Interview: Wilfried Martens, President of the European People’s Party

The EPP is trying to “convince voters that
Europe is a necessity” claims Wilfried Martens, President
of the European People’s Party in an exclusive interview
with euractiv.com.

Wilfried Martens has been President of the EPP
since 1990. From October 2000 to November 2001 he
was President of the Centrist Democrat
International. Previously, he was Belgium’s
Prime Minister on various occasions from 1979 to
1992. Click

here

 to read the interview news. 

Tell EURACTIV’s readers why they
should vote for the European People’s Party
candidate?

For the European Parliament,
it is essential to have an increase in voters
turnout. We are in favour of a strong European
Union but not a superstate – we want a strong
Europe built on the basis of subsidiarity. We are
trying to convince voters that Europe is a
necessity. We believe that Europe has to realise
a common foreign and security policy.

Secondly, we need more jobs
and to achieve that aim implementing the Lisbon
strategy is crucial. We want to have a new Europe
by 2010, especially in the fields of employment,
economy and innovation.

The third main point is
external and internal security. A lot of policies
have to be decided at the European level, such as
asylum, immigration…

We want to build a strong
Europe to maintain our identity in a globalised
world, our economic development and the European
model of social security. Europe is worth a
vote!

How can both the Socialists and the
Conservatives agree on the Lisbon agenda? Does
it mean that there is no political difference
at the European level?

The difficulties and obstacles
related to the Lisbon agenda are not political.
It is a question of capacity to deliver
innovation. The Socialists changed considerably .
Ten years ago, when I was Belgium’s Prime
Minister, the Socialists were against
liberalisation. The Socialists now accept the
market economy – this is perhaps one of the
consequences of the single market in Europe.

However, we differ on the
conception of Europe and on the role of the
private sector. We accept that the private sector
is in charge of the organisation of the society.
In our view, schools and health care can be run
by private stakeholders.

Is the EPP in favour of real European
political parties? And if so, when ?

European political parties are
crucial to building up new awareness. The EPP was
founded in 1976, it is the first transnational
political party. It now includes 65 national
parties.

The day voters will have the
power to designate the President of the
Commission, you will have a real European
political campaign. I am in favour of a direct
election of the President of the Commission by
the people. People should have two voting slips :
one for the MEPs and one for the Commission’s
President.

In our view, the fonctions of
President of the Council and President of the
Commission should be merged.

It would constitute real
progress if, in 2009, the President of the
Commission was elected by the Parliament. Then,
the political parties would be obliged to
nominate a candidate.

Why did the EPP not name a candidate
for President of the Commission during the
electoral campaign?

If we stay the biggest
political group, the European Council should take
into account the results of the elections and
name someone coming from the EPP political
family. I will not nominate a candidate now. The
post holder has to speak English, French and
German.

There have been reports of strong
tensions between the eurosceptics and the
pro-europeans among the EPP group. Will this
translate into a break-up of the EPP group?
What will you do to avoid this
scenario?

M. Bayrou’s arguments are
not right. To say that we no longer defend the
heritage of the founders is totally false! The
EPP is not becoming less pro-European. These
manoeuvres are due to internal polit ical
situations in different countries and people
wanting to raise their profiles. We want the MEPs
from the parties of M. Prodi and M. Bayrou to
stay inside the group.

They might join the liberal
group but this group is already divided on a
crucial issue. While the liberals want Turkey to
join the EU, Mister Bayrou is opposed to it.

Why didn’t you prefer to have the
conservatives out of the EPP group and keep
Prodi’s and Bayrou’s MEPs
inside?

The point is different. You
can discuss the following question: whether or
not it is right to have an alliance with the
Conservatives. We have this alliance since
1992.

Isn’t it time to reappraise the
idea of an alliance with the UK
Conservatives?

You can discuss then whether
the EPP should have granted the UK Conservatives
autonomy on constitutional issues. Personally I
was not in favour of changing the status of the
group.

Anyway, the debate on the
Constitution is a transitional one. The day the
constitution is ratified, this issue will
disappear – if the UK ratifies…

What are the most important outstanding
issues in the Constitution for the EPP
party?

I am in favour of including a
reference to God in the European constitution but
not to Christian heritage because I am in favour
of the accession of Turkey.

Do you agree with the biggest net
contributors (Germany, Austria, France, the
Netherlands, Sweden and the UK) that the EU
budget should be capped at one per cent or
should the EU institutions be given more money
to carry out their tasks?

In our action programme, we
said that artificially limiting the EU budget to
one percent is unacceptable. Europe needs the
means which are necessary for the policies we
want to develop. I am not in favour of expanding
the bureaucracy. I work in the EPP with 50
people. The number of EU staff members is less
than the number of civil servants for the City of
London.

Pat Cox said he wanted the 2004
elections to be the first true European
elections. Do you think this is happening or is
the battle being fought on national
issues?

In many countries, it is not
the representativeness of the European parliament
that is at stake in this campaign. It is a
‘vote sanction’ [ protest vote] against
the government and national policies. It is not
about defending a political programme. We have an
electoral manifesto but this is not debated.

There is much speculation that the
Socialists and the EPP have agreed to divide
between them the Presidency of the European
Parliament: a Socialist for the first two and
half years and then a Conservative. Can you
confirm if this is true?

It’s correct, a deal has
been struck: a Socialist for the first two years
and a half and then Hans Pöttering, the
President of the EPP for the remaining time. The
deal was negotiated to create a wide coalition
and ensure stability in the Parliament. This
agreement is here to secure a majority to amend
proposals and to agree on the candidate heading
the Commission. Pat Cox announced this agreement
in a meeting with ambassadors. By announcing this
agreement, he tried it to make it less
‘opaque’!

 

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