The Euro-critical EU Democrats (EUD) could form a new European Parliament group with anti-Lisbon Treaty platform Libertas after the June elections, EUD President Sören Wibe told EURACTIV in an interview.
Sören Wibe has been president of the EU Democrats since January 2009. A former MEP, he will head the party’s list in Sweden this year.
How are things shaping up for the elections from the EUD point of view?
Fine. I mostly see things from the Swedish perspective, and the debate has so far been quiet and mainly focused on national issues, but the real campaign is starting now.
On what issues and standpoints will the EU Democrats be running in these elections?
The basic line in our politics is that we don’t to give the EU more power, we want to give it less. We want to roll power back to the national level. We want to limit cooperation within the Union to a few areas, namely matters dealing with trade and the free movement of people and goods, and some environmental questions.
But we don’t want the Union to deal with social issues or tax issues. “‘Yes’ to Europe, ‘no’ to an EU state” is the Junilistan campaign motto.
Most experts seem to agree that the financial and economic crisis will overshadow other issues in this year’s elections. Do you have an economic programme for solving the crisis that differs from the mainstream European parties?
No, I don’t think so. Personally, I think that the EU in this area can do something good, and that is to protect against the rise of protectionism. Other than that, I am very much in favour of using fiscal policy. I think that monetary policy has played out its role not and it’s more or less worthless.
So we need fiscal policy, and there I think the Union is actually a great obstacle to solving the economic crisis, because in its economic policy it is so committed to budgetary restraints and keeping the budget deficit low. It also aims at fighting inflation rather than fighting unemployment.
I’m also convinced that the introduction of the euro has aggravated the crisis, because it fixes the exchange rate in the eurozone countries. Different countries are hit differently hit by this crisis, for instance countries such as Japan, Germany and Sweden export quite a lot of goods and are hit much harder, whereas other countries such as Denmark that are exporting bacon and beef and other foodstuffs are not all that hard hit.
Remember also that the fixing of exchange rates contributed to the crisis in the 1930s, and I think you will see the same thing happening now.
So you don’t agree with the many EU leaders who claim the euro is in fact saving many countries from deeper recession.
No. Of course cooperation is always good, so if the G20 can agree on a stimulus package, it might have an impact. But cooperation can sometimes be bad, too.
Within the framework of the treaties, the most important thing is stopping protectionism. I see the euro as an obstacle to overcoming the economic crisis, and I think that most professional economists agree with me.
A second issue defining these elections, and indeed one that is ever-present, is the question of democracy. Do you believe the EU is fundamentally undemocratic, and if so, what is your solution to this problem?
It definitely isn’t democratic. In fact, the EU lessens democracy. My solution is to give the Union less power, and transfer it back to the national parliaments. National elections usually feature 80% participation rates, whereas the European elections average at 30-40%. This is quantitative evidence of how the EU lessens democracy.
The other point is that the issues dealt with at EU level are not known by the citizens of Europe. You have a much higher degree of transparency, knowing what’s going on, at the national level than you do in Brussels.
Most MEPs would argue that while that may be true for countries such as your homeland Sweden, it is certainly not true across the board in the EU.
I would say that for some countries in Eastern Europe, that is true, but as far as all the Western countries that I know of, and I know most quite well, it’s not true. The idea that the European Parliament is more transparent than most countries is a truth established by its own embers here; they say it and repeat it, but it’s simply not true.
90% of political debate in the EU is at the national level, and most national leaders and politicians have no idea what the names of the leaders at EU level are.
Beyond simply devolving power back to the national level, how would you reform the EU institutionally to make it more democratic?
I would diminish the powers of this parliament [the European Parliament]. I would return it to the general assembly it was from the beginning in the 1960s and 1970s. I wouldn’t mind if it was unelected, then you’d have an assembly that met a couple of months a year and took on some resolutions.
Actually, much of what’s happening now should never be on the Parliament’s table. Much of what’s going on – and I’ve studied it thoroughly – is first of all a category you could call “standardisation methods,” where you standardise vehicles, harmonise the size of goods, etc. This doesn’t need to be done by Parliament, it could be done by a small Commission.
So let’s say 25% of the Parliament’s work is this. Another 25-45% is pure opinion-making, on this or that subject, with no real connection to legislation. The matters that should perhaps be considered by politicians, the important things, account for around 5% of the Parliament’s activity. So what I would do is take away all these unnecessary things and have the Parliament meet for, let’s say, one month per year. That would cut this Parliament by half and you would cut costs by 90%.
I would also abolish the CAP, which is a disaster not only for the Union but for the poor countries of the world. I would renationalise these competencies: if France wants to subsidise its wine producers, let them do it, but not at the expense of taxpayers in other countries.
More importantly, I would also abolish the extremely environmentally harmful fisheries policy, whereby the EU pays governments in Africa to let its fleet empty African waters.
I would cut down on structural spending and regional support to one tenth of its current size. I see no point in Sweden, for instance, shipping billions of euro to the EU and then seeing it return but this time with an EU flag on it. I mean, what’s the point?
You mentioned fishing policy, a neat introduction to a question about Iceland. It seems likely that Iceland will have a referendum on joining the EU in the coming months. Likewise, the Swedish government has indicated it will have a second euro referendum in the next few years. What do you expect will happen?
Having a referendum is fine, but I am quite certain Iceland will answer ‘no’. After their severe economic crisis, some Icelandic politicians said the country needed a stable currency, i.e. the euro, but that wasn’t the cause of the crisis at all. They should have a careful look at the Baltic states, where productivity has dropped by 10-15% as a direct result of fixing their exchange rate to the euro.
As for Sweden: we live under this special definition of democracy which has developed in the Union, where if you have a referendum and give the answer the EU elite wants, then you have voted for the last time. If people give the wrong answer, you’ll vote again and again.
Speaking of voting again, what is your assessment of the Lisbon Treaty situation in Ireland, and indeed the Czech Republic?
Well, they have already voted ‘no’, so according to the rules governing the Union, the treaty should have fallen. It hasn’t, and I’m sure there’ll be a third vote if Ireland says ‘no’ in the second referendum!
As regards Ireland, the Czechs and Germany, I have no clue what’s going to happen. If the Treaty should fail to be ratified in any of these countries, what will happen is the same thing that happened to the Constitution. A few words will be moved here and there, a few commas added, and it will come back again under a different name. Exactly the same will happen with Lisbon.
Libertas spearheaded the ‘no’ campaign in Ireland, and the party is now running candidates across Europe for the June elections. Can you tell us about their alleged approach to your home party Junilistan (the June List) to join their platform?
I met Mr Ganley in mid-January. It was a friendly meeting where he asked us about potential cooperation, and I told him that of course we would not be hostile to a party that shares our values, but I also told him that “if you run in Sweden, you must realise that you are a political enemy to us”.
He suggested we could change out name from Junilistan to Junilistan-Libertas and I said I’d give it a thought. So far it was quite friendly.
However, Libertas have employees in Sweden, and one month later they started to rather aggressively approach the members on our election lists, and employees of the party. They also approached me in our Stockholm offices, and the essence of what they said was this: if we changed our name to Junilistan-Libertas and ran some candidates under the Libertas banner, it was absolutely clear that they would give us quite a substantial sum of their money.
The total amount that Libertas was in possession in of was 70 million euros, they said, and there was more coming. They later told us that they could provide us with one million euro. One of these offers was on the phone, and I put on the loudspeakers so everyone in the office could hear it to clarify these things. I have half a dozen people who witnessed this.
The problem was, as I told Mr Ganley when we first met, that I don’t really know what they stand for. What are their politics? It was rather vague, he talked about transparency and democracy, and that’s all fine, but he also said that they were going to produce a document, a party programme, on 25 March. We’re still waiting for this.
I must say that, having recently heard an interview with Mr Ganley, I’m still very confused as to what their platform is. He said, for example, that they want an elected EU president. That is what we are against! That is one of the reasons we are opposed to the Lisbon Treaty. He said he wanted a strong Europe and a strong military Europe, and that’s not what we want at all. The only thing we have in common is being against Lisbon.
I think he means well, he’s an honest man, who read the Lisbon Treaty, didn’t like it and used his money to succeed in getting an Irish ‘no’. He’s a businessman: he saw that this business went well in Ireland and wanted to repeat it at a European level. He treats politics like a business, as if a political party is a commodity which you can sell with the same method in every country. My personal view is that he’s a rather naïve politican.
What are the EU Democrats’ prospects for forming a group after these elections?
The number of candidates and member states required to form a group has been raised to 25 members from at least seven countries. I was in the Parliament when they began the process of raising the threshold. Of course this is an attempt to eliminate the Euro-critical parties, because these are usually very small. I think this is one of the things that makes the Union undemocratic.
I don’t think voters will turn in particularly larger numbers to either the mainstream or non-mainstream parties. In fact, I think we will have a lower participation rate, yet again, particularly in the Western countries.
As regards the horsetrading for the big jobs, I expect Fogh Rasmussen to take over at NATO, Barroso will continue as Commission president, Schultz will be Parliament president and Blair will become Council president if Lisbon is ratified.
You want to return power to national parliaments. Do you think that the Lisbon Treaty accomplishes this to a certain extent?
I don’t think they give much power to parliaments, they give the option to protest [the so-called ‘orange card’; see EURACTIV 26/04/07], where six or seven parliaments together can react to EU legislation within an eight-week period. That’s ridiculous! Normally this type of decision within just one parliament can take 2-3 months, and parliaments are sometimes on leave, so actually obtaining an agreement between six or seven parliaments like that is difficult.
What countries can the EUD make gains in?
Sweden, Denmark, but also potentially Ireland, France, Slovenia and Italy (depending on how the new electoral reforms affect our chances there). We currently have six MEPs and our target is to reach 10.
Do you expect any new groups to be formed – perhaps one led by the UK Conservatives and another led by Libertas?
Yes. Libertas might, but they could also be potential allies for us. It depends on what programme Libertas takes – if it only boils down to democracy and transparency and these vague terms, then I see no problem in cooperating with them.
If we can agree on some common ground, why not?
Does that not contradict your decision not to align Junilistan to Libertas in Sweden?
If we form a group with Libertas, it would be one group with different factions. We have to wait and see what they say. You have to have some ideological common ground to form a group, but we still don’t know where Libertas is heading. Actually, I sincerely believe that they do not know either.