, why is euroscepticism gaining ground?
It is a reflection of the failure of our national political elites to explain to people how the European Union works and why it is important. It is also partly a reflection of the failure of the European institutions to reform themselves.
Part of the agenda of my group over the last two Parliaments has been the reform of the European Parliament - not yet achieved, perhaps we will this time. The failure of the reform of the MEPs' pay and expenses is evident for the voters.
How do you judge the fact that the Commission and the Council signed an agreement with the United States against the will of the Parliament?
It is disgraceful. I requested a special meeting of the conference of the Presidents of the political groups on 16 June. It is likely that we will challenge the action of the Commsision and the Council in the European Court of Justice. It would need to be voted in plenary during the first meeting of the Parliament on 20 July.
In your view, who is to become the President of the Commsision and Parliament?
The heads of state and government will determine the President of the Commission. We have strong candidates from the liberal family, including Guy Verhofstadt and Pat Cox. Unlike Pöttering [leader of the EPP-ED group], I think that the results of the election in the Parliament will be more important in determining the President of t he Parliament than the President of the Commission. For the Commisson's president, the heads of state and government should choose the best person for the job, irrespective of their party or political colour.
How do you react to the low turnout in the new Member States?
I think it is very disappointing. It should lead us to a period of reflection and debates about what we need to do to bring Europe closer to the people. That is a debate which must involve national politicians.
In some cases, people were simply tired of voting. They were asked to vote last year in referenda on their countries' membership of the EU. They have been asked to vote in local elections and in some cases, in national elections. The public at a certain point just turns off. Let's give it some serious analysis and thought. But let's not do something hasty. I would not be in favour of making voting compulsory, like in Australia or Belgium. I think that if people have the opportunity to vote and they choose not to exercise it, it means that they are not too discontented.