Rebecca Harms: Oettinger is a man of big business

Rebecca Harms [Website of Green/EFA group]

Rebecca Harms [Greens/EFA]

As energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger killed proposals that could have led to greater energy savings, job creation, and climate protection, Rebecca Harms, President of the Greens- European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV Poland, in an exclusive interview.

She spoke to Karolina Zbytniewska.

Rebecca Harms became active in the anti-nuclear movement when she was a student. She has been an MEP since 2004.



You were denied entrance to the Russian Federation as a ‘persona non grata’, an unwanted person. Why?

The declared reason I was refused entry changed over time. First, there was a technical problem with a computer, then the quality of my diplomatic passport seemed doubtful. Later, there was a problem with my special Belgian ID, that I hold as an MEP working in Brussels. It appeared strange, as my diplomatic passport is German. After three hours, I was told that I was not allowed to enter Russia, and that an attempt (to do so) would be regarded as a criminal act.

After I signed the document informing me that I was deemed “persona non grata” in Russia, it was clear that someone had already prepared my flight back to Brussels – the boarding of my plane began in just a few minutes. A stewardess had to sign a paper where she admitted I was persona non grata, and that she would take care of my coming back to Brussels.

Didn’t you expect that if the EU imposed sanctions on Russian officials, Russia would introduce tit-for-tat sanctions?

It was a surprise anyway – and I told it to the consul. My visit was announced in advance, and nobody reacted before. He asked me then whether I voted in favour of sanctions against Russia at the EP, which I confirmed, and said that it’s probably well-known in Russia.

He commented that now I probably understand the situation.

On 25 September, the Russian foreign ministry officially admitted sanctions against the EU officials are in the cards.

The so-called “stop list” of EU politicians was declared only when I was already flying to Russia.

You were going to Moscow to observe the court case of Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian pilot accused of a double murder, submitted to 30 days of psychological observation, and imprisoned. She is currently at SIZO-6 Pechatniki, the Moscow detention centre for women.

I was alarmed that Savchenko – like Oleg Sentsov, the Crimean filmmaker – is facing a stay in a psychiatric hospital.

She was first in prison in Voronezh, in the Lugansk region, and then transferred to Russia. This court case is altogether against the law, and obviously it’s politically motivated. After carefully reading the Russian lawyer’s comments on Nadia’s lawsuit, I’ve become convinced that the Russian legal authorities entangled in this trial don’t respect legal rules.

In view of the West’s inability to undertake any coherent and meaningful preventative action against Russia, making this public only frustrates Europeans, feeding their Euroscepticism further.

Poland is not alone with this frustration. Still, in this case, I must admit, I feel more Polish than German.

I often have this impression that although the EU says it it stands for Ukrainians, in fact national economic interest is stronger, especially in the field of energy imports.

Angela Merkel is the unofficial leader of Europe. Would you agree that this position gives her not only power, but responsibility?

Yes. And it’s the responsibility in a double sense – of a political leader, but also of a German person.

Germany is the country that has made most out of the reunification and European integration – from the support of both the East and the West in the difficult days of 1989. We (are in debt) to people fighting for democracy at that time, and we are obligated to people that started again to call for freedom and democracy in November 2013, and are continuing still.

I am disappointed that Germany seems to have forgotten about the past, and neglects the fundamental rule of European solidarity.

You say that Germany fails as a European policy leader, but also fails morally, in enacting its historical responsibility. The EU has so many “leaders – Juncker, Schulz, Van Rompuy and soon, Donald Tusk.

France had its Mistral scandal, the UK exported weapons to Russia, Austria went for protecting its banks, Germany fixed the gas deal, Hungary signed a nuclear deal with Rosatom. All  (of this) happened when it was clear Russia is involved in a war in eastern Ukraine.

I cannot justify such situations. My demand is (that) this must stop. If we want any change, the EU has to be unified. It’s easier when bigger states agree on one line.

And which line is it?

Europe has to set clear economic sanctions, and a strategy for implementing the association agreement with Ukraine, and helping this country in the reform process, on all levels. The actions of the EU and US must be straightforward and consistent, so that neither Russia, nor Ukraine has any doubt about what to expect from ‘The West’.

And I have a lot of hope that the direct Poland’s involvement in the EU leadership with Donald Tusk as a President of the European Council will change the situation for the better.

Did you feel optimistic about the future of Russian society seeing thousands marching in Moscow and Saint Petersburg?

It’s good those marches took place, with human rights defenders, anti-war activists, mothers’ of soldiers etc. But the situation where 80 % support the new nationalistic line of Putin doesn’t make me optimistic at all.

This data could have been manipulated. Do you think we are watching a sequel of the Cold War?

It is strange everybody fears cold war, when we experience an unconventional hot war, in the eastern Ukraine.

How do we stop this conflict from spreading?

We, as Europeans, have to achieve a situation where Russia agrees to not interfere with military means, and by indirect financing and equipping (of the) so-called ‘separatists’. We, as the West, have to make the obvious choice for Ukraine, both in economic and political relations.

But above all, the choice must be made also by Ukraine itself, not by Russia. Russia must remove all of its non-peaceful measures, while the West must be ready with its non-military arsenal, to stick to sanctions, and rethink its dependence on Russia, and how to divert it.

If Russia doesn’t agree on the peaceful way, Europe must speed up with a belated strategy for independence, and multiplying the energy sources, finally building energy security for itself. Now it’s even more of a pressing issue, as the winter is coming. And we must also know that Russia does not want to lose all its European clients.

Do you think Energy Union might be the cure?

Yes. But Europe wakes up to set it up when it is already too late. Why the emergency situation had to be reached, to finally discuss closer energy integration? The talking should have been done several years ago!

Still, it’s vital for Europe to reduce its energy-related imports, not only from Russia. It also needs to trim down all major dependencies and enrich its energy mix, as far as the origins of imports are concerned.

So you must be probably in favour of cooperation with Iran, which Hassan Rouhani wittily proposed in New York, during the UN summit.

Now, as we have not many alternatives, we have to turn to countries rich in resources for replacement. Simultaneously, much has to be done in terms of energy saving and energy security strategies, as Europe refused to be more ambitious in this context before– and for no reason.

[Latvian commissioner] Andris Piebalgs, while responsible for energy in the Barosso I Commission (2004-2009), left a fully prepared political field to push energy efficiency forward. Then Oettinger killed the proposals, refusing the binding targets on investment in innovative technologies that would lead to energy savings, jobs creation, and climate protection. Thus, he prevented economic development and increased energy independence.

And why such behaviour?

Günther Oettinger is a man of big energy business. Of German corporations and internationals.

Now he will take over the Digital Economy portfolio, so maybe he will change his mind and turn towards smart energy solutions – intelligent cities, smart grids, etc.

It’s impossible to apply smart grids to the old system. He is responsible for conserving it.

Lithuania and Poland suffer the most from sanctions. Now, when we go for implementing the pro-independence strategy, involving withdrawing from fossil fuels and imports from the East, Poland’s competitiveness will suffer the most.

But they agreed to sanctions – or even pushed them forward – for a good reason.

Poland refuses to discuss making its economy more innovative. I like that Tusk will represent the Central and Eastern Europe at the top of the EU, but we cannot accept his energy views. On this side, he is the man of yesterday, and I can only hope he will turn towards tomorrow, or at least today – and think (about) how to effectively invest in innovation.

Many Poles agree with me, being against subsidies for coal. You can do better without coal, investing more in renewables and efficiency. That translates into a reduction of energy use, less pollution, better public health, less expenses on the medical aid, but also entrepreneurship, foreign investment, new jobs, new technologies. In other words, it means economic development.

Independent and united Europe. A Ukraine that is independent and integrated with the West. What is the chance for such a happy ending?

We will see. But the decision about the future of Ukraine must be made by the Ukraine itself – not by Russia, and also not by the West. 

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