Bullmann: May should put the Brexit question back to the people

S&D chief Udo Bullmann [L] with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn [R] [Shutterstock]

This article is part of our special report EU social-democrats and a new ‘sustainable equality’ model.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May should stop wasting time and start working with the Labour Party for a closer EU-UK relationship, or put the question back to the British people, socialist chief Udo Bullmann told EURACTIV.com in an interview.

“Brexit was supposed to be about taking back control. Instead, we are witnessing a UK Prime Minister openly incapable of taking decisions back in the UK, trying to blame others for the conservatives’ disastrous strategy,” Bullmann stated.

Bullmann is the leader of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament. He spoke to EURACTIV’s network editor Sarantis Michalopoulos.

You have repeatedly called for all EU progressives to join forces against the rise of the anti-EU extreme right. Considering that progressives have different candidates for the European Commission Presidency, how will this be possible? Is structured cooperation among the progressives after the EU election on the table?

The European Socialists and Democrat have chosen Frans Timmermans as the lead candidate for the post of EC President and he is leading our campaign. As to alliances, the European elections in May will not only draw the line between pro-European forces and the ones that aim at destroying Europe but also between those who want to change Europe fundamentally and those who want to go on with business as usual.

This is our political and moral battlefield. We will put our programme for a better – more sustainable and just – Europe on the table and are happy to discuss it with all progressive forces based on a political platform, on content. We will strike an alliance with all those who believe that social, ecological and economic sustainability must be the core of EU action in the next five years.

To us, this is the only way forward.

Do you find it possible for the progressives to collaborate also at EU Council level, besides the EU Parliament?

The next five years will be crucial for the future of the European project. They will require an alliance for change. This means of course that progressive forces will need to act together and coordinate action across institutions, in order for the next EU to deliver a programme for equal and sustainable societies. This is the Europe we stand for and the Europe we will try to shape. Of course, we invite all the pro-Europeans in the next European Parliament, Commission and Council to be united in this endeavour.

Do you believe that the EPP could collaborate with forces on the right of the political spectrum such as Salvini, in order to secure a majority in the European Parliament?

Indeed, we see the EPP moving to the right side of the political spectrum. We see the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani flirting with the far-right, or we see the EPP watching Orbán’s anti-democratic drift for years and then distancing itself only half-heartedly. Conservatives who are not clear about their relationship with the far-right raise questions of whether they are still reliable partners when it comes to defending the European Union.

According to you, could socialists see Macron’s ‘République En Marche’ as an ally considering he has also publicly backed a progressive EU agenda?

We have always welcomed Macron’s pro-European approach. We need and support his pro-European commitment. However, though pro-European is necessary, it is alone not enough. We need to change Europe if we want to protect it. We need leaders who want to fight for a fairer and sustainable Europe. In this respect, we invite President Macron to discuss our proposals with all pro-European partners in Europe. They are the way forward for a real change for Europe. Change is necessary to rebuild the trust of our citizens in the European project.

Brexit: What would you advise Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to do following yesterday’s extension? Do you believe a snap election is a way out of the current deadlock?

Brexit was supposed to be about taking back control. Instead, we are witnessing a UK Prime Minister openly incapable of taking decisions back in the UK, trying to blame others for the conservatives’ disastrous strategy. May has failed to engage in dialogue with the opposition and find broad support for a softer Brexit. She has always put Tories’ interest ahead of her country’s and citizens’ one.

This is causing today’s disaster. Brexit is a tragic mistake. Labour should keep on showing responsibility and working in a constructive way to ensure citizens are protected and the peace process in Northern Ireland is maintained. May must not waste any more time, instead she should work with Labour for a closer EU-UK relationship, or put the question back to the British people.

You recently criticised the EPP decision to suspend and not expel Orbàn’s Fidesz party. However, critics draw parallels with the Romanian socialist party. Do you envisage a serious debate and an Orbàn-style solution in this case too? 

I have criticized the EPP for waiting for 9 years before at least partially reacting. For years Orbán’s Fidesz party has been adopting actions and legislative measures in open contrast not only with the European law but also with our common European values. By weakening the judiciary system, undermining media freedom, running anti-migrants and anti-Semitics campaigns and attacking NGOs, Orbán has systematically undermined fundamental European values.

The cases of Hungary and Romania are not comparable. But when it comes to problems in Romania, we have immediately reacted, we had a frank exchange with the Romanian PM in the S&D Group before the Presidency semester started, I wrote her a letter expressing our concerns for developments concerning judicial proceedings and the reform of the criminal system.

Recently, with Frans Timmermans and Sergei Stanishev, we sat in Madrid with the PSD leader and made it clear that we needed Romania to engage in a clear reform path for the implementation of the Venice Commission recommendations. This dialogue is ongoing, both at institutional and party political level. We see progress but we still need swift and constant results for our political relationship to be consolidated.

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