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IEP Lunch Debate with Axel Schäfer: „New Institutions, new policy? Expectations on European politics in Germany“

The IEP lunch debate on the topic of „New Insti­tu­tions, new policy? Expec­ta­tions on European politics in Germany“ with Axel Schäfer, MP and deputy head of the SPD parlia­mentary group, took place at the Repre­sen­tation of the European Commission in Berlin on 27 November 2014. Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, director of the Institut für Europäische Politik, moderated the event. An intro­ductory speech was given by Bernhard Schnittger, head of the political division of the repre­sen­tation of the European Union Commission to Berlin.

Axel Schäfer pointed out that the EU was confronting low turnouts, rising Euroscep­ticism and a trend towards populist, radical right and extremist parties such as Alter­native für Deutschland (AfD), United Kingdom Indepen­dence Party (UKIP) and Front National (FN). This was evidenced by the recent European Parlia­mentary elections. Apart from that, right-wing populist plebiscites in Switzerland were as much signs of growing nation­alist tendencies as seces­sionist movements in Catalonia.

Such tendencies are contrary to the founding idea of the EU: to delegate national sover­eignty to a supra­na­tional insti­tution in order to preclude future wars. Based on this idea, the EU had evolved into a game-changing model. According to Schäfer, it therefore was with good reason that the EU was awarded the Nobel Price for Peace in 2012. He maintained that the outstanding achieve­ments of the European project such as increased inter­na­tional under­standing and the consensus beyond party bound­aries in Germany on the peaceful settlement of conflicts should continue to be highlighted in the future.

Besides this, substantial progress has been made in the area of the EU’s democ­ratic legit­imacy. One example is the nomination of “top candi­dates” for the last European Parlia­mentary election. Furthermore, Schäfer compli­mented the estab­lished moderate parties within the EU on standing together in the face of extremism and Euroscep­ticism as recently shown by their consistent rejection of the vote of no confi­dence against Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. According to Schäfer, the Ukraine-Crisis has revealed that the EU is capable of acting together in a coherent way. This obser­vation made him confident with regard to deepening the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

Notwith­standing his words of praise, Schäfer had several proposals on how to improve the functioning of the EU. For instance, there is the need to advance party democracy within the EU. This includes mutual electoral aid and regular political discus­sions between the national repre­sen­ta­tives of parties belonging to the same political “family”. Moreover, Schäfer called for closer cooper­ation between the European Parliament and the national parlia­ments. Annual confer­ences of both national and European repre­sen­ta­tives would offer a continuous platform for exchange allowing for better coordi­nation and stronger emphasis on the interests of citizens within the EU, thus combating Euroscep­ticism and low turnouts in European Parlia­mentary elections. Schäfer concluded his speech with an appeal for people to engage in contro­versial debates on the EU at every level. This was the best way for creative solutions to be developed and the functioning of the EU to be contin­ually improved.

By: Nora Happel