Germany's Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) party must be fought with facts, says Socialists and Democrat MEP Birgit Sippel. The data protection expert finds the German "no-spy" agreement with the US "ridiculous" and calls for strong, Europe-wide regulation of intelligence services.
Birgit Sippel has been an MEP for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D) since 2009 and is second on the German Social Democratic Party's (SPD) European candidate list. She spoke to EurActiv Germany's Dario Sarmadi.
At their election congress in Rome, the Party of European Socialists (PES) called on Brussels to restore certain competences to national, regional and community levels. Do you want less Europe?
It is not about giving up competences, but about giving regions and communities more room for manoeuvre. The issue is not whether there is a directive or not, but how closely it regulates the lives of European citizens.
Can you provide an example?
Take environmental protection: It is not wrong to reduce the energy consumption of vacuum cleaners and light bulbs. But there can be different ways to implement something like this.
Regarding financial sector reform, or the fight against tax fraud, the picture is different: The Commission must be braver on these issues and push for stricter rules.
The classic communication problem of the EU?
Exactly. The Commission must set areas of communicative focus. On Europe's fundamental issues. On common values of the European citizens. That is what moves people.
Topics like data protection and intelligence services are not even mentioned in the European election manifesto. Why not? Because they do not move people?
At first glance, the topic is hard to grasp. Meanwhile, the right to protect private data is a fundamental one. In my view, people are steadily growing aware of how the infringement of data protection rights is a massive intrusion into their privacy.
But if data protection is so important, why is it not in the election manifesto?
It was with a heavy, almost bleeding heart, that I accepted the omission of this point. That is simply due to the nature of the election manifesto. If we want to remain visible in the election campaign, we must hone our agenda, and choose certain areas to focus on.
But data protection and control of intelligence services remain important issues for us. We need European rules on this. When companies violate these rules, they must be subject to stronger sanctions than before. States must be put on the pillory.
Does Europe need a no-spy agreement with the US after Germany failed at attaining this?
In Europe, intelligence services are already working together. Still, [EU] member states insist that this control is a purely national matter. What the German government is doing with the no-spy agreement is simply ridiculous. Something like that is just not useful bilaterally.
In the end, this agreement is only about a commitment to avoid spying on politicians. The majority of citizens would not be affected by this. Our intelligence agencies must be under independent and Europe-wide control by politicians and experts who possess the technical know-how.
Martin Schulz is top candidate for the European socialists in the elections, although German politicians are quite unpopular in southern European countries at the moment. Could that be a problem in the upcoming campaign?
We also considered whether or not it is smart to send a German into the race. But it is actually an advantage. In reality, there is no debate between Germany and the southern European states. The actual conflict, so to speak, exists between capital and workers. A Greek employee gets along better with German employees than with Greek employers. Martin Schulz will be able to resolve this social conflict. He embodies a Europe of unity, which serves the people.
Is it easy for you to conduct an election campaign against the European People's Party? In Germany, the Social Democrats are in a grand coalition with the conservatives.
A coalition is no love marriage. It is an alliance of convenience for four years. We definitely differentiate ourselves from the conservatives in Germany, as well as in Europe. We want more climate protection and more investment in innovation and social protection systems, even in the crisis. We want to take a hard line on tax fraud and introduce a financial transaction tax. We will make these differences clear, by adopting a reasonable tone but being tough on the issues.
Other political opponents are Eurosceptics and right-wing populists, who are likely to gain additional votes. How do you address parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD)?
Speaking for myself, I would never make the AfD an issue. But I cannot escape addressing their main principles. We are well-advised to conduct a fact-based debate amid all the emotion.
We must also make it clear that the AfD chairman Bernd Lucke is playing the wrong game. [It's not clear] whether he is leading a right-wing populist party, or whether he will cooperate with the National Front and the Northern League after the elections. We will have to pin him down.