In an exclusive interview, Ska Keller, co-chair of the Greens-EFA group, shared what she expects from next week’s State of the Union speech and the vote on whether to trigger punitive Article 7 measures against Hungary, as well as weighing in on Manfred Weber’s bid to lead the EPP into the EU elections.
Ska Keller is co-chair of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance. She was her political family’s Spitzenkandidat at the 2014 European elections.
She spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker will reportedly speak about rule of law in his State of the Union speech on 12 September, meaning he will also take a position vis-à-vis Hungary, not just Poland or possibly Romania…
I would definitely expect so, because rule of law and democracy is the very crucial issue for Europe right now. Europe is built on the promise of democracy, of creating an area of freedom and civil liberties, and those are currently under threat by several member states. It’s a big question for Europe, but how can we answer to that? How do we deal with member states not respecting the most fundamental European rules and values? By the way we will vote on the Hungary report also on that week and it’s extremely interesting how the conservatives are going to place themselves on that issue.
Precisely, I heard that President Juncker is not very pleased that the vote on Hungary takes place on the same day when he delivers his State of the Union speech. But do you think he feels free to be critical of Viktor Orbán, who is from his own political family?
I actually think it’s a very good timing, that the vote takes place the same day, because this is all about the future of Europe. I would expect certainly Juncker to be critical of Orbán, I mean as Commission President, he has to defend the laws and values of the European Union, Orbán is breaking those. He cannot shy away from giving a clear answer and taking a stance, and that’s what I would definitely expect from him.
Do you think the tide is turning in EPP, and they may finally decide to freeze the membership of Fidesz, or even kick them out?
There is certainly a lot of unhappiness in EPP about Orbán, and it has been more and more public. There has been this open letter from Swedish MEPs for example this summer, and of course you also know that internally there is a lot of division over having Orbán on board. The question is how many EPP members will vote in favour of the report [by Green MEP Judith Sargentini] and yes, I think they need to clarify their position. For the EPP, such an important political group, to be silent or undecided about one of the key questions, this is going to be a big problem in the European elections campaign. They know that, MEPs need to justify themselves in their constituencies, when asked “how can you be together with someone like Orbán”, that’s creating problems for them, so I think they need to clarify the situation.
What is your position regarding the idea of French President Emmanuel Macron, of a new “progressive” coalition for the European elections, which runs contrary to the Spitzenkandidaten process?
But this does not speak against the lead candidate issue. If Manfred Weber becomes the leading candidate of the EPP, he will try to have a majority in the European Parliament, but currently I don’t see that happening. Especially if he votes against the Hungary report, he is going to have trouble convincing anyone from the centre left to be in coalition with him. So any center candidate who is clear on European values will have a much better chance. Weber is not going to be Commission President simply because he would be the EPP lead candidate. Any Commission President needs to have the majority of the house. And Weber doesn’t have that.
Weber is not a very strong candidate for the EPP nomination, is he?
Within the EPP, he is certainly not the weakest candidate, but interestingly he gave an interview in El Pais today in which he said three times he would be ready to be supported by far right parties, when he runs for Commission president. He didn’t give a negative answer, he did not exclude going for the support of the far right parties. That’s quite crazy.
[To the question “Are you ready to collaborate with parties such as the League in Italy or FPÖ in Austria”, Weber answers: “My main message is that we should stay united, we should listen to each other and we should not quarrel in front of others. If we listen to each other, we can reach an agreement, that’s our job.”]
Quite crazy you say… But everything is getting crazy these days, don’t you think so?
Yes, but I mean, the conservatives should finally realise how much they are losing by going further and further to the right. They are not gaining anything, they are losing out on that. Obviously I’m not there to give them advice, but they should realise that, really.
And we also have a good chance to have a progressive wind in the elections. People are more and more worried about the direction in which Europe is going. And it’s clear that the 2019 European elections will be decisive for the direction of Europe. We need to activate this other Europe which exists, and is not so small. On the TV pictures you may have the impression that those who are against the migrants, against Europe and so on are the majority, but I don’t think so. We are now in Madrid having a European Ideas Lab, it’s a conference where we invite change makers from the broader region, and it’s amazing to see how many people are active at the local and regional level , and the innovations they are bringing. This is the Europe we want to be with, that we want to engage with. And it’s quit big. It’s not so visible, unfortunately.