How has the coronavirus crisis affected policy making and politics in the EU, and how will it affect the new term, with a second wave of Covid-19 expected in the autumn?
This pandemic highlighted the need for more Europe and more united action. Solutions cannot be found through narrow economic interests and competition between Member States. It requires cooperation - the objective of the recovery plan advocated by my Group, Renew Europe since April. This is a huge breakthrough; we have 27 national recovery plans and a pan-European comprehensive plan for reconstructing and modernising the economy with unprecedented levels of solidarity among Member States. When Europe presents concrete and tangible solutions for our citizens, the self-centred ideologies of far right and nationalistic movements will wash away. Our Union, and the common market, are key assets for all Member States. Citizens expect the Union to act decisively and boldly. In the Parliament, we have been mobilised since the crisis broke and will remain so for in the coming weeks and months.
“When Europe presents concrete and tangible solutions for our citizens, the self-centred ideologies of far right and nationalistic movements will wash away”
How successful has the EU been in helping manage the coronavirus recovery strategy? What more would you like to see done?
The tangible and concrete solidarity is unprecedented. It is not the US, China or Russia that is helping citizens, workers and companies, it is European solidarity and investment. We will be stronger by injecting money into our economy and by supporting initiatives with truly European added value. Sovereignty needs to be strengthened in strategic industrial sectors such as research and innovation and in our capacity to respond to solve health crises that cross-national borders. We also need to shape a common European area, built on common values, fundamental rights, with new own resources for the EU budget. It must be crystal clear to all politicians that Europe is a Union of values.
Following the latest Brexit negotiations, Michel Barnier complained about the lack of progress. Do you think we are facing a possible no deal?
We must be prepared for all scenarios. It is clear that the UK negotiators are recklessly putting ideology before pragmatism. No deal means no winners. We have full confidence in Michel Barnier, who has safeguarded the EU’s red lines throughout the negotiations. The UK’s relationship with the EU was always “one foot in and one foot out”; now they are looking for “one foot out and one foot in” in pushing for unparalleled market access. We deeply regret Brexit, but the current approach of the UK Government can only mean weaker future ties with the UK, which will hit Britain harder than continental Europe. They may be outside the Union as of now, but the British people remain Europeans and I hope very much for a close relationship moving forward.
“The EU must consolidate its unique position around diversity, democracy and uniting against the challenges of the 21st century. It must develop its vision for the future and build the world of tomorrow”
How should the EU respond to the situation in Belarus?
Europe is a space of values and democracy; our relations with our neighbourhood - including Belarus - should reflect this. Europe must be relentless in its support for the Belarusian people. Their struggle for democracy reminds me of those of the Romanian people a few decades ago. I am proud that, despite repression and control, hundreds of thousands of citizens are defending their rights. Belarus has a great and courageous youth that no dictator can silence. Alexander Lukashenko has no other plan than to remain in power as long as possible. When you threaten your own citizens with a gun, you lose the right to call yourself a legitimate interlocutor with the EU. Of course, he has turned to Russia, where he shares the same culture of power. Europe must be fi rm on its values, both inside and outside its borders. It is in the EU’s interest for our neighbours to enjoy political stability and economic development in a democratic environment. Putin’s Russia is nourished by instability and conflict. The EU must remain a trusted partner for citizens and states seeking to develop democracy.
As leader of the Renew Europe group, what will your key priorities be in the upcoming parliamentary term?
The EU is at a crossroads, not just because of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the last European elections, our citizens want to see the value of the European project justified not only by the past. The EU must consolidate its unique position around diversity, democracy and uniting against the challenges of the 21st century. It must develop its vision for the future and build the world of tomorrow. We have the European Green Deal and the Digital Agenda, our two main priorities in this mandate. These are tomorrow’s pillars of prosperity and sustainability. We must create the foundations for a carbon-neutral, environmentally friendly economy, a digital world that is efficient, respectful of individual rights, democracy and rule of law. We need a true social project for the Union to unite Europe’s citizens around a common vision. In the coming months, a key priority for Renew Europe will be the Conference on the Future of Europe, to reform the institutions from the bottom up by listening to the concerns of citizens and acting on them to make our Union fi t for the21st century.