How did the EP react to the election of Mr. Trump?
Elly Schlein: The Parliament is a truly democratic house, which represents various realities and diverse interests and concerns. On Trump´s election, there was a lot of disbelief. Some expected this to happen, others wished for it to happen. Amongst MEPs, there are many of those who already consider themselves Trump´s greatest European allies. Take Farage, who has already met him, and Le Pen, who will do so soon. This raises concerns. If the first European parties to meet with Trump are these, which, I think, are heading off in the wrong direction, then this confirms our worries about Trump´s upcoming presidency.
Has there been a change in the political agenda of the EP after Brexit? Has there been a change in perspectives?
Elly Schlein: Not sufficiently. I believe that Brexit marks a dividing point and many of us hoped that it would make European leaders aware of the need to adopt radical changes to EU policies if we want to avoid EU disintegration. This has not happened yet. Rather, the European Commission is even more cautious in its relations with European governments. I questioned Minister Schauble during EP plenary session, right after Brexit. Schauble declared that, to guarantee a better functioning of the EU, we need a more inter-governmental approach, giving even more power to national governments. This approach is in stark contrast with the Community method, which should prevail. Schauble presented the causes of our problems as the solutions. So far, I think that the reason why there has been a lack of common responses to major the EU challenges (e.g. the migration and social crisis) is that interests of national governments have prevailed. Either we address these challenges together or none of us wins out.
Migration policies and European borders – How should we address the severe humanitarian crisis in Northern Africa and Middle East?
Elly Schlein: Six Member States out of 28 that have to deal with 80% of all asylum applications of people coming from those countries, in violation of Arts. 78 and 80 of the TEU on the principle of responsibility sharing. We need to find solutions for the short, medium and long term. In the short term, some step forwards have already been made, especially when it comes to sea search and rescue operations. However, this is not sufficient: we need to strengthen the humanitarian assistance in the Mediterranean.
In the medium term, we need to overcome the hypocrisy behind the Dublin Regulation. The first country in which the asylum seeker arrives is responsible for processing the asylum request. This mechanism has been used for 20 years, leaving and the burden in those EU countries with hot borders, like ours. During this parliamentary term, we voted on several occasions, with a large majority, to overcome the first country of arrival mechanism and move towards an automatic mechanism of allocation amongst Member States.
Elly Schlein: Last year, the European Council promised to relocate 160.000 people and enable the resettlement of an additional 22.000 people. At the end, only 7.500 people were relocated, and only half of the original number were resettled. The problem is not in terms of numbers or resources; it is about political will and national egoisms. The Council is focusing on ways to avoid all types of mandatory measures. Parliament and Council have very different opinions. It is not only necessary to ensure relocation; we also need to establish a humanitarian corridor and facilitate humanitarian visas. For instance, the Community of Sant´Egidio is working on this and it has facilitated the access to a humanitarian corridor for 1,000 people from Lebanon.
In the long-term, we need to tackle the root causes of migration. In the background, there are conflicts between big powers. Also, the issue of climate change. Trump is a denier, but there is no doubt that climate change is affecting living conditions in certain geographical regions. Finally, global inequalities play a key role. Opportunities are concentrated – to solve the root causes of these issues, we need to ask the EU to develop a coherent foreign policy. Now, EU foreign policy is a collection of 28 national interests. This is why people often consider us as politically irrelevant.
Thus, EU responses are not satisfactory. Efforts by 28 Member States, instead of 6, are much more sustainable and effective. Finally, let´s remind ourselves that the EU is conducting a policy of externalising borders. This entails that relations with the EU are regulated by checks of migration fluxes.
Elly Schlein on the legitimacy crisis of the EU
What do you think is the main reason of the illegitimacy crisis of the EU?
Elly Schlein: I think that the European Union is an unfinished project, failing to give answers to the European people. According to the founding fathers and mothers, Europe was thought to give more opportunities and rights, not less, as it happens today. On one hand, it was decided to start with economic integration (common market and common currency), failing to recognise that, for this to work, political integration is required. At the end, in a world that is extremely interconnected and globalised, we have to face challenges that can no longer be solved solely at the national level. We need a framework of common rules to start a different journey, to reduce emissions and invest in clean energies.
In addition, which country can, alone, really tackle the migratory fluxes that have shacked Schengen? Clearly, we need common efforts. In September, I was in New York for a UN Summit where it emerged that 86% of displaced persons are in developed countries. It is absurd that Europe, with half a million inhabitants, experiences a crisis due to1.3 million of asylum requests while Lebanon, with 4 million inhabitants, welcomes 4 million refugees.
As if Europe was standing on one leg and we need to build, together, the second one. The same happens with economic and social policies. Take, for example, the arrogance filled with dogmas on the Greek crisis and the strengthening of the recession due to austerity. It has turned into a discussion full of dogmas. This happens when the inter-governmental approach prevails over the Community method. Today, stronger countries have control.
Only common efforts can solve solve this crisis in an innovative way: we need to invest in education, research and high standards of production. I don´t understand how we can prioritise finance over human rights, high standards and health. One of the major achievements of the Union was the search for high standards and excellence. We need to fight against boorish effects of globalisation. Another important theme concerns fiscal policies, which I deal with as member of the Panama Papers Committee (http://www.termometropolitico.it/1214066_panama-papers-nomi.html). How can we accept for the Union to have 28 different fiscal systems, with an unrolled competition within? We need a transparent country-by-country reporting system, applying also to multinationals, to tackle fiscal avoidance schemes. We need more cooperation. We are talking of approximately one trillion euros transferred outside the European Union due to fiscal avoidance and evasion. This money could have been used to fund three “Juncker plans”.
Indeed, we can address these challenges only together. This is why I am a fervent Eurofile: the solution is not to close ourselves within our borders. We should not forget what we have achieved thus far, bearing in mind the weaknesses of the European design. Lastly, let us not forget about a fundamental political issue: no decisions have been made without involving all 28 European governments. Even those decisions that seem technical are, de facto, political. Moreover, the Council is increasingly bypassing Parliament. The latest example is the deal with Turkey. The Agreement was misguidedly described as a Statement and, under Art. 218, Parliament was not given the chance to have a say. If we do not take into account the problem of democratic deficit in the Union as well as in the decision-making process, then others will be the ones winning this challenge. Unfortunately, we see the direction the EU is moving towards.
Elly Schlein on the referendum and the constitutional reform
What do you think about Renzi´s “all-in”? What is Possibile´s position on Renzi´s decision to resign should the “No” vote win?
Elly Schlein: I like the Poker metaphor. The problem with ´all-in´ is that, in reality, it is a bluff. At least one person looses, and, I think, this is Renzi. The reform itself is a bluff. Morever, it is not clear whether he would resign or not, as he changes his mind every week. So, it is really difficult to answer to your question. In and of itself, it is wrong for a government to promote a constitutional reform. When the Constitution was adopted, the principle `conventio ad excludendum´ was already in use. This demonstrates that we need to stay in line with these rules. At that time, De Gaspari never intervened on the issue of the Constitution, with one exception as MP. As Calamandrei said, when the issue of the day is the Constitution, “the seats of the executive should be empty”.
There is also a problem with making a reform about oneself. This is Renzi´s problem. We support “No” on the merits of the reform. We tabled several proposals that had the support of different parties. We talked about a review in line with the spirit of our Constitution, not a recast of 47 Articles that destorts it. The focus is on the merits of the changes of 47 Articles. It is okay to overcome perfect bicameralism, but to achieve what? Certainly, the bad designated Senate that the reform envisages is not a good reason or the increase the number of legislative processes. This would risk to further slow down the legislative process due to a likely increase of disputes on the issue of competence. With regard to the Senate the discussion focused firstly on its composition, rather than on its functions. It would have been better to focus on functions first, however.
This reform centralises powers in two ways. Firstly, it shifts powers from the legislative to the executive, further confirming the weakness of parliamentary powers in the last years. Secondly, with the supremacy clause, it shifts powers from the Regions to the State. This clause is based on a rather vague concept of “national interest”, which, potentially, could affect all those competencies that belong to the Regions. Indeed, it is not possible to argue that this reform strengthens the autonomy of local authorities. Furthermore, there is a clear difference between the proposed recast of the Senate and federal senates, like the German one. The federal senate represents regional governments with a clear binding mandate. In addition, local authorities are represented on equal footing. The objective is to establish a Chamber amongst equals. In the case of this reform, there would be some Regions with only two senators; others with 14 (see Lombardia).
This reform, as you can see, has many inconsistencies. In addition, I would like to remind Renzi that, should the “No” win, it is not the end of the world: our Constitution remains. I find it ridiculous to say that the Senate is blocking bills and that the legislative process is too slow. In fact, the “Fornero” law was passed in only 20 days. On the contrary, legislation against homophobia, which has been floating for two years, depends on the political will of the majority, like Alfano, Formigoni and Giovanardi. The reformers´ target is wrong. They argue that the problem is our constitutional arrangement. In reality, the problem is, de facto, a political one.
I believe that these are the reasons, on a merits-based assessment, as to why we strongly stand against this reform. Our arguments are strong and they focus on the text of the reform. This is a missed opportunity of really changing things. I challenge anyone who wants to stand before me and accuse me of not wanting to change things. Change is possible, but it should be for the better, not the worse. This reform is a change for the worse for our democracy.
This interview was conducted by Alessandro Faggiano for Termometro Politico.