EU needs 'transparency in every aspect', says youngest MEP

Written by Julie Levy-Abegnoli on 1 December 2014 in Interviews
Interviews

Anders Primdahl Vistisen tells Julie Levy-Abegnoli that 'politics is about ideas' and age is just a number.

When he won a seat as an MEP for Denmark in the last European elections, Anders Vistisen became parliament's youngest member at the age of 26, yet he hasn't let his age get in the way of his ambition.

Despite his young age - he is now 27 - Vistisen is not short of experience. He has been involved in politics in his native Denmark since around the age of 15, as president of his local branch of the youth of the Danish people's party. He became national chair of the organisation in 2012.

However, Vistisen does not believe his age is of particular importance to his work, explaining "it's important to have a parliament with a combination of every age and gender".

He says all new members of parliament have been able to bring "a new perspective" on EU policymaking, as "every house has its own routines and way of doing things, but when new people coming in they question the way of doing things and […] that is very helpful".

Vistisen is a member of parliament's EU40 group, which was formed at the beginning of term to bring together all MEPs under the age of 40. However, he says they "have not had very many meetings". While he thinks it is important for MEPs to "share experience and it's always a bit rough to start out in this house", he maintains that "politics is about ideas, not what age group or demographic you are from".

A young voice in Europe

Vistisen's early start in politics is nothing new in Denmark, which has the youngest parliament in the world with an average age of 42. However, he does not view having many young politicians as an advantage, saying "I don't think it's healthy to have a very young parliament who have not had enough working experience, some have not even finished their degrees - it's better to have people who have experience from being in the workforce".

"I don't think it's healthy to have a very young parliament who have not had enough working experience, some have not even finished their degrees"

Nevertheless, he is confident his age is an asset, as "it's a general truth for politicians that voters are more attentive when they are listening to someone they can identify with […], maybe I am able to talk in a language that is less academic and more straightforward".

In his view, "it is a politician's job to handle a complicated subject and explain it in a way that people can understand". This is a problem for EU policymaking, because "politicians are hiding from the issues by speaking in an excluding language - we are talking very much among ourselves" in plenary sessions, adding "we have many ways of excluding people instead of including them by being technical", through the excessive use of acronyms, for example.

The Danish deputy is not new to the European parliament, as he previously worked for the EFD group, of which his party was a member in the last parliamentary term. While he says it's "definitely a privilege to be an MEP", he doesn't believe much has changed in terms of his daily work life. "The people who sit in my front office are older and more experienced than I am so I see it as a group effort".

Vistisen explains that while he is "the one making the speeches in plenary", his office has "a very flat structure" and that the only real difference between him and his team is that he doesn't "have to stand in long queues for coffee and can use a separate entrance". If anything, he seems a bit envious of his assistants as "they are skipping out on the more boring meetings".

EU policymaking in turmoil

When asked about consistently low voter turnouts in European elections, the Danish deputy believes "transparency is very important" and that parliament should be more open about the work that it does so that people are more aware of how EU policymaking affects their lives.

He says "for people to be engaged, they have to be able to see an impact, a reaction […] - it's not always possible to see what my work will mean tomorrow because there is a delay between the decision making and when it affects voters".

According to Vistisen, "transparency in every aspect would mean greater accountability for politicians", as currently there is no way to know for sure if a member of parliament is voting in the way they promised they would.

However, he admits that it is not always easy for parliament to operate in a completely transparent manner as "it's very difficult to say we have adopted this report and it might become law when we have reached a secret deal with the commission and the council".

Vistisen also thinks that people are not kept well enough informed on the EU decision making process because there is "not enough press present in Brussels - certainly in a Danish context".

He insists that "it's always good when young people are involved in politics because many of them don't see the fact that if you are not taking part in the decision making process, others are taking them for you".

He warns that "a lot of young people today feel disenfranchised and disengaged from society and this is very bad for democracy because without participation, there is no democracy". While admitting that "the way forward is very hard - there is no quick fix", he highlights that "it's very important to impose democracy on every level - for example, student democracy so that they can have an impact on their education".

Budget concerns

Vistisen, who is a member of parliament's budgetary control committee, says "it's very important to ask in any public spending - where is this money being used most closely in relation to the people?"

"It's a general truth for politicians that voters are more attentive when they are listening to someone they can identify with […], maybe I am able to talk in a language that is less academic and more straightforward"

He is very critical of EU spending and believes "a lot of EU projects could have been implemented by member states, especially certain regional projects - for example Denmark pays money into the EU which is then sent back - it makes more sense to transfer money from country to country rather than backwards and forwards".

He underlines that "it's important to consider a European added value" when deciding to fund certain projects, saying "Denmark is currently building a bridge to Germany and both countries are able to pay for the bridge themselves, so there is no EU added value".

One European project that would receive his full backing however, is a "common European infrastructure on energy, because that would create greater competition for energy suppliers".

He says that "often instead of working on big strategic projects, we work on small projects that, according to the European court of auditors, would have been implemented by member states anyway - the common budget should be used on big common things".

Among the European-wide projects that Vistisen is critical of is the youth guarantee, which "is not working because there is no guarantee - if there are no jobs there are no jobs - this was a political panic reaction to give the appearance of doing something, but in reality it is making a promise you cannot fulfil".

The MEP doesn't believe there is a 'one size fits all' way out of the economic crisis, describing parliament's response as "dealing with different illnesses with the same medicine". He points out that "we need more country specific ways to deal with the crisis".

He is in favour of "making more trade possible, especially with other parts of the world - for too long [the EU] has been a closed country club". According to him, trade is the key to promoting sustainable growth in African countries, where "they should have more access to the European market - of course they should be able to protect their market from dumping - but they should have more access to our market", citing the recent economic growth in Asian countries as an example of best practices.

Towards a new Europe

In the previous parliamentary term, Vistisen's party, the Danish people's party, was a member of the EFD group. After the last elections, they join the ECR group, and Vistisen says the transition has been smooth as "the ECR group is a very different group than before the elections, there are many newcomers, the group has transformed itself so it's not like we are the only new boys in the class".

One main reason that triggered the move to the ECR group was that it "it is more coherent with our view of the EU - we don't want Denmark to leave the EU therefore we find that our views are more in line with the ECR than with the EFD as led by Nigel Farage".

The young MEP is favourable to a renegotiation of Denmark's EU membership, saying "we like [UK prime minister] David Cameron's idea very much and we are hoping [the UK] will stay in the union and renegotiate with us". Cameron's conservative party is also a member of parliament's ECR group.

Vistisen explains that "people want a more flexible posture on how they can see themselves within the European project - not a union where everyone should have the same view".

In his role within the budgetary control committee, Vistisen says one of the key issues he would like to focus on is "the difference between promise payments and action payments". He insists that "by postponing solutions we are creating problems - at some point we will have to take drastic action, and the ECR group is very keen to get ahead of things".

Looking ahead, the Danish deputy believes politics "should be something you do when you have something to contribute but it shouldn't be a lifelong career choice". As for his own future career prospects, he is taking it "one step at a time - I don't expect to run for office until voters are kicking me out, I hope I'm able to stop before that".

 

About the author

Julie Levy-Abegnoli is a journalist and editorial assistant for the Parliament Magazine

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