In May 2019, voters across the European Union will go to the polls to elect their Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). With expected low turnout, misunderstanding of how the EU operates and Euroscepticism on the rise, the EU itself seems to be at stake. On the 10th of April 2019, Politico has organised the event ‘European elections: the case for and against the EU’, presenting colliding political visions for the future of the EU.
The event kicked off with a head-to-head debate between Sandro Gozi, candidate for La République En Marche/Renaissance in the European Parliament elections, and Anders Primdahl Vistisen, Member of the European Parliament part of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR). Among the main issues, the most pressing seemed to be the growing strength of Euroscepticism across Europe; therefore, it only seemed natural to start the debate by asking why should we need more or less Europe.
‘We need more Europe because the world has changed, there are so many transnational issues about which national policies – and national politics – are totally powerless’, declared Gozi before underlining the urgency of developing new answers at European level to efficiently solve transnational issues (i.e. migration, fight against climate change, ruling on the global finance). ‘This is for me why do we need a European reform’ he then concluded. On the other hand, Vistisen believes the EU should shrink to a common market, pointing out one of the EU’s greatest sore points, Brexit – which according to him is rooted in Europe’s inability to be forward with its people. He also mentioned the problem the EU has in managing its external borders and migration: ‘If you want to abolish internal borders you need to have external borders’, he stated.
The issue of failing in connecting with its citizens touched a raw nerve. As a matter of fact, Gozi was surprised Brexit was brought as an example, because to him it is the symbol of the disaster nationalistic policies bring. He even warned that ‘if [we] want to know what the nationalists are going to do tomorrow, [we should] remember what they said yesterday, and don’t trust the ambiguous speeches they will do now with the European elections’. To him, the EU can better reconnect with its citizens only if it is an efficient and democratic problem-solver. ‘There are certain issues on which only the EU can be a problem-solver; the challenge now is to make the EU more effective’, he insisted before highlighting that important reforms cannot be postponed further, as it happened in the past.
A two-speed Europe was also brought up in the debate. Indeed, Gozi has been an advocate of a two-speed Europe for a long time now, believing that if there is a group of peoples or countries that want to deepen their integration, they should do so, without obliging all the others to follow that path – but at the same time without accepting that anybody can vetoed them. ‘I think that this is the best, most democratic, most transparent way for those who want to go ahead’, he declared. However, he also underlined that only one thing cannot be more than one-speed: respect of the rule of law as a fundamental right, as it is one of the fundamental traits of the European Union. On the other hand, Vistisen pointed out that we already have a multi-speed Europe, but often some countries oblige others to adjust to every EU decision within few years. ‘We should respect the fact that some people want a deeper Union and other countries would prefer less integration’, he concluded.
Stepping out of their shoes for a moment, the speakers were even encouraged to think like the other one by saying what they like the least or the most about the EU. As a negative side, Gozi mentioned the fast obsolescence to which European decisions are subjected: ‘We should find ways to keep the pace with innovation’. As a positive side, Vistisen cited the common market and the idea of a free trade block that reaches out to other parts of the world: ‘It’s valuable for the Danes for example, since we are a small country’.
Finally, it was asked who would be the best Commission president, since in October 2019 the Juncker Commission will step down and right now the contest is fraught with uncertainty. Gozi remained vague on the topic, saying that he is pretty sceptical on the Spitzenkandidat process. On the other hand, Vistisen stated that the best Commission president for him would be someone who comes from a position in government or, more in general, that has long experience with real issues. ‘I would actually go with someone more liberal like [Mark] Rutte – he said – he’s not going to agree with me on everything but I think he has a more sensible approach’.