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Antonio Tajani: Europe needs more leaders

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PHOTO: Aivar Pau

President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani (64), who met with Postimees in Tallinn’s European Union House before the Tallinn Digital Summit, believes Estonia’s know-how has made it the digital leader of Europe.

Refugees have been a hot topic for obvious reasons lately. There have been differences of opinion, especially with Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic that have refused to contribute in a situation where there is considerable pressure of Greece and Italy. How to make these reluctant countries accept refugees?

The main problem is what will happen in the future. There will be millions upon millions of people trying to get into Europe next year. Why? Because of climate change, agriculture, terrorism and Boko Haram, and poverty. This requires Europe to have an Africa strategy. As pointed out by several leaders during the dinner yesterday (Thursday – M. K.).

There are a lot of refugees in Italy and Greece. We must honor the European Commission’s decision and the principle of solidarity. We are asking for solidarity.

The European Commission has decided to launch infringement proceedings. The Court of Justice supported the institutions’ decision, and now we must be able to convince these countries. Accepting refugees does not equal an invasion. Taking in 3,000, 5,000, or 10,000 people does not translate to millions of refugees. It is not impossible to honor agreements.

What positive ways to influence these countries that would not contribute to splitting Europe can you see?

The refugee matter is serious; however, it is not the end of Europe. We need agreements, and we must be able to convince these countries. I believe sanctions to be a last resort, and that first we need to create dialogue.

French President Emmanuel Macron’s reform plans emphasized development of defense cooperation. Estonians prioritize matters of defense because of the threat from the east; what obstacles do you perceive in front of Macron’s plan?

I want to be very clear. Europe needs more political solutions. The next budget will have fewer resources as the United Kingdom will likely leave the union. That is why we must decide on our priorities. One is the fight against terrorism, and the other is European defense.

Macron said we need a European army, and I agree. Successful cooperation needs to be launched today.

I believe that European defense is not contrary to NATO. The majority of EU members are also members of NATO, while some, like Sweden and Austria for example, are not. I believe that developing Europe’s own defense will strengthen our power in NATO, which is something the Americans find important.

You disliked Macron’s idea for a separate parliament for the euro zone. Why is that?

We already have a parliament for the euro zone – it’s called the European Parliament! I’m against another parliament; it would be very expensive.

The Parliament will hold a separate debate on Europe’s future where we will invite all European leaders. We will invite President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi and experts. Not to make formal speeches, but to engage in discussion.

The European Union will change to a considerable extent once the UK leaves it. Even so, Macron saw a place for the UK in post-reform Europe. Do you share this view?

Brexit is not our biggest problem. Terrorism, immigration, youth unemployment, the economy are all much more serious concerns. However, Brexit is a problem. First, we want to protect EU citizens in Great Britain. Our three million citizens there are the priority.

We also want our money back – to the cent. We want to protect the Good Friday Agreement of Northern Ireland and Ireland. The border between those two countries is important in terms of peace and stability; however, we must also protect our industry and agriculture for which we need to have control. These are the main items.

Once the framework has been laid, we can launch negotiations for the future – for what comes after Brexit. Cooperation with the Brits is possible. It is clear that being outside the EU is not the same as being a member. If they want a transitional period, it is possible if the European Parliament approves it. However, a transitional period would mean the status quo lasting for another two years.

Germany held its general election on Sunday. We are looking at the so-called Jamaica coalition one participant of which would be the Free Democratic Party that does not exactly see eye-to-eye with other parties when it comes to the European Union. What change do you expect in terms of Germany and their leading role in Europe should this coalition be formed?

Angela Merkel is key. She is the guarantee of German stability. She is a very important player in Europe, and one paving the way toward a better Europe and reforms. She was clear yesterday (Thursday – ed.): there can be no government without CDU and Merkel.

It is not right for us to meddle in German politics. For us, the most important thing is stability and the ability to move on in the right direction – reforms, banking union, euro zone, unemployment, industry, and immigration. We want Germany to be Europe’s quarterback.

We need a leader. I’m against a so-called two-speed Europe; however, it is possible we have four countries that are working and pushing Europe toward change. We need to balance the agreements of Germany and France, while Italy and Spain are also important.

A country needs to take the leading role in each sector. Estonia has done it in the digital world. Your know-how in the field is vital. The significance of today’s (yesterday – M. K.) meeting goes beyond talk. We can address improving our competitiveness in the world.

We need to find good solutions for US and Chinese companies active in the field. We’re talking about Google, Amazon, and Alibaba. We are not against a digital common market, while we need rules. It is impossible to be active in Europe without paying taxes and creating jobs. We need good leaders – Germany, France, Italy, and Spain – with support from smaller member states and their experts. Estonia has become a digital leader courtesy of your top-level know-how.

You took over from Martin Schultz earlier this year and have been described as his opposite. What do you perceive as the biggest differences between you?

Schulz was voted president following an agreement between the European People’s Party (EPP) and the socialists. I was voted president by MEPs, without any major agreements in the leading faction. I have been active with the European Parliament since 1994, and I know the parliament well.

I was voted my faction’s candidate after lengthy talks and elected president by MEPs after another round of talks.

Naturally, I am a member and vice president of EPP. I have my own ideas and positions as a member of the party, while I respect every member as president. Every MEP is the main character. That is democracy, and supporting 200 members against everyone else would be a mistake. I’m not a prime minister, I’m a speaker.

Without the work we do, Europe is like a driverless car. If we make mistakes, we will pay for them come election day. Voters decide whether we’ve done good work every five years.

Political decision-making is what we do. A shortage of policy results in an excess of bureaucracy. That is Europe’s problem – we need more leaders! Not national leaders, but European ones!

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