A. Kovatchev: Europe is the solution.

A. Kovatchev: Europe is the solution.


IBNA / Interview : Dr. Andrey Kovatchev, Member of the European Parliament

Europe is the solution. We need more federal Europe in order to be able to stay competitive and to preserve our role as an block in the international politics and the international economy and trade. I think this is the direction in which the EU should go.

By Spiros Sideris – Brussels

Mr. Kovatchev, as the second of the three EU pillars in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, Common Foreign & Security Policy (CFSP) extended the 1999 Amsterdam Treaty and entered into force with the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. How feasible is a common foreign and security policy for the European Union?

The advent of the CFSP and later CSDP in the constitutional architecture of the EU coincided with a crucial moment of the history of European integration – the transformation of the EU into a political union.

This common vision of political unity meant that Europe must work together towards a single voice in international relations. With 28 difference countries, of course there are always different interests.

It is easy for one to argue that the EU has fragmented foreign and security policy. It is even easier to make this point when it comes to defense industrial and technological base. The truth is however that we have achieved a lot and this can be seen only when we look behind to the bloody wars in Europe during the 19 and 20 century.

I visited once Verdun and saw with my eyes the endless cemetery – a sobering memory of the vicious circle of xenophobia, violence and revenge for generations to come.

Today’s generation of decision makers have to paths to choose from – one of European integration, political and fiscal union, and common supra-national competences in the field of (among others) economic, fiscal, energy, defence and foreign policy. The other path is the path of European fragmentation and disintegration of the peace, security and freedom that United Europe has achieved in the last 60 years. This of course would have a dramatic effect on the everyday life of the citizens, their savings, their jobs, their businesses and the opportunities for their children.

I remain hopeful that in the light of an ever stronger China lead by a communist party and an ever more resurgent Russia, the European political leaders will find the will and the instruments to set aside the differences and work together so the EU has its deserved place as a political actor and security provider in the 21 century

Refugees, economic migrants and political dissident have been fleeing to Greece, Italy, Cyprus and, lately, Bulgaria. The Dublin II Regulation seems very much like a noose by the North to the South rather than a common policy that solves the problem. Are there thoughts of reviewing the regulation or of changing policy?

Migration is a serious issue and it exercises great pressure over a number of countries in the South and in the East. Bulgaria and Greece are in the South-East so know very well the difficulties that our countries face in the wake of new waves of migration.

In addition the illegal channels present often a lethal risk for the people who are trying to reach Europe. The EU has been harshly criticised for its asylum policy after 274 people drowned when a boat carrying African migrants sank near the small Mediterranean island of Lampedusa lately.

The EU member states have saved thousands of migrants from drowning last year. This duty of care has nothing to do with immigration policy at EU level.

Experience has taught us that some asylum seekers warrant our protection, others don’t. Experience has also taught us that when one EU state refuses to grant asylum protection to a person, this person tends to travel to another EU Member State to ask again for the same protection, when in fact the protection is still not warranted.

In the Parliament we recently approved the new border surveillance system, Eurosur. There are also many voices who for a long time insist on creating a common EU asylum policy.

The Balkans are already represented in the Union by 6 members – if Cyprus is included – while the other Balkan states are negotiating their accession. How much do you believe this has benefited relations between the Balkan states? How important would Turkey’s EU accession be to the Balkans?

The European integration should be taken for granted as a medicine that can cure everything. The most important is that the countries aspiring for EU membership harness all leadership and political will possible in order to overcome their communist legacy and the practices from the past. Examples abound.

Bosnia and Herzegovina for instance has a viable European perspective but without the political will it cannot progress.

FYROM has been a candidate country for 5 years but negotiations will not start unless the political elite in Skopje realises that with the communist paradigm it cannot enter in the EU. The problem with FYROM has one dimension which goes beyond bi-lateral relations – both the Council and the Commission said that neighbourly relations should be improved. For many years they have not been improved, which clearly shows that European membership perspective per se does not necessarily solve issues.

What the governing elites in FYROM have to realise is that the policy of the Communist International to forge a new identity of this country at the back of the history and the culture of its neighbours is not viable in democratic Europe. Solving the name issue and ironing out the differences over history, language and culture with Bulgaria and Greece means goes through political will to overcome the shadows of the past, getting rid of the remnants of the communist party and their evil anti-democratic schemes.  It is not possible to say one thing in Brussels and the next day to claim something completely different in Skopje.

Of course Europe should help the candidate countries on their way and I appeal to all of them to take very seriously the recommendations by the European Parliament and the Reports of the European Commission. They are made so that one day we can have a bigger and stronger United Europe.

As regards Turkey – if one day it enters the EU it will probably be the most populous EU state. So it goes without saying that cooperation is key. Take for instance energy issues or migration, especially in the current crisis in Syria. Europe needs stable neighbours, ones that are ready to undertake economic, political and democratic reforms and subscribe to the common values of the EU. The people of Turkey this year clearly showed their legitimate grievances through protests and I hope they create the momentum necessary to put the leadership and the society of Turkey on the pro-EU reform track.

Your country, like Greece and other Balkan countries are undergoing a period of political instability. Have nationalism, populism and the devaluation of politics and the EU too – as some polls show – been notice by the EU? Is there a plan to change EU policy and “return” to the Maastricht Treaty article on the promotion of “development and consolidating democracy and the rule of law as well as respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms” – something that is being contested by a substantial number of citizens of Balkan states that are also EU members?

The economic crisis has strained the resources of both countries and citizens to the maximum possible extend. At the same time we have a generation which takes for granted many of the achievements that European integration has brought about (and rightly so!). The return to populism and nationalism is a phenomenon in almost every country in the EU and while it has been created with euro-scepticism in the past, now the radical movements challenge the very essence of the European Union values and EU’s raison d’etre.

The curious thing about these radical movements is that they combine far right nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric with far-left economic and social ideas, while basing all of this onto a strong anti-European sentiment. This is an explosive combination and again, we have to look to the past and ask ourselves: what has hatred and nationalism brought to Europe? And does anyone want to repeat this experience?

I recently took part in the Political Assembly of the EPP – the biggest and strongest European party. Our president Mr Joseph Daul had a very strong message to all of us, who are worried that the extreme political movement will squeeze the constructive centre-left and centre-right. He said that even if we may lose seats or even elections, we should never give in to populism and anti-EU sentiment, never point fingers at the EU and our partners because only working together in the European spirit of compromise is the solution. Our European values are the foundation of the social market economy and the freedom, justice and security that our Union has achieved.

In the next European Parliament after the elections in May 2014 I expect more radical voices, but nevertheless the conceptual and values-based foundation remains unchanged. This is what should guide our vision for the future, and not the short-term populism and personal ambitions.

Political planning after the Second World War “split” the Balkans, creating rivalries and hatred among neighboring countries. Allow me to express a personal opinion. I believe the people of the Balkans have many similarities. There are more things uniting them than there are dividing them. Do you agree? If yes, would the creation of a loose Union between the Balkan countries make sense in your opinion?

I think that the European Integration is the only way to overcome the scars and shadows of the past. The Balkan nations have a lot in common, but also enough to divide them and lead the to wars. We had two in the last decade and I am sure in a United Europe this will never happen.

I will be very glad to see the Bulgarians in FYROM treated equally to the other citizens; I will be most glad when Serbs and Bosniaks overcome differences in BiH; I will be very happy also to travel on a high-speed train between Belgrade and Sofia, constructed with the EU-funds as part of the European Transport Corridors; I hope one day students from Montenegro will go to Croatian and Greek universities like they go now to Italian and German ones. All this can happen in a United Europe.

Mr. Kovatchev, closing this interview, and before thanking you for talking to us, I would like to ask you to outline your vision for the EU. How do you imagine it in 20 years’ time?  

The first time I worked in an EU institution was in 1999. This was the last century Since then many things have changed and the Lisbon Treaty gave a lot of fresh air for the European Democracy and bringing the Union closer to the citizens. Now democratisation of European decision making and citizen’s participation is mainstreamed in the EU and I would imagine this process will continue in the future.

The EU is a moving target – we have had the Euro for more than a decade and we are still building our monetary and fiscal house. In 20 years this process should have more flesh and I hope there will be a fully-fledged monetary but also economic policy at supranational level. What started as European semester may enrich the Federal vision for Europe and turn into more synchronised budgetary planning, taxation and macroeconomic convergence.

Many populists and extremists say that all problems come from the EU. But this is just an empty blame game.

Europe is the solution. We need more federal Europe in order to be able to stay competitive and to preserve our role as an block in the international politics and the international economy and trade. I think this is the direction in which the EU should go.