Czech MEP Niedermayer: Politics is more aggressive, social networks are to blame

Ludek Niedermayer

The Czech attitude towards the eurozone is only a small part of a bigger problem called “searching for the right approach to the EU”, says Czech MEP Luděk Niedermayer (EPP).

EURACTIV.cz spoke to Luděk Niedermayer during a recent conference about the eurozone in the Czech Republic.

You have just participated in a conference focused on the euro and the Czech Republic. How is the Eurozone changing and what is the Czech attitude towards it like? Is a large-scale reform coming?

The Eurozone is changing gradually in what I believe is more or less the right direction. The most important steps such as strengthening its architecture and the elimination of “weak spots” were made after the financial crisis in 2009, although in a quite chaotic way.

The issue of today is making things simpler and more transparent. From my point of view, we are not far from the minimum necessary for making the eurozone stable.

The discussion in place is whether the eurozone should be fiscally stronger and if any coordination mechanisms and similar tools should be developed. The Czech priority, however, lies in clarifying our attitude towards the Eurozone.

The key is to move the Czech discussion away from low-quality and “deformed” information and introduce actual facts for a change. It is important to understand where our interests lie.

In the Czech Republic, we often talk about how we want to wait for a reform of the eurozone and only then start the discussion about adopting the euro. Do you think it is only an excuse enabling every new cabinet to postpone the decision?

I think you may have a point. The Eurozone stands in front of a big strategic decision. Are the “defensive” mechanisms enough, or do countries want to move towards truly functional European budget and precautions supporting stability and effectiveness? That is the question.

I have not heard what the Czech Republic wants yet. Do we first want to see if the “defensive” mechanisms are useful, or do we wish the Eurozone was more active already, just like the French do?

The Czech attitude towards the Eurozone is nevertheless only a small part of a bigger problem I would call “searching for the right approach to the EU”. We have not been very consistent recently, we refuse a lot, but do not offer an alternative.

One of the Czech arguments while refusing the euro is Greece, we say we do not want to “pay their debts“ against our will. Despite this argument not even being relevant, because there needs to be a consensus in deciding about the financial aid, could the end of the Greek rescue program be the reason why we change our mind?

First of all, those who used such arguments need to come forward and admit they misled the public. We would indeed have a choice whether we would like to participate in this kind of help or not. I feel we lack one very basic understanding. If, for example, the Austrian economy was in a very bad shape due to its own mistakes, the existence of a similar mechanism would be in our interest.

Otherwise, we would “pay the price” as well, because we are closely connected economically and in other areas. We forget that in Europe we are “on the same boat” with Austria, Germany, Spain and many others, their crises are ours as well. Our current view is “it is their own doing, so they should deal with those problems themselves”. It is certainly not “giving away money to the lazy Greek people”, as some irresponsible politicians claim.

What do you think about the Commission’s new Multiannual Financial Framework proposal? Should the Czech Republic be satisfied with it?

It is all about expectations. Some groups of countries depend on cohesion money, some on agriculture money. Others argue the focus should be on current problems – migration and security. The Commission needed to take into account all of those voices and at the same time deal with them saying they want to pay as little as possible. The result is an MFF that no one really likes, but everyone can get used to eventually.

The most important thing for the Czech Republic is not how the agriculture chapter will change, but whether we want to continue with, in my opinion, the very undesirable support of large agricultural companies. This behaviour has an impact on market competition, the structure of the economy, the environment and other areas. I think we can be rather grateful for the proposed budget, it is a good starting point for negotiations.

Do you think these negotiations will finish before the European elections next May?

I am not even going to guess, but one thing is certain. If they are not finished and the new Parliament and the new Commission would want to go several steps back, it would be a significant issue considering the time schedule. Although it may seem logical that the new budget starting in 2021 would not be decided by institutions operating only until 2019, time is a big problem. Cohesion policy would suffer the most.

How could the new Parliament look after the elections?

The only thing certain is that to form a majority in the future, you will need at least three political groups. Therefore to agree on something is going to be very complicated. The number of MEPs with attitudes like “the less functional the EU is, the better, because its demise will come sooner” will rise significantly. The ratio between those who want to find solutions and those who prefer not to will certainly change.

You are still undecided about whether you will run again. If you do, what topics or politics would you like to focus on in the future?

I think we should not be afraid to say that a smoothly working EU is key for the Czech Republic. It might be quite a problem to keep the EU the same as today – a change would be a very big issue for us. Personally, I am interested in many topics, not only the reform of the Eurozone. For example, I find tax policy fascinating, despite the Parliament not having much power in this area other than pressure. Energy policy and transportation are my favourite topics as well.

Being in the Parliament for a second term would have its advantages. It takes some time to be successful in large political groups like mine is, you have to learn how everything works and gain the respect of the group. At the same time, I think you should not stay in the same position for very long, because you might become too cynical or “tired of too much experience”.

The recent vote on sanctions procedure against Hungary caused very emotional reactions in the Czech Republic. Let us not talk about opinions, but focus on a more general question. Why do you think the rule of law principle in countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania is “under attack”?

I think there is a trend of politics in general getting more aggressive. Social media is a big part of this. They came not only with the ability to share useful information and knowledge, but also to spread lies and nonsense. Reasonable and honest politicians were not ready for this. On the other hand, those who use manipulations found out how accommodating the online space is and are getting stronger. I feel regular politicians have started to copy their populistic techniques.

At the same time, it is very tempting to rule with a majority and without many independent news agencies. When you control the largest media in your country, everything is easier. This is of course wrong. For this reason, I am very dissatisfied with the Czech discussion about this issue. The Czech House of Commons can certainly have a different opinion on the situation in Hungary, but it seems many of its members did not even read the justification why the European Parliament decided the way it did.

Before the vote I was undecided, but I read the 77 points of the report on Hungary. It is nonsense to say the EU wants every country to be the same, but when some governments go too far, the situation becomes relevant for the EU as well.

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