The Pulse of Europe initiative is trying, and succeeding, to get more people interested in European issues. Its founder, Daniel Röder, spoke to EURACTIV Germany about what could happen if France left the EU, populism and member state failures.
Daniel Röder, a lawyer by profession, co-founded the movement with his wife, Sabine, late last year.
Röder spoke to EURACTIV.de’s Nicole Sagener.
So what benefits does Europe bring?
That’s not a difficult question to answer. Europe or not, it is above all a question of war and peace. The EU has a peacekeeping role, as history clearly shows us. Moreover, global challenges like climate change and migration cannot be solved at national level. Prosperity and growth are also important factors.
Quarrels about refugee relocation and Greek debt repayments point to a lack of solidarity. Many EU member states have the impression that European decisions are actually the will of countries like Germany and France. Is Europe missing some sort of code of conduct to address this?
Of course, with 28 countries it is often difficult to come to a common position because each member has its own interests. Taking the example of the refugee crisis, we saw what happened when one country, Germany, chose its path and others were expected to follow suit. If there had been a bit more unity on that issue, albeit through gritted teeth, the number of refugees would have been easy to disperse.
Civil society should ask itself what kind of EU it wants. And national governments like Poland have to decide whether they truly want to belong to a community of values, if they then do not follow the rules.
A code of conduct could help. That would need a debate on reform, which the European Commission has indeed tried to kick off with its recent White Paper on the Future of Europe. Yes, the White Paper was heavily criticised. But we still think that the contribution, also from the political side of things, is important. Pulse of Europe is, at the moment, is on the passionate side of the debate and we want to promote that part of being European, which has been lacking for years.
You say your movement is not driven by blind EU romanticism, but that you are pushing from reform. What do you not like about the EU in its current form?
The member states have always pushed their own national interests to the fore. You cannot support decisions at EU level and then admonish the bloc. Member states have to take responsibility for a united Europe. Instead, Europe plays no significant role in Germany’s political party programmes.
Martin Schulz is freshly arrived from Brussels into German politics but no longer says anything about Europe. Angela Merkel is engaged but speaks about two-speed Europe without defining exactly what she wants.
That is actually the European Union’s biggest weakness, which has a lot to do with its natural disposition and the strength of the European Council. Here, perhaps, is institutional reform necessary, the Union definitely needs more cohesion regardless. But no one dares to broach the subject of a United States of Europe these days.
The Dutch have voted, while France and Germany will go to the polls soon too. Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the National Front and Geert Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) have all tried to exploit the refugee crisis and the subject of migration for political capital. Many people seem to want to return to a protectionist state of thinking, to the nation state, to hide from the complexities of the world in their own backyard…
First, I am convinced that nationalism is not a problem just in the EU. You can see that with how things have developed in the United States and how Trump won the election. But, yes, clearly there is a reflex by people to look inward. We need a more honest debate here. Our reality is more complex and difficult.
But what if nationalists, like Marine Le Pen, do take power? How safe and secure can Europe be in that reality?
I think Le Pen will make it to the second round in the election. If she wins that, then I think she will try to withdraw France from the EU. But the nation is a founding member of the EU. So I’m afraid the bloc would collapse completely. But even in such a horror scenario, one has to be optimistic. Even from the ruins something new can emerge. So even after Brexit and a possible ‘Frexit’, both of which might not even happen by the way, there might still be a successor to the EU. How and if it would work with the current EU members is a difficult question though.
So some Eastern European countries might not make the cut?
I would be careful in saying that. Eastern Europe is not one entity. Romania’s massive protests took place largely under the EU flag and there is huge opposition to Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) government.
One of your priorities as a lawyer is international trade and contract law. To what extent has the turbulence caused by free trade agreements like TTIP damaged the EU’s reputation among the general public?
It certainly plays a role. The debate about agreements like TTIP and CETA have really focused on the transparency of the institutions. But the discussion has been multi-faceted and there have been a number of misunderstandings, it has to be said.
Is your initiative planning anything beyond the demonstrations that have already been held?
We didn’t even plan to set up a citizens movement, but the demonstrations are, in our opinion, an important tool to give democratic pro-Europeans a voice. 25,000 of them turned out on the streets at the weekend, with more to come.
But beyond that, we are now going to schools to talk about issues and organising discussion forums. We are also expanding our organisation team in Frankfurt.