Change has arrived in the United States but how close are we to change on this side of the Atlantic? With the European Commission itself set for renewal, what is the outlook on matters such as security, civil liberties, asylum and immigration? euronews put the questions to European justice and home affairs commissioner Jacques Barrot.
Sergio Cantone, Brussels correspondent, euronews: Commissioner, welcome to euronews. So, Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America and the administration has changed. The Democrats are in power and Obama has already announced, for example, that he wants to close Guantanamo Bay and that he is against torture, even in the fight against terrorism. How is the European Union going to change its policy when it comes to terrorism? Jacques Barrot, EU commissioner for Justice & Home Affairs: Firstly let’s welcome this just idea of President Obama, as we can fight terrorism and still respect a certain number of rules of ethics and justice. Here I see a chance for a new partnership between Europe and the United States. What we need to do is create a transatlantic security zone against organised crime and terrorism. euronews: CIA rendition flights needed the support and cooperation of certain European countries, so don’t you find there’s a case of double standards on Europe’s behalf? Jacques Barrot: Enquiries are in progress. I’ve gone back to the Polish and Romanian governments with questions about the problem of CIA flights. That said, I think Europe has always been quite clear: we must apply the convention on Human Rights, which declares total opposition to the use of torture. euronews: Are you worried European countries are too reluctant to give away information about their citizens? Jacques Barrot: No. The real problem is knowing whether or not the new American administration will be willing to change its methods and not resort to unilateralism, but rather create a partnership of trust between the US and Europe. In other words, we need rules governing the protection of the information that’s collected. Data protection must not mean holding such information for an indefinite period of time. Neither can it mean handing out the information to people who have nothing to do with security matters. euronews: We’ve entered the last year of the Commission under it’s current leader Mr. Barroso. Do you think it will be seen as something of a ‘lame duck?’ Jacques Barrot: The Commission needs to be at the forefront of any necessary measure to combat the financial and economic crisis. And it really must invest its energy into preparing for the G20 summit in London in April. euronews: In any case the Commission has been slightly timid in taking up a strong position, especially concerning the economic and financial crisis. Do you think that is down to the fact that there are certain members of this Commission who are looking to win a second term? Jacques Barrot: For the Commission to be more assertive in all the anti-crisis measures, there first needed to be a climate of political will to tackle the crisis together. So that’s perhaps why the Commission appeared sometimes to wait for this consensus. That said, the participation of some commissioners may have given cause for discussion. What matters is to see the dynamic of the Commission as a whole, which is nonetheless positive and which answered the call of the European Council. euronews: Do you hope for a second term for the current Commission president, Mr. Barroso? Jacques Barrot: The advantage of Mr. Barroso is his ability to embody the Commission, the ability to defend his role in an institutional context that’s about to change, that of the Treaty of Lisbon. We hope and wish that the Treaty will be ratified. We will have to adjust everybody’s role: the role of the president of the European Council, the role of the rotating presidency, the role of the Commission. I think that Mr. Barroso has a very good understanding of how Europe works, which would allow him to consolidate the role of the Commission. Because of all the European institutions, it is the most unique. euronews: There’s also the possibility of transferring certain powers from member states to the European Commission. Specifically to do with asylum seekers, what are the powers that could be centralised? Jacques Barrot: It’s not a question of giving European authorities themselves the right to decide whether to accept or refuse a request for asylum. It is a question of Europe making sure there are no significant differences across the member states as is the case at the moment. Currently there can be a very quick approval of refugee status in one case while in another case there is practically no chance at all. It must be said there is inequality across member states. Some see nine requests per thousand inhabitants, whereas the average is around one per thousand. euronews: But it’s slightly hypocritical when sometimes people say we must close borders. There are people who cannot get into Europe. But why, if afterwards these people can find work? Jacques Barrot: Member states will be able to allow a certain number of legal immigrants. That’s why we are going to enter into bilateral agreements with the countries these immigrants come from. euronews: Should the number of legal immigrants be increased? Jacques Barrot: Yes, taking into account the demographic situation of member states. In cases where the birth rate is around one and a half children per woman, the numbers of legal immigrants should go up. But there are other member states for whom the demographic problem is less serious.