The majority won by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in the European Parliament was not an attempt to save face, says Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer. The legislator voted for Juncker because the centre-right politician shares many positions of the European Greens, and could set a new EU course on issues like immigration policy, TTIP and socio-economic policy.
Reinhard Bütikofer is a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and a member of the Delegation for relations with the People's Republic of China and the United States. The 61 year-old has been co-chairman of The Greens/European Free Alliance since 2012.
He spoke to EurActiv Germany's Dario Sarmadi.
At the EU Summit on Wednesday (16 July) heads of state and government deferred the assignment of EU top jobs until the end of August. What is your analysis?
We should not overly dramatise the current personnel debates in the European Council. If we look at all the trouble that surrounded Jean-Claude Juncker's candidacy, this is little more than a light breeze. After all, it is not surprising that the Council cannot agree right away.
Regarding the question of who the EU High Representative should be, there are two opposing sides: the Eastern Europeans who support Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski and the socialist alliance that supports Italian Foreign Minister Frederica Mogherini. Many member states accuse Mogherini of sympathising with Putin. And others consider Sikorski too severe. No wonder there is still a need for discussion.
Many have had enough of the “horse-trading” surrounding EU posts. What would you like to say to these people?
The accusation is simply a denunciation. That is a vocabulary term from the "dictionary of the apolitical". In fact we are witnessing a politicisation of the EU institutions. This is positive. The citizens made it is clear in the European elections that the EU cannot continue as it has so far. Now there are many different answers over how to move forward. And the heads, which are being fought over, stand for political alternatives. It is an illusion to think that Europe has a future without dispute over the direction.
Juncker, the top candidate of the European People's Party (EPP), has been named Commission president. But the 'Spitzenkandidaten' experiment was criticised by many. Was Juncker's election in Parliament mainly about saving the experiment itself or also about content?
It was most definitely about content and not about simply wanting to be right. Before Juncker was nominated, members of the European Council discussed former Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen and the former Prime Minister of Latvia Valdis Dombrovskis, as possible alternatives. Those are two tough neo-liberals. Juncker, on the other hand, understood that the social dimension of the economy must be considered as well and that every consolidation programme needs to undergo a social compatibility test. The European Parliament favourably took that into account, also expressing their trust in him for this reason.
Why did you vote for Mr. Juncker?
I was convinced by Mr. Juncker's speech. Among other things, he announced his intention to create more transparency in TTIP and a binding lobby register for all EU institutions. Juncker also showed an openness to several of the Green Party's views. It could become interesting with him. If he only fulfills half of what he has promised, then he will be the most successful Commission president since Jacques Delors.
What do you expect of Juncker in the next five years?
Firstly, I expect that he table his proposed investment programme of €300 billion by February next year. In doing this, he is very clearly setting the course. Juncker is finally putting an end to the eternal speech that only austerity is decisive. Finally there will be an emphasis on private and public investments. If Juncker achieves this, then there will be a considerable rise in trust in the EU.
Juncker wants to be an independent and political Commission president. But nothing about the institutional framework in the EU has actually changed. How can Juncker keep his promise?
He must make use of his competences. Barroso did not do this. He always shrunk back when he received a call from Paris or Berlin. He did not even actively pursue the jointly agreed strategy "Europe 2020", whose goal is to support sustainable growth. More energy and resource efficiency, for example, would drive re-industrialisation in the interest of ecological innovation, sustainability and competitiveness. The Commission must regain the courage to stand up for its own policies.
Critics are saying that Juncker is too old and belongs to the old establishment. He said himself that no "revolution" should be expected because of him. Is that really what progress in Europe looks like?
Oh ho, the revolution! Are we speaking of this grandiose revolution of dimwittedness, that would love to throw the European project out the window and revive the old chauvinist idols? Europe can do quite well without that. And what does a politician's age say about his qualities? That is only talk.
Juncker hopes to expand legal immigration options. At the same time he plans to extend border control. Will this double standard really work?
The issue of migration will be the most conflict-ridden topic of the next five years. Mr. Juncker does not yet have a concrete idea of how immigration should be regulated in the future. But he intends to readjust migration policy. Previously, the message was always "border control above all". Border control remains important but now legal migration is also being discussed. Finally there is room for voices that were not heard before.
Which green demands are missing among Juncker's political guidelines?
I had hoped that he would pay more attention to environmental renewal of the economy. But apparently the topic does not really move him. But it moves me, and I will do my best to push him with this.
After the election, many of your colleagues in the Parliament spoke of a good signal for European democracy. What next steps should be taken to inspire more trust for the EU among Europe's citizens?
We must make the instruments of direct democracy, such as the European Citizens' Initiative, more practical. Furthermore, we must constructively and productively include national parliaments in EU debates. The Bundestag has a much better standing than many other national parliaments, which are often left out. Instead of mobilising parliaments against Europe, we need an alliance of parliaments.