Read the full transcript of Head to Head - Europe: Is the Union over? below:
Mehdi Hasan VO: It was set up to stop another World War. And unprecedented peace, led to prosperity. But – 60 years later – the European Union is in the midst of an economic and political crisis. Thousands have taken to the streets in protest. From the turmoil in the eurozone, to the rise of the far-right and separatist movements – the future of the EU now looks in peril. So where will Europe go from here?
I’m Mehdi Hasan and I’ve come here to the Oxford Union to go Head to Head with Viviane Reding, the former vice president of the European Commission and one of federal Europe’s staunchest defenders. I’ll challenge her on whether the great European project is now dead, and ask her how the European Union can win back the trust of its citizens.
Tonight I’ll also be joined by: Margot Parker, member of the European parliament for the anti-European UK Independence Party; Professor Costas Lapavitsas, from SOAS University in London and author of Crisis in the Eurozone ; a nd Professor Stephen Haseler, Director of The Global Policy Institute in London.
Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Viviane Reding.
Mehdi Hasan VO: She is an influential member of the European Union parliament and a close ally of the President of the EU Commission.
Mehdi Hasan: Viviane, flat lining growth. Falling prices. Rising unemployment. More than six years on from the financial crash. Europe, and in particular the single currency zone, the euro zone, still has massive problems doesn’t it? The crisis isn’t over. People are committing suicide. The far right is on the rise. The continent looks more and more like it’s on the verge of a second great depression.
Viviane Reding: Oh does it?
Mehdi Hasan: Yes, to some.
Viviane Reding: OK.
Mehdi Hasan: Not to you?
Viviane Reding: No. Not to me, no, we all must know where we are coming from because it started in United States. Banking crashing and then the banks crashed in Europe. Governments, helped the banks out because we in Europe need the banks for financing the economy. It’s different with the United States. The United States does it through the market directly. We do it through the banks so the government needed to help the banks. That led them to a financial crisis in their budgets. And the whole system was destabilized.
Mehdi Hasan: The US where it started you say, recovered its lost growth nearly three years ago. The US has half the unemployment of the EU and the eurozone.
Viviane Reding: It does.
Mehdi Hasan: Why is the EU in such a bad place when the US isn’t? Surely through bad policies, bad decisions.
Viviane Reding: No, the US has big advantage over the European Union. The US had centralised system on these questions. We did not. We had not in our system where you do not have a unified national state but 28 national states working together. We had in our treaties in our systems. Not the instruments in order to fight that so we were doing management by panic at a certain moment where we had to decide do we leave one of our member states go into bankruptcy or do we put in place very quickly a system in order not to leave this to go in bankruptcy. That was a serious discussion believe me.
Mehdi Hasan: There was definitely a panic in 2008 and all governments had to respond.
Viviane Reding: Absolutely.
Mehdi Hasan: Six years later though you have one in four young people unemployed across the euro zone. More than half of young people in Spain and Greece are out of work. That’s the destruction of an entire European generation, who's to blame for that? People would say specific policies, supported by EU commission, ECB, austerity, the straitjacket of having a single currency in such a diverse area. That’s what's to blame.
Viviane Reding: Wait… wait… wait a moment. Some eurozone countries who had done their job, have come out of, the mess and in Ireland for instance the investments last year were 19% up so you see those who really did…
Mehdi Hasan: But child poverty is up in Ireland as well.
Viviane Reding: … who did their job they are on the way out of this.
Mehdi Hasan: The EU were saying in 2010 to Greece for example that they… Greece should do all these cuts and you'll contract by 2.5%. Greece contracted by ten times that amount. You got it wrong.
Viviane Reding: Yep well… yeah OK…
Mehdi Hasan: The prescription from Troika, from the IMF, the EU, the Germans…
Viviane Reding: No, no, people say Troika goes there and imposes… no. Troika makes an analysis and proposes. The ministers of finance of the eurozone by unanimity decide then to present this and the member state in, in the case of Greece or instance has the government and the parliament to decide to apply this so it is not the Troika which decides … but what was the problem in a country like Greece. The problem was that you had a blown up administration which was incapable to function. You had very high labour costs so that nothing could be exported anymore and you imported all your goods. You spend a lot of money without having revenue. That thing had to go bust. It went bust
Mehdi Hasan: In 2012 in Greece the majority of Greeks voted either to delay or cancel austerity. What did Angela Merkel say? No there can be no delay in these reforms. These were not choices that some of these countries. These were choices that were imposed upon them and caused severe hardship.
Viviane Reding: But I…. I don’t… no … I don’t understand. What are you saying there? The government said yes and the parliament said yes.
Mehdi Hasan: Well after the government changed which was helpful. [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]… take Greece as an example if you take… if you take…
Viviane Reding: Well they…. No, no wait a moment. It is not helpful at all when you change your governments every six months. Stability is helpful and I think that those governments which had strong leaders they managed to do it. Those with feeble leaders didn’t manage to do it.
Mehdi Hasan: Some people think legitimacy is important as well. On Greece for example…
Viviane Reding: Don’t, No. You are pretending now that in Europe we have governments which are … which do not have a legitimacy.
Mehdi Hasan: I’m saying that the austerity policies that countries like Greece and Spain brought in, no didn’t command majority support in many cases, we saw massive protests and we saw governments being changed and then you see the results in Greece for example Viviane… [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER] in Greece… in Greece… in Greece…
Viviane Reding: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER] Come on, come on, No, No… um.. no
Viviane Reding: No, we are not banana republics. We are democracies.
Mehdi Hasan: Some may dispute that.
Viviane Reding: No sorry governments which are… [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER] You go to Greece, I went to Greece and I talked to aid workers in Greece who said that this country has been reduced to the status of a developing country. Forty percent rise in suicides. Um, unemployment at record levels. This is a country as a result of austerity measures that were, OK, not imposed proposed from other countries. From Germany. From the EU. From the IMF. From the ECB.
Viviane Reding: Oh well…
Mehdi Hasan: Do you feel… do you feel no sense of responsibility for what happened in Greece as a former EU commissioner…
Viviane Reding: No, no Wait a moment… I feel very sad when I see that. It happens to be one of the countries which I know very well and by the way I was one of those politicians who went to Greece regularly and we were really speaking eye to eye with those people so I know what is going on there and I know also that generations of politicians have ruined this country and it was a mischief of all political parties over generations it happened. And the… the question was there. Are we going to leave that country go bankrupt? And you know what would happen.
Mehdi Hasan: A lot of people were advising to write off the debts.
Viviane Reding: Right off the debts, OK and then you are bankrupt. You go back to the draft of what you are doing. You devaluate but because this is a country which imports everything. It creates nearly nothing but you have to pay then for the things which you import by dollars or by the euro. That means you are in sheer poverty and with no way to get out.
Mehdi Hasan: When you look at the results of what has happened to the European economics over the last few years, you look at for example at history, it was mass unemployment that helped propel Hitler and the Nazis to power. Aren’t you worried that today’s mass unemployment, today’s EU austerity and deflationary policies are helping a new generation of far-right, sometime neo-Nazi parties rise across Europe. We've had Golden Dawn in Greece. Jobbik in Hungary. The Front National in France. The Swedish Democrats. The Danish People all doing very well in May’s European elections. Many would argue because of the results of the failure of the EU economic policy.
Viviane Reding: Even to countries which were not in trouble. The True Fins in Finland. Now Finland is really not a country which is in economic trouble and where you have huge unemployment so you see there is a trend towards the extreme right and the extreme left.
Mehdi Hasan: But you don’t think the economic conditions are responsible?
Viviane Reding: A lot of things are responsible but it is not only one. I do not believe in simplistic explanations
Mehdi Hasan: Well let’s bring in our panel of experts from different backgrounds Margot Parker is a member of the European parliament for the anti EU UK Independence Party, UKIP. She was elected for the first time in May of this year. Margot Viviane says that there's never been any undemocratic aspects to this austerity, to the economic problem. There have never been any undemocratic governments or going against the will of the people. Is that you view?
Margot Parker: No it’s not my view at all. I must say I think the Troika it’s not democracy. I would really, really guard against your view. I don’t agree with you at all. I think it’s right that the Greek people have their say. I think it’s right that people all over Europe have their democratic right to vote and say what they think.
Mehdi Hasan: Let me bring in Professor Costas Lapavitsas who's a Greek economist, author of the book Crisis in the Eurozone . What's your view on the current economic climate in Europe and… and the fault for why Europe is not growing?
Professor Costas Lapavitsas: The problem of Europe is not really Greece and it’s not really Ireland and it’s not really Spain it’s the policies of Germany which are basically policies of keeping wages low. Keeping its own people basically, on a low consumption path and therefore acquiring a vast competitive advantage and squeezing the periphery and increasingly now squeezing France and Italy.
Mehdi Hasan: Let Viviane come back in there. Do you want to respond to those two points?
Viviane Reding: Let’s first come to your point of view. I know how the UKIP is thinking and is doing politics by the way you have, allied with a Polish, neo-Nazi that is your democratic decision and …[LAUGHTER/APPLAUSE]
Mehdi Hasan: Do you wanna deal with Costas’s point that actually Germany is to blame and that the EU is run to benefit Germany. The euro and Paul Krugman’s word was a backdoor stimulus for Germany.
Viviane Reding: My response is that Germany does not take decisions alone. There was not one single proposal by the Troika after analysis of what needed to be done which had not the unanimity of the finance ministers in the euro group.
Mehdi Hasan: And on economic point he made that Germany has benefited while the periphery countries have suffered. That’s undisputable surely.
Viviane Reding: Germany was always one who said it will need solidity. And I agree with this position, and I tell you why. I am in politics now 35 years and I have always … before I took a decision, thought what does this decision do to my three boys when they are going to be adults. And making debt is the worst thing you can do to the young generation because they will have to pay it back.
Mehdi Hasan: Very strongly point made. Margot what your response to the point about your new Polish MEP ally who's made jokes about [TALKING OVER] wife beating and said Hitler was a good guy to cutting taxes.
Margot Parker: Well ok, yes, no, no, no, no before he was, no no, let me, let me.
Margot Parker: Let me explain before he was actually brought in we had an open meeting within our group. Nearly all of the ladies were on him like a ton of bricks. We asked those serious questions. He categorically gave us his unequivocal answer which was, no, that is something that has been built out of the newspaper articles which are not true and I give you my word this is not the case.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERUPTING] So you're comfortable with this guy and his views?
Margot Parker: He has given … no not his views. He actually said this is not the case so he has been I think quite blackened.
Mehdi Hasan: And his leader using the N word and saying Hitler didn’t [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]…
Margot Parker: No, not at all, not acceptable. Absolutely without a doubt not acceptable.
Viviane Reding: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]… But you a line with this guys
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]… Ok let me bring in…
Margot Parker: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]… You a line with all sorts of people
Mehdi Hasan: Hold on… Hold on… hold on. Our very patient third panellist, Professor Stephen Haseler is here with us. He's an academic, a political scientist, Director of the Global Policy Institute in London. Stephen I want to make a point to you to someone who's pro-European, pro-EU, isn’t it ironic that the European Union and the euro, the single currency was set up to bring Europeans together and in recent years you’ve seen that it’s actually divided Europe more than anything else.
Professor Stephen Haseler: Well, What's divided Europe? Don’t lay austerity on the European Union. You want to criticise austerity criticise the neoliberal free market bankers economic policy which has caused it and I think Viviane is absolutely right to open her remarks by saying this crisis, which has led to austerity [APPLAUSE].
Professor Stephen Haseler: This crisis which has led to austerity was started on Wall Street. Thousands of miles away from the European Union … And the poor…
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER] And yet the US didn’t do austerity and recovered than the eurozone did.
Professor Stephen Haseler: Well the United States have done better because they’ve spent money on quantitative easing. They’ve put … pushed some money into the economy. No, this is an austerity programme, by the way the British outside the eurozone have engaged in just as strongly. So let’s not lay this on Europe.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, very good point.
Mehdi Hasan: There were election results, Stephen, in which people came out and did blame Europe by definition by voting for anti-European parties.
Professor Stephen Haseler: Oh no, no, no, no, they're voting for the National Front. They're voting for our party UKIP here, in my view because they're fed up with the general system. This votes were protest votes.
Margot Parker: No we’re not, no we’re not.
Mehdi Hasan: Well that’s a great segway. About to come to you but before we do very quickly Costas Golden Dawn in Greece. Viviane is saying there are different reasons for different parties different parts of the country how much do you think eurozone policies and what happened to Greece helped Golden Dawn’s rising in your view?
Professor Costas Lapavitsas: Before the crisis Golden Dawn didn’t exist practically. It was a very minor organisation. The reason why they blossom for a period is because of the crisis. It’s because of what has been brought to Greece and may I say that, austerity has been institutionalised by the European Union because this isn’t an alliance of equal partners. This is a myth. I don’t know where people live. This is a hierarchical group of countries with one country at the top, this country sets policies that… that… that maintain its structural advantage. Germany has become the biggest exporters on… in net terms in the world.
Mehdi Hasan: OK, you’ve made that point. Let me come back to Viviane. People talk about a democratic deficit at the heart of the EU. They point out that in addition to your elected European parliament, there is also the European Commission, the European Court, the European Central Bank, the institutions which lack the same democratic accountability. Some would argue that if the EU tomorrow, if the EU was a country and applied to join the EU it would be rejected because it wasn’t democratic enough. Do you agree with that?
Viviane Reding: No.
Mehdi Hasan: Do you think the EU is a solidly democratic organisation.
Viviane Reding: Oh it’s more democratic than some of our member states.
Mehdi Hasan: OK.
Viviane Reding: Tell you why. We have the freely elected, directly-elected European parliament, who then co-decide on legislation. The other part of the co-decider is the ministers of the 28 member states. So you have the ministers as a senate if you want and the parliament as a parliament and together they have to agree so that a law becomes a law.
Mehdi Hasan: Aren’t you missing out a rather key institution? The one that makes all the … the one that proposes all the legislation.
Viviane Reding: And then you have a government hmm out of which I was part…
Mehdi Hasan: The European Commission.
Viviane Reding: Absolutely.
Mehdi Hasan: You call it the government.
Viviane Reding: I call it the government.
Mehdi Hasan: And it’s not elected.
Viviane Reding: Now come on…
Mehdi Hasan: The heart of the EU. The government. Your phrase… is not elected.
Viviane Reding: It’s not elected. Come on but who…
Mehdi Hasan: I haven’t voted for… has anyone here voted for the European Commission?
Mehdi Hasan: Oh two… two hands out of 300.
Viviane Reding: Look there are two things. The members of the government, of the European Commission are proposed by the national government and then they have to go through something which is very spectacular which is the same in United States but not in one single of our national states. They have to go through a hearing in European parliament and they can be rejected. There was one which was rejected. But you will learn that. You are very new. [LAUGHTER]
Margot Parker: [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]… already agreed. Already agreed. It was a beauty parade. [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER]…
Mehdi Hasan: If, I…I always say.
Viviane Reding: The European Commission, OK, so how would you describe the European Commission? It’s indirectly elected. What is your description of the Commission?
Viviane Reding: No the Commission… for the first time there was an indirect election now of the President of the European Commission.
Professor Stephen Haseler: Yes.
Viviane Reding: The Christian Democrats were the strongest party family. All the others agreed that, yes, they should have their candidate become the president. The parliament voted yes to this president and then he built his government. And then again we had to vote yes to the full government after having passed the hearing. I make a bet with you.
Mehdi Hasan: OK.
Viviane Reding: If the national parliaments could before national ministers become minister make them pass through a hearing half of the ministers wouldn’t be in the governments.
Mehdi Hasan: But it’s a parliament that doesn’t initiate legislation. It can only… it can only ask the Commission to initiate legislation. The Commission has executive and legislative power and isn’t chosen by me. I didn’t pick those commissioners. I didn’t… [TALKING OVER EACH OTHER] a ballot paper with their names and their parties on.
Viviane Reding: No, no, come, come, come let’s not go now …
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s not talk about democracy.
Viviane Reding: No let’s not turn around because I have already given this answer to you.
Mehdi Hasan: No you explained a very indirect process. Very distant from public in which… how do I get rid of the Commissioner? Isn’t democracy all about getting rid of governments? How do I get rid of the government?
Viviane Reding: Oh yes that’s very easy.
Mehdi Hasan: Who?
Viviane Reding: Parliament does it. Like parliament that gets rid of national government also at the national level so the crux of the matter here is the European parliament which is directly elected and the European parliament decides if the proposals of law become law yes or not.
Mehdi Hasan: Viviane, there are those who would say that the EU isn’t just undemocratic it’s anti-democratic.
Viviane Reding: Oh.
Mehdi Hasan: It dismisses the views of EU voters. In Ireland famously voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty, in a referendum in 2008 and EU leaders then pressured Ireland into holding a second referendum the next year until they got the result they wanted. How is that democratic?
Viviane Reding: Do you think that we forced each voter in Ireland to change his mind? Are we so powerful…
Mehdi Hasan: I’m saying you didn’t accept the result of a national referendum.
Viviane Reding: I am… well …
Mehdi Hasan: President Sarkozy said at the time the Irish will have to vote again. Ooh, that’s real democratic. Is that how democracy works?
Viviane Reding: Yeah well I always have my problems with President Sarkozy you know, we are… we are… that was … enough is enough story about …
Mehdi Hasan: How about, How about Jean Claude Juncker do you have problems with him?
Viviane Reding: I am working with Jean Claude Juncker since 35 years.
Mehdi Hasan: Lovely. Well in 2005 Jean Claude Juncker when France was discussing to vote on EU constitution he said at the time, the man who is now the President of the EU Commission, he said, if it’s a yes we will say on we go. If it’s a no we will say we continue. How does that work?
Viviane Reding: And he continued and now he is the president of the European Commission
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go back to our panel and Stephen Haseler you were kind of interjecting there very furiously when we were talking about the Commission. When we talk about democracy can you seriously say that the public at least, or even political scientists, can consider the EU to be a democratic body in the commonly understood nature of that term.
Professor Stephen Haseler: When you have a democratic system in a continent-wide structure you're going to have problems with massive participation. I think you can have a democratic system. But the way you do it is you increasing elect your officials. For instance, I think we ought to have direct election of the president of the United States of Europe. I believe we ought to do that. I think we’re moving towards that and when we do that I think we’ll solve part of the problem.
Viviane Reding: [TALKING OVER] Yes, yes.
Mehdi Hasan: [TALKING OVER] Margot?
Viviane Reding: [TALKING OVER] Yes I Absolutely agree.
Mehdi Hasan: OK, Margot parker. Do you think the EU is getting more democratic? You’re elected…
Margot Parker: No…no…not at all. The ordinary people that I deal with when I go out campaigning they say to me: “The EU what is that doing for me.” They feel so far away from what happens in … in Europe. They… they just think all these things are happening in my life and I have no say in it.
Mehdi Hasan: Costas you were making a point earlier about institutionalised austerity and failed economic policies, would you say that they are linked to this so called democratic deficit in the EU?
Professor Costas Lapavitsas: There is no question at all about it. I think there is a misconception here. Democracy is based on the existence of the common people at demos. There is no demos in Europe. There are 18 different peoples in the eurozone and 28 in the European Union each with their own democratic structures. We are pretending that there is a European people here. There isn’t. There is no such thing. And the lack of this is what's behind, the… the democratic deficit. And I think we have manifestos… from where I’m sitting what I see in the mechanisms of the European Union is a system which pretends to be democratic but it imposes on various countries, rules and regulations in the interest of big business and big banks. That’s what I see across the board and I also see a naked exercise of power. That’s how it works.
Mehdi Hasan: There is no demos Viviane. This is Costas’ point.
Viviane Reding: I’m not sure, I am a Luxembourger. A proud Luxembourger. I am different than you are. A Greek… a proud Greek. And you should stay Greek, I should stay Luxembourg… Luxembourg but we should work together. We will never become a melting pot. We will keep these differences. We will keep our languages. Fortunately that makes us so special, that makes us so extraordinary
Mehdi Hasan: One last question before we do go to a break you’ve called for a United States of Europe. In 2012 you… you said we’re aiming for the same sort of democratic federal constitutional form as in the USA. I would ask you this, you know, who actually wants that?
Viviane Reding: I believe, as a politician, that you have to dream the future. And, yes, I would like to have a more federal structure in Europe because I believe that in the globalised world that is our only way to survive. If not, another part of the world very soon is going to come and impose their views on the European continent.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERUPTING] On that… on that note… perfect note, we’ve got to take a break there. In part two, we’ll be talking about EU foreign policy with the former vice president of the European Commission. Should the European Union aspire to be a superpower and why doesn’t Turkey seem to be welcome in the EU club. We’ll also be hearing from our patient audience here in the Oxford Union. Join us after the break for Head to Head.
Mehdi Hasan: Welcome back to Head to Head on Al Jazeera English, we've got the former vice president of the European Commission, now MEP Viviane Reding, here with us. Viviane, Henry Kissinger the former US Secretary of State is said to have once asked, “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” A question that was supposed to demonstrate the lack of a single foreign policy across a continent made up of different nations with different interests. Forty years after Kissinger left office does Europe, does the EU now have a common foreign policy? Is there a number we can call?
Viviane Reding: Yes. If he is a Minister of Foreign Affairs of a big state, he can call the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the European Union.
Mehdi Hasan: Who is that?
Viviane Reding: That is now a young woman who was a Foreign Minister of Italy
Mehdi Hasan: OK, what's her name?
Viviane Reding: Mogherini.
Mehdi Hasan: Do you see my point? A lot of people would argue there is a lot of people out there who have got these big jobs, big titles, are they speaking for Europeans, ordinary people?
Viviane Reding: Europe is very big and sometimes Brussels and the decision-making there is very far away. People even don’t understand the decision-making in their national state.
Mehdi Hasan: True.
Viviane Reding: So to understand the European one is very difficult.
Mehdi Hasan: But people might understand what British interests are or what Britain should do and x, y, z or Italy should do, what France should do. They don’t quite the idea of what the EU – does the EU have a single position on behalf of 28 countries on various global issues?
Viviane Reding: It does have, the ministers of foreign affairs are sitting together regularly and they try to come out with the common position. Sometimes this is difficult you know because if you have a foreign policy only a common foreign policy only during five years, but during hundreds of years you had a national foreign policy to bring that all together is, in the thinking alone and in the mentality a very difficult task. It’s mostly difficult for big countries who have been used, in the past, to play a strong role.
Mehdi Hasan: And does the EU aspire, in your view, to be a superpower, a global power?
Viviane Reding: If it does not become a global power it will completely be failed because other superpowers will take over.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, if we talk about EU strength, the EU tries to project strength but it’s actually quite weak at times. For example, if you take Russia, there has been a big row over Ukraine and the Crimea and the EU response, the EU wants to criticise and condemn and sanction Russia for its actions but imports 30% of its gas from Russia and therefore many argue that’s why it has so little political, let alone military, leverage over someone like Vladimir Putin. That’s a fair criticism.
Viviane Reding: That is an absolutely fair criticism, look what our prime ministers have decided, together, lately to have a real energy union in order to solve this problem because you see all this comes from the fact that so far each member state on its own has only cared for itself.
Mehdi Hasan: There are those that say that the EU should take some responsibility for what happened in the Ukraine. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s Vice Chancellor, said in May, “The European Union has made mistakes. It was certainly not smart to create the impression in Ukraine that it had to decide between Russia and the EU.” He's right, isn’t he? That’s a fair point.
Viviane Reding: That is an absolutely fair point. This is a very big mess … a very big mess.
Mehdi Hasan: What I’m saying is you would accept that the EU played a role in that mess. It wasn’t just all evil Russians?
Viviane Reding: EU played a role, Russians played a role and Ukrainians played a role. Huh? Now somehow we have to get out of this mess because, I tell you something, even if we have a problem now with Russia, Russia is in Europe, on the continent and if want or not it is going to stay in the European continent so it’s going to be also in the future one of our neighbours, so we have to live together with Russia and find our way in order to do things in a democratic and a peaceful way.
Mehdi Hasan: And we were talking in part one about democracy and the nature of democracy in Europe, I know you're a great supporter of Timoshenko. But do you support the toppling of the President, Victor Yanukovych? Despite all his sins, he was an elected President of Ukraine; the EU were very quick to come in and approve of a new government that was installed after him.
Viviane Reding: Well, I think they had some kind of elections, didn’t they?
Mehdi Hasan: Belatedly. But the actual removal of Yanukovych.
Viviane Reding: Well, we are not taking the decision of the electorate. The electors have to do that themselves.
Mehdi Hasan: It wasn’t electors, it was a coup many would argue.
Viviane Reding: We… well there are many coups going on in many countries. Fortunately…
Mehdi Hasan: They don’t all get the blessings of the EU, is my point.
Viviane Reding: Fortunately not in the European Union.
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go to our panel on this. I just wanted to bring you in here, Margot Parker from, from UKIP, from the UK Independence Party. Your party loathes the EU so much that you’ve put more of the blame on Brussels than on Vladimir Putin is that fair?
Margot Parker: No, I don’t think it’s fair. I think we disagreed with the meddling of Brussels. We thought that it was inept and they were far too involved. They shouldn’t have been so involved. And at the same time, yes, I mean, you know, you can't say that Russia had clean hands, you know, they played their part as well. So everybody has a bit of a bit of, a bit of an angle going on here and I don’t think anybody comes out of it with clean hands at all.
Mehdi Hasan: Stephen, you talked in part one, Stephen Haseler, you talked in part one about, your desire to see direct elections to the President of the European Union. Viviane talked about federalism. In a federal Europe with a common foreign policy, how do you iron out the differences between 28 member states on something like how to treat Putin. There were several countries in the EU that didn’t want to put severe sanctions on Putin. Several that did.
Stephen Haseler: You’d iron them out in exactly the same way you iron them out in the United States of America…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, different states in the US don’t have foreign policies of their own.
Stephen Haseler: Where there are all kinds of different… there are all kinds of different interests and you have a common foreign policy. Without a common foreign policy you have no foreign policy at all because the nation states of Europe don’t have a foreign policy. Britain doesn’t have one. Germany doesn’t have one.
Mehdi Hasan: Britain doesn’t have a foreign policy?
Stephen Haseler: No, they have an American foreign policy.
Mehdi Hasan: OK.
Stephen Haseler: They follow… no, no, no they follow the United States of America. Our national leaders have to stop squabbling. The alternative to this is that we will be Balkanised in Europe as each nation state fights for its own corner. Not only will we be Balkanised, people on the left ought to be aware that we’ll be rolled over by multinational companies…
Viviane Reding: [INTERRUPTING] Yep.
Stephen Haseler: Who can pick and choose between each nation state and we’ll be rolled over by the United States and China as they become big boys, so it’s in our own interests to get united on foreign policy.
Mehdi Hasan: Costas…Costas, if you have a united Europe with a common foreign policy, you'd be able to stand up to multinational and big corporations, says Stephen.
Costas Lapavitsas: Can I just say that some people would interpret the EU policy in the Ukraine as American foreign policy, rather than EU policy. I mean, so it isn’t just Britain.
Mehdi Hasan: Fair point.
Costas Lapavitsas: So, and can I also say that I’ve got a long memory and I remember EU intervention in Yugoslavia and that was anything but stabilising. Anything but averting civil war or bringing peace and democracy to the country. It was actually stirring the pot of civil war. But this argument, for me, it’s a canard that we will get together. We will form this single state and the single state will stand up against all these huge multinationals and so on. What do I see in practice? I see mechanisms emerging across Europe which facilitate the operations of big business, and big banks, in Europe itself.
Mehdi Hasan: We’re running out of time. I want to bring in the audience. Before I do, I want to ask a couple of questions. What happened to Turkey? Will it ever join the EU in your view? Is there a bias against Turkey because the EU is a Christian club and Turkey is a Muslim-majority country so it’s not welcome?
Viviane Reding: I don’t know if the EU is a Christian club. Have you seen how many non-Christians are living on our territory or how many…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] There’s a fair few EU leaders who have said we don’t want many more via Turkey.
Viviane Reding: No, Turkey is a huge country, which would … if it would become member of the European Union, but I do not believe it will, at least in the next decade…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Why not?
Viviane Reding: If it would… because this is not a small country just joining. That would be a wh-…nearly a continent. We would have to completely reshuffle some of our policies – agricultural policies being only one of those. I believe, nevertheless, that we should reinforce our neighbourhood policy…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Fine.
Viviane Reding: Because we have…for outside borders…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Yep.
Viviane Reding: And we have to live in a responsible way with our neighbours.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Just one… just on Turkey before we move on, when the former Prime Minister of France said in 2004, “Do we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?” in reference to Turkey, that had nothing to do about the faith of Turkey?
Viviane Reding: Well, I cannot comment on all the stupidities prime ministers sometimes say, huh.
Mehdi Hasan: Fair enough… Fair enough.
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s…let’s go to our audience here in the Oxford Union. We’ve talked about the economy. We’ve talked about democratic deficits. We’ve talked about foreign policy. We’ve talked about Turkey. I’m going to go to this lady here in the pink jacket first.
Audience Member 1: Thank you. Viviane, with the mandate for the, for the UK to remain in the EU at a wafer-thin level, how do you rate David Cameron’s chances of renegotiating our relationship with Europe?
Viviane Reding: We are here in a university and let me say in Latin pacta sunt servanda, which means that agreements which you signed, you have to keep them. And all the treaties which we have in Europe have been negotiated by all the member states of Europe. So if you want a new treaty, well, then you have to open the treaty which exists now, have a negotiation with 28 member states, 28 member… 27 member states have to agree with your particularities…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK…Do you think it will happen… do you think it will happen?
Viviane Reding: No, it will not happen.
Mehdi Hasan: And do you think Britain will leave the European Union?
Viviane Reding: It is not in the interest of Britain to leave the European Union because, minimum, Great Britain needs our market.
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go to the lady here in the yellow top, at the front.
Audience Member 2: OK, thank you. I am from Eritrea and, indeed, the European Union is one of the biggest, founders or aid providers to the regime that is known to be one of the world’s worst dictators, and yet the European Union continues to fund Eritrea and Eritrea has now effectively become one of the largest refugee-producing countries including one in four refugees in some European countries right now.
Viviane Reding: We cannot choose the regimes but we have chosen to help the people and that is why we have the development aid and we are still giving it. We know…
Mehdi Hasan: Viviane, you could do more to help the people in those countries perhaps by offering more refuge to asylum-seekers and refugees coming into the EU. There’s a reason the EU is called fortress Europe.
Viviane Reding: We have a sacrosanct element and that is the refugees. If somebody is attacked to his body, his soul, his belief, cannot live freely, loses his freedom, then we have the obligation to receive those people.
Mehdi Hasan: But you don’t exercise that obligation very often.
Viviane Reding: This oblig… we have roughly, 300,000, people per year asking to have the statute of refugee. They are …
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But thousands are also dying trying to get into the EU and Amnesty International, for example, has accused the EU of “shameful inaction resulting in a spiraling death toll”. You know, we’ve got less than five percent of Syria’s refugee population is in the EU…
Viviane Reding: [INTERRUPTING] Yes, and…
Mehdi Hasan: We’re the…one of the richest…the biggest, richest single market in the world. Are we doing our bit on the refugee front?
Viviane Reding: [INTERRUPTING] Yeah and when you see what is going on in the countries around of Syria, those countries, and I would like to honour those countries which receive hundreds of thousands of refugees. We, by the way, we help them in order to support all these people but it is a very difficult question. And because it is such a difficult question, the new president of the Commission has given the responsibility for this question alone to one single member of the Commission because we need to take that in hand and we need to find solutions. The horror stories which we see on the Mediterranean cannot go on like that.
Mehdi Hasan: OK, let’s go back to the audience, let’s go to the gentleman there.
Audience Member 3: My question is that in Greece, two elected governments were elected on anti-austerity rhetoric and then they turned around and continued to do what the Troika has demanded of them. Now we’re seeing the late… the … the current government impose unbelievable cuts on health which has seen malaria returning to Greece. Do you still think there is not a democratic deficit there?
Viviane Reding: The national parliamentarians are voted, not by Europe, but by the national electors of a country. A country has the parliament which it elects and in this parliament the majority elects a government. That is how it functions. If that government then makes a policy which the parliament doesn’t agree for, well, the parliament can oust this, government.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] So, Viviane, your belief, genuine heartfelt belief is if the Greeks or the Portuguese or the Spanish elect a government with a majority which says we don’t want to do what the EU Commission or Troika tell us to do, everything is fine? You'll say… the EU will say, “Fine, go on your merry way.” That’s what you believe?
Viviane Reding: No…
Mehdi Hasan: There won't be any pressuring?
Viviane Reding: Sorry, we do not pressure the voters. The voters…
Mehdi Hasan: You pressure governments. Come on, this is …
Viviane Reding: The voters decide on a government and maybe next election…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] This is a very, kind of, textbook explanation of policy. In the real world, Viviane…
Viviane Reding: [INTERRUPTING] No, no… Sorry… No, no, in the real world I am a democrat and in the real world I have to accept what people vote. Even if they make…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, we already discussed the Irish example – there wasn't much acceptance of that vote.
Viviane Reding: Well, there was an acceptance of the second vote.
Mehdi Hasan: Because you got a second vote.
Viviane Reding: Yes, OK.
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go the lady there, yes, with your hand up, you’ve been waiting. Yes, stand up. Yes, you.
Audience Member 4: If the eurozone had stuck to the debt GDP ratio that there was at the beginning, you wouldn’t have all of these problems that there are now. Why didn’t they stay to the debt GDP ratio for entry and…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] This is the stability and growth pact rules…
Audience Member 4: …and who benefitted from them not sticking to that?
Mehdi Hasan: OK, Viviane?
Viviane Reding: Yes, that was an action which I thought was very negative. It was done by France and Germany at that time and everybody was suffering because the stability pact had not been observed as it should. I think we have learned a lesson. We have understood very well that if we have established rule by all then we have to apply this established rules also and you cannot go out of these established rules because if not the family cannot function and that is also why we created, after the crisis, all these new rules in order to have a better control of who applies what … in what member state and not to have the member states who control themselves but to have the community to control themselves. That’s why, for instance, the banks…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But Viviane, do you see how people… Viviane, do you see how people in Greece and Spain will say when France and Germany break the deficit and budget rules, they get away with it. When poorer countries break the rules, we get austerity imposed on us. Do you see…Costas talked about hierarchy within the EU. It’s pretty transparent.
Viviane Reding: It was in 2003, I think, when this happened… when the stability pact…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] And it happened again after that. That was the first …
Viviane Reding: …when the stability pact was…well, now if you think about France, you are absolutely right. We gave the… we gave to France already twice the possibility to apply the measures before they are punished and they still are not there. And that is…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But there was a double standard. You accept that there was a double standard.
Viviane Reding: [INTERRUPTING] …and that is why…that is why the new Commission now is going to fully apply the…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, let…well, let’s see what the new Commission does. Was there a double standard, yes or no?
Viviane Reding: There was a sort of flexibility, you can call it. [LAUGHTER]
Mehdi Hasan: That’s a great politician’s answer. Lady here in the black top.
Audience Member 5: I am Romanian. I’ve been here for four years. I have a diploma from a British university. I pay my taxes. I never lived a day off benefits. Yet every time I applied for a job, I felt that I had to leave my nationality out because of stigmatisation and because of pernicious attitudes towards Romanian immigrants. Now my question is, Mrs Parker, when is UKIP going to stop making sure that the spotlight is on extreme unrepresentative immigration cases only to support, a policy…a party policy and institute a climate of fear? [APPLAUSE]
Margot Parker: Firstly, let me just explain a little bit and I think we have suffered greatly from a lot of press misreporting but…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] UKIP does talk a lot about Romanians. That’s not a press made-up thing.
Margot Parker: [INTERRUPTING] No, no, no it’s not just Romanians. You might talk about Bulgarians. [LAUGHTER] It was the principle of actually the over free movement coming into the UK …
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] But you have singled out Romanians, have you not?
Margot Parker: [INTERRUPTING] Yes…well…
Mehdi Hasan: I’ve heard UKIP politicians talk about high crime rates from Romanians.
Margot Parker: Well, some have… Some have…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Your leader has.
Margot Parker: And others…and others…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Didn’t Nigel Farage say you should be worried or anxious if a group of Romanians moved in next door to you? [LAUGHTER]
Margot Parker: Well, no, I mean…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Isn’t that quite racist?
Margot Parker: No, no, no I wouldn’t say that’s racist at all.
Mehdi Hasan: It’s OK to be worried… [LAUGHTER] It’s OK to be worried…
Margot Parker: No, no, no, let me finish… let me finish. Whether it’s Romanian, whatever nationality, it’s just making sure that actually the country can cope with free movement of people coming in because actually it’s not good for Romanian people to be actually abused by cheap labour and brought in falsely and then after a while they don’t actually achieve or retain that job.
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Margot, would you… would you be worried if a Romanian moved in next door to you?
Margot Parker: Of course not.
Mehdi Hasan: So just Nigel Farage. Just your leader is worried.
Margot Parker: No, I don’t think so…I…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Well, he said he was worried.
Margot Parker: I think that was a throwaway, nonsense remark that’s, you know, it’s gone on…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] He repeated it two days later. [LAUGHTER]
Margot Parker: Well, possibly he did.
Mehdi Hasan: Let’s go back to the audience. The girl here in the green cardigan.
Audience Member 6: You say the Troika didn’t impose this highly unpopular, undemocratic, unjust and, in effect, authoritative measures on solving Europe, but it had such dramatic consequences for the populations there, but I come from Spain and there nobody wanted austerity. We in fact voted a government out because of the austerity measures that they imposed and we got another one that imposed the exact same measures, only worse, so please don’t insult our intelligence saying…saying these were only proposed because that’s not the case.
Viviane Reding: Spain received an aid only for its banking sector because several Spanish banks were on the bankrupt level. It was not a Troika question like in Greece or in other countries, so it did not have, on other policies the same questions applied like, in Greece…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK.
Viviane Reding: …or in other countries.
Mehdi Hasan: I wanna take one from the back. That gentleman in the glasses has been waiting for a while and then this lady here who's been waiting very long.
Audience Member 7: Following that election, Jean Claude Juncker said that this Commission was Europe’s last chance. Would you agree with that and what do you think… what measures does Jean Claude Juncker specifically need to take in order to make sure that…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK.
Audience Member 7: …the European Union does not blow its last chance?
Viviane Reding: Jean Claude Juncker knows perfectly well that if he wants to succeed, he needs a team which is working like an army. Going into the same direction with full speed and everybody doing its work fully and he needs…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] Issuing orders as well.
Viviane Reding: Hmm?
Mehdi Hasan: Issuing orders like an army?
Viviane Reding: Oh, yes. You need a boss. You need a boss if you want to succeed. You cannot have 28 people doing whatever they want. You need to have a clear way of doing it and you need to have an implementation of what is doing. Why does he say that? Because now is the moment that we see investment package. The digital continent we want to build that we can bring the boost to this European Union and that is exactly what he wants to do…
Mehdi Hasan: [INTERRUPTING] OK, last question here. Can we get the microphone at the front?
Audience Member 8: So, the rise of the far-right, or the populist right, across Europe is a very worrying phenomenon, not just at the European level but also at national levels. How is the mainstream going to regain the trust of their voters without pandering to what the populist right is asking for?
Viviane Reding: I do not have the solution to this. I can only tell you my experience – my 35 years’ experience in politics. Never try to bypass somebody from the right or from the left because people will always vote the original. Be yourself, stand for your ideas, go out to defend them – then you are getting the approval of your people.
Mehdi Hasan: And on… on, on the specific mention…
Mehdi Hasan: On the specific point about these populist right, radical right, far-right parties and the threat they pose to the EU, we talked earlier about distrust, given the crisis of confidence and the economic crisis, how confident are you that the European project will survive, to use the last chance phrase, that in ten, 20, 30 years’ time, we’ll still have a EU and a eurozone and, if not, what do you think the dangers are for Europe? Are we talking about a return to conflict? A lot of people say the EU is responsible for peace and stability. Therefore, in the absence of such institutions, are you worried about a return to conflict, national rivalries, war, what?
Viviane Reding: First, economically we will be completely un-efficient. We are economically only efficient because we are, for the time being, the biggest economy in the world. If we do not play on this ground and continue to develop that with an aging continent as we are, we are going to go backwards. That is the first thing. The second is a political one. You can only have an influence in world affairs if you are strong. If I go, as a Luxembourger, out, do you think somebody is going to listen to me? No. But if I go in the name of the European Union, yes, because I am a world power and we have to stay a world power in order to be also a world economy. But Europe, for me, is more than an economy. It is values. It is beliefs. It is rights of the individual and if we want these values, this belief and these rights to be protected, then we can only do it together.
Mehdi Hasan: Well, on that note, we’ll have to leave it there. Viviane Reding, thanks so much for joining us on Head to Head. Thanks to our panel for coming here today. Thanks to you all in the audience at the Oxford Union. And thanks to you all at home for watching Head to Head. We'll be back next week. Goodnight.
Mehdi Hasan: Thank you very much. Thank you so much, Viviane, thank you. Thanks for coming. That was great.