IEP Lunch Debate with Rebecca Harms: “Citizens’ Europe and the European Parliament elections”
Rebecca Harms, party chairman of the Greens in the European Parliament, reported on the subject “Citizens’ Europe and the European Parliament elections” at the Representation of the European Commission in Berlin on 2 December 2013. The Lunch Debate was the first in a series leading up to the 2014 European elections. Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, director of the Institut für Europäische Politik, moderated the event.
Harms, who is also chairman of the bilateral parliamentary group of the EP with Ukraine, had just returned from Kiev and related her experiences. Ukrainian President Yanukovitch had recently left negotiations on the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, sparking major protests particularly in Kiev. According to Harms, the demonstrations proved that there is currently more enthusiasm for the EU in neighbouring countries than in its member states. She thus referred to euro-skeptical tendencies, which in many member states have led to a resurgence of anti-European populist parties. Harms described addressing this development as one of the biggest challenges for European politics in the coming years. To deprive euro-skeptics of their breeding ground, it is necessary to ensure greater homogeneity and social justice between EU member states. The EU’s promise of welfare for its citizens remains unfulfilled if there are extensive social security systems in countries like Germany, while in some Eastern member states not even the right to education is guaranteed.
Harms pointed to finding ways out of the financial crisis as another important issue for the Greens in the EP. What matters now, after already five years of crisis, is to regain the citizens’ trust. The Greens’ answer consists of pushing for regulation of the financial markets, which requires further integration and perhaps a Treaty revision. A first step has already been taken with the planned banking supervision, but the financial transaction tax and a banking resolution mechanism must also be implemented to contain speculation in the financial sector.
Furthermore, common action must be taken against the economic recession in countries such as Greece. In this regard, Harms emphasized Germany’s responsibility. German politicians must finally realize that the recovery of the Greek economy is in their own interest.
Harms criticised that issues such as climate and energy policy have taken the back row in the European debate because they are seen as burdensome in times of crisis. This is wrong, since precisely in these times innovations in the areas climate protection and renewable energies correspond with the EU’s high demand for investment and can spur the economy. For this reason, the Greens in the EP aim for a “Pact for renewable energies”, with which old energy contracts can be abolished that in many places still regulate energy production with fossil fuels.
Harms raised concerns regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the U.S.. In her opinion, TTIP would by no means have only positive consequences for EU citizens. As example, Harms mentioned the agricultural sector: the agreement would force European farmers to compete with their American colleagues, threatening the livelihood of many since, on average, American farmers cultivate much larger areas than European farmers. Apart from that, the agreement could lead to an assimilation of EU and U.S. standards for employees, environmental and consumer protection, thus watering down hard-won European values and standards. Harms spoke in favour of discussing these problems with EU citizens and not making a decision over their heads.
Finally, Harms emphasized that the EU has become a deeply rooted project, whose proponents understood after the mistakes of two world wars that the chances for Europe lie beyond national attitudes and require solidarity and integration. The experiences made in the course of European integration give strength. It is important to be constantly aware of this strength and decisively promote further integration.
By Paul Rietze