Only with the proliferation of trans-European parties can we build the “strong and stable democracy” needed to see the EU achieve its potential as a “world power”, Bart Kruitwagen, treasurer of the ‘Newropeans’ party, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview ahead of the European elections.
Bart Kruitwagen is treasurer of the ‘Newropeans’ party. He is also one of the party’s Dutch candidates for the upcoming European Parliament elections. Heavily involved in European student affairs 20 years ago, he currently works in the electronics industry.
Mr Kruitwagen: You are number two on the Dutch list of the cross-border party ‘Newropeans’ for the June European elections. Can you briefly tell us what you actually stand for?
Personally, I want to see Europe become the next world power. We have the people, technological infrastructure, industry, etc., but we lack the ambition and the democratic infrastructure.
Newropeans is the party that offers the solution to change the democratic system by introducing trans-European parties into the equation. The idea is that trans-European parties define their programme with a common European interest in mind, and not the national interest. Only with such parties can we build a strong and stable democracy, which will be the fundamental for that world power.
I have never understood why we are accepting the idea of the shifting of power from the US to India and China, and never considering ourselves as one of the candidates, even though we have the best starting position.
In which countries is ‘Newropeans’ going to stand? Do you have any observations to make about different electoral systems?
Newropeans is going to present itself to the vote of more than 130 million European citizens in Germany, the Netherlands and France. Due to the lack of common electoral law for the European elections, we have been unable to enter the contest in Italy, Belgium, Spain and many other member states, despite having active members in most of those countries. You will find a detailed description of the undemocratic and unequal system of elections to the European Parliament on our Newropeans magazine website.
Do you stand a chance of getting candidates elected? If so, which political group would you join to make sure your voice is heard in the Parliament?
Yes, we have good hopes for the different countries. The positive feedback we get from voting websites is encouraging. It seems that obtaining more than 5% of the votes is possible. In the Parliament, we will be pushing for the creation of a new group called the ‘European Democratic Front’, which will see our MEPs sitting with MEPs that share our core objectives of the democratisation of the EU.
What has been the response of the ‘big parties’ to your initiative?
We have never asked any existing political forces, or parties, anything. Newropeans has been created because we know that the national parties cannot bring appropriate solutions to current EU challenges; and that the so-called European parties in the EP are a mere collection of national parties whose only common aim is to take advantage of the Parliament’s position and influence.
It must be expensive to register candidates and promote the campaign in several countries. Who is paying for this?
As treasurer of ‘Newropeans’, I would be the one to ask that! Well, we are not a rich party paid for by a single billionaire. All of our expenses are paid for, or provided by, the members. Newropeans has built up a huge network of supporters over the last twenty years, upon which we rely.
We understand that you and other members of the core group of Newropeans launched a transnational party in the 1989 elections, after leading a pan-European student organisation. What have you learned since then that could make a difference?
We have learned at least three things:
- That in 1989 we were very enthusiastic, but too young, with an average age of 25 on the list.
- That we needed the credibility and positions in society that you do not have when you are young.
- That in 1989, because nobody was aware at that time that there was a growing question of a democratic deficit in the EU, we were pushing a very marginal agenda.
Therefore, to come back, we had to wait until this question became more mainstream. That’s why we decided in 2005, after the referenda in the Netherlands and France, to re-emerge as a political movement.
Do you favour giving more power to the EU? You appear to be more critical of Brussels these days. How do you differentiate yourselves from others that call themselves pro-European but question core policies, like Libertas?
For me, Europe should have more power, but mainly to be able to protect our political, economic and military interests in the world, like fighting against terrorism, securing transportation lines, and the delivery of energy, raw materials, etc.
For me, as a businessman, I can see clearly where the EU should take a step back and stop making new absurd regulations, and where it should take a step forward in the implementation of regulations. Nowadays, I see that an EU regulation is carried and implemented by national bodies, with each country using different procedures and enforcements, which in fact has partly destroyed the common market!
Libertas is like the existing so-called European parties in the European Parliament. It is a collection of national parties, with almost nothing in common but a few ideological principles. In the case of Libertas, they are nationalists and Eurosceptics. We are the first and only political movement that is the same in the different member states. We are the only ones who are saying exactly the same thing to all European citizens.
Then, in terms of content, we have developed, around our two key objectives – democratisation of the EU, and a stronger voice for Europeans in the world – a fully-fledged programme which presents a new vision on how to build the EU in the coming two decades, with its 500 million citizens as the core engine. We want to merge Europe and democracy, while Libertas wants to push the people for a divorce from Europe.
The founder of Newropeans is Franck Biancheri, who is also leader of the think-tank LEAP, which predicted the financial crisis in advance of its happening. Does Newropeans have solutions to the crisis?
LEAP and Newropeans are two different things, but published a joint statement in the FT in advance of the G20. LEAP is a think-tank with different experts analysing different scenarios in which the crisis can develop. The ideas and predictions, often a bit provocative, are there to stimulate the thinking process of the reader, and challenge the reader to look at the issue from another angle.
Newropeans tries to offer solutions for what we see as actual problems. The euro is very good for Europe and its position in the world, but of course it was never enough. We are still depending on the US dollar in international relations. We believe that the EU should act together with China, Russia, India, Brazil and others to set up a new international reference currency, in order to avoid a major aggravation of the global crisis with the now unavoidable demise of the US dollar, and therefore, of the existing international monetary system.
That new international reference currency would in fact strengthen the euro within a new financial system. What Franck Biancheri said then, as far as I know, was that because of the lack of people’s involvement in the euro process, the currency would generate anti-European feeling, as it would be interpreted as being forced upon people, and indeed this argument is used regularly by Eurosceptics or nationalists to get votes.
Meanwhile, we have been warning since last year that the EU should strengthen its social policies and in particular unemployment benefit systems, because the crisis will generate very high unemployment. At that time, all our leaders and all national parties were claiming that the crisis would not be severe, and that things would be OK.
We think as part of the solution that the focus should be more on the small and medium-sized companies. We know that the big companies have the lobbyists and the smaller ones have no lobby at all. We want to be their lobby in Brussels. Nearly all employment growth and new technology comes from them. They are our main hope for our future wealth.
I am afraid that the financial support of big companies will turn out to be a waste of money.
After decades of federalist-type support, the Netherlands voted ‘nee’ in the referendum on the Constitution a few years ago. How do you perceive the attitude to Europe today?
The attitude has not changed. The same referendum would be rejected again in the Netherlands. It was bizarre that the Dutch government ratified nearly the same thing shortly afterwards, without protest from the citizens. It seems the Dutch had already expected a move like that from the government, and this has made them even more cynical about the EU and democracy in general. Our slogan will be ‘Grip op Europa’, or ‘Control of Europe’. For example, we want citizens to have more influence on who will join the EU in the future by referendum.
You have personal business experience in Poland, another country which – seen from Brussels – seems ‘difficult’ at times. How would you describe their perspective on Europe?
I started to move part of my business, the development and production of electronics and embedded software, to Wroclaw in Poland. I expected the Polish to be a bit unfriendly and gloomy, but I discovered quickly that quite the opposite was the case. They really like to help out, are hard workers and up for a joke. I have never been in a city where the people enjoy food, drink, music and dance as much as they do in Wroclaw.
On the other hand, the government, companies and people are extremely suspicious when it comes to money or business. For everything, there must be a contract, for any small change they want to make an annex, and of course it has to be signed and stamped – stamps are crucial, and the bigger the better.
In two years, I had at least four tax inspections. If I want a VAT refund for an investment like a machine, they actually come to see if it really works. It took me some time to find out why this was. The deep suspicion seems to come from their history. They were betrayed by all their allies in the past, Russians, French, British, Austrians etc. The treaty with the USA about the defence shield has to be seen in this light too.
So they will not fully trust the EU either, and will for sure be difficult in future negotiations. Generally the Polish are in favour of European Union, but Europe has to be aware of their anxieties.
You are fighting against barriers to running for election (like collecting signatures), but if such barriers were to be eliminated, wouldn’t the political landscape become complete chaos?
Yes it would. But in fact the political landscape in the Parliament is already chaotic, with too many parties, and relatively weak collaboration in the so-called ‘parties’. You can never constitute a stable European government in such a parliament.
In my speeches in Germany, I always make the comparison with the Weimar Republic, with more than thirty parties trying to form a government: the chaos resulted finally in dictatorship.
What we would like to see is that the procedures for the European Parliament should be the same everywhere in the EU. It was quite a challenge to find out how all national procedures work, with different timelines, requirements, signatures, etc. So we could unfortunately not manage everything this time.
You seem to build on Erasmus for your networking and for some of your political ideas (like Erasmus for the Middle East). Is it fair to be critical of the EU and – as you are judging from your programme – piggy-back on one of its projects?
It is always fair to be critical as long as it is constructive, and being critical is what made Europe strong in a lot of fields in the past. It is not true that we rely on Erasmus for our networking. Only a few of our active members were in that programme, but the Erasmus generations are, for sure, the people we rely upon to vote for us. And don’t forget that Erasmus only exists because people like Franck Biancheri and me.
When we were leaders of the students’ organisation AEGEE-EUROPE, we managed to convince European leaders such as Mitterrand, Lubbers, Kohl and Martens to rescue it when it was going to be killed by the ministries of education of France, Germany and the UK. So it is the EU which owes us on the Erasmus issue, and not the contrary.
In our communications, we are using Erasmus, which we can, indeed, use with legitimacy, and it represents a success that the EU has been unable to repeat for the last twenty years. By the way, that’s one of the reasons which shows why the current EU system has to be renewed completely. Today, most probably, the EU would not even be able to adopt Erasmus, because such movements, with the dynamics we had in the first years of AEGEE’s creation, do not exist anymore.
They have been ‘bought’ by the Commission through subventions and other tricks. By the way, that’s why Newropeans has refused any public funding, from the EU or national levels. We certainly are the only trans-European organisation which does not depend on EU money today.
Newropeans has come up with its programme by directly involving its members in its drafting, including using an interactive website. Do you think the EU could use this system to better communicate with its citizens?
Newropeans has a unique structure. In fact it has only one level, and that is the European level. Everybody is directly a member of this European association, which is based in Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
As a jurist, I made the statutes of the association, which was a challenge because we want to have elections through a secured Internet system. The notary did not accept this idea because the dogma is that democracy is only proper when people are physically present. Within the organisation we use the Internet system now, so far as it is legally possible.
Our experience with the system gives us a good idea regarding how far you should go in giving people democratic influence. The system allows us to put anything at any time to a vote, but the participation level drops dramatically after a short period. So, it is good that really every member can participate in voting, but don’t ask them too much too often!
So for sure a system like that would be interesting for the EU. Since society evolves faster and faster, democracy should become faster too, and what we have developed is an excellent tool for that.
Finally, looking to the long term, what’s your dream for the 2014 elections? Would you personally stand again?
Yes of course. I, like most of the active members, I am in this for the long run. We know that the majority of the people are not yet ready for our ideas, but personally I am convinced that our ideas and ambitions will converge with history, which will lead to ultimate success.