Tajani: ‘I will be a president who fights for values’

European Parliament President Antoni Tajani will travel to London before the summer to discuss Brexit with Prime Minister Theresa May. [European Parliament]

As it continues to reduce public debt, Europe should stick to the “social economy model” and ensure no one is left behind by globalisation, Italian MEP Antonio Tajani, the European People’s Party (EPP) group’s candidate for the Parliament presidency, said in an interview with euractiv.com.

Tajani was recently nominated by the centre-right European Peoples’ Party as a candidate for the presidency of the European Parliament. A former Commissioner, he is a member of the right-wing Forza Italia party and a close ally of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

He spoke with EURACTIV’s Sarantis Michalopoulos.

Why are you running for president of the European Parliament?

I will be a president who will fight for the values that brought me into politics. I have been serving the European citizens in different EU institutions for over 20 years. And I remain dedicated, as the next president of the European Parliament, to continue doing the same. I want to ensure that the voice of the people from everywhere in the EU is heard and taken into account in the decision-making process.

The European Parliament is the direct link with our citizens at home and I want to continue building these bridges. I will represent the Parliament as a whole by putting my European network at the service of the institution as a whole. I will be a president who can speak on behalf of the Parliament with the European Commission, the Council, and the member states.

Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group leader Gianni Pittella has spoken out against austerity. What is your opinion on that, considering that you come from Italy?

We must strive to reduce the public debt in order to avoid leaving a burden on the shoulders of generations of our children and grandchildren.

At the same time, we need more growth and jobs, especially for the young people in the South. We also need to work in favour of the real economy, strengthen our SMEs, as well as our industries.

But most importantly, we must ensure that no one is left behind as a consequence of globalisation. Social market economy is and must remain our model.

How are you going to convince your German Christian-Democrat partners that such an approach needs to be adopted? 

As the next President, I will look for consensus and I will be the voice of all the members of the European Parliament. We have a common cause for which we must work together.

The European Parliament has been sidelined in the Brexit negotiations. Do you agree with Martin Schulz that the Parliament needs to have a reinforced role? 

As the only EU institution directly elected by the people, we have an obligation to defend the interests of the citizens of 27 member states. Under my leadership, the European Parliament will play a constructive role in favour of the European people. I believe Guy Verhofstadt is doing a good job on the Brexit file on behalf of the Parliament.

Regarding the celebrations of the Treaty of Rome, what should we celebrate? And what is next?

The Treaty of Rome brought 60 years of peace, prosperity and freedom. It reminds us of how far we have come. At the same time, we cannot take any of these achievements for granted. We must recognise that the EU is at crossroads and facing numerous challenges. But every crisis in the past has made the EU stronger and more resilient and I am convinced that we’ll come out of it stronger again.

I will work for a Europe that is closer to the citizens, with less bureaucracy and more political action. We must defend our external borders, develop a real European foreign and security policy, strengthen the real economy, stand up for citizens’ and human rights and women’s rights in the EU and abroad.

What is your opinion on Turkey and the latest developments there?

Turkey is an important partner of the EU but I am alarmed at the recent developments. If Ankara wants to be a partner of the EU it must respect the rule of law, the freedom of speech and its citizens’ human rights. The position of the European Parliament is clear: until Turkey halts repressions, the negotiations should remain frozen.

Are you afraid for Italy’s future?

I am optimistic about Italy’s future because we have smart, hardworking people committed to bringing Italy forward. Italy is one of the founders of the EU and a defender of the European idea. I am convinced that we, as Italians, will continue to play an important role in the future.

What about the rise of Beppe Grillo?

Populists only point to problems but never offer workable solutions. People expect concrete answers and actions to their concerns, not just propaganda. I am committed to putting forward credible alternatives to fighting populism in Italy and across Europe.

And your view on Greek premier Alexis Tsipras and the new spat between Athens and its lenders after the leftist government’s decision to offer help to pensioners, using the fiscal surplus it has achieved? 

Populism is not the solution for Greece either. Like all populists, they couldn’t deliver what they promised to their people once they came to power.

If you become president, how will you be able to handle the “collapse”, as Pittella said, of the grand coalition?

There is no collapse of the grand coalition. We have a clear power-sharing agreement.

The EPP supported Martin Schulz as president of the Parliament for the first part of the term and the Socialists should now back an EPP president for the second half. If they don’t they will unilaterally break the coalition.