ALDE chief: No EU-US ideological division over crisis response

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The fact that the economies of the US and EU countries are at different stages of recession explains their differences over how to respond to the crisis, Graham Watson, leader of the European Liberal Democrats group in the European Parliament, told EURACTIV in an interview.

On 7 January, ALDE leader Graham Watson announced his intention to run for president of the EU assembly. 

You are the only person to have declared yourself a candidate to become the next president of the European Parliament. As Mr Poettering is now (19 March) addressing EU leaders, what would you say to them if you were in his shoes? 

I think that I would say to those people who believe that there is a choice between either regulating the banks or reflating the economies: the reality is that we have to do both. And we have spoken about it over a number of summits. We now need action.

Europe is investing a lot of hope in the Obama administration. But ahead of the G20 London summit on 2 April, don’t you see the EU and the US more divided than they should be, as the US pushes for more economic stimulus while Europe stands for more regulation? 

I don’t think there is much real division. It is certainly true that the US and the UK, perhaps following the Keynesian model, want to see a more rapid and more substantial reflation of economies. But it’s also true that their economies entered recession before the continental economies, and they are more deeply in [recession]. So if there is a difference of opinion, I think it has to do with when the country went into recession, rather than an ideological difference. 

Is the French-German rapprochement a good development in the current circumstances? 

France and Germany have always worked closely in the EU. What I think has changed – and I think France and Germany both recognise this – is that in a union of 27 countries, two countries cannot make all the decisions. We need a much wider consensus, a much wider alliance, to get things moving in the EU these days. 

During its negotiation, the five billion stimulus package became an embarrassment for the EU, with all the horse-trading. What is your comment? 

If the five billion package embarrasses anybody, it should embarrass Angela Merkel and other heads of state who do not want to commit the money. The money is already in the EU budget. We’ve already talked about the need for projects at European level, and such a fight over a five billion financing, when we’ve already spent one hundred times that amount on reflation of our economies, looks petty, [it] looks small-minded. 

Angela Merkel did not want to see the name of the Nabucco pipeline project in a list of projects to receive financing under the stimulus package. But the businesses involved in the Nabucco project complained, as they will negotiate possible gas deliveries with Central Asian countries, and they see their credibility weakened. 

Was Angela Merkel playing a political game to please Moscow, or can we explain her position in the context of the upcoming German general elections, as she doesn’t want to be seen as committing money to a risky project? 

The last explanation may be correct. But since the German power industry is the most powerful in Europe, investing in Nabucco would be investing effectively in German industry. 

About the Eastern Partnership, to be approved at the summit and launched on 7 May in Prague, how do you feel about its inclusion of Alexandr Lukashenko of Belarus, known as ‘Europe’s last dictator’, or Ilham Aliev of Azerbaijan, freshly elected president for life? 

I think we can have contacts with these countries, without our leaders needing to stand next to Aliev or any others in a family photo. And the way to do that is the way it’s done in the IMF and other organisations. Which is to invite them to be present, but not represented at the level of the head of state or government. 

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