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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