Johan Van Operveldt is the head of list of the flemish party N-VA in Belgium, for the european elections. A renown economist, he gives us his views on Guy Verhofstadt, his political opponent, and liberal candidate to the Presidency of the future European Commission.
How would you describe Mr Verhofstadt, not only as an opponent, but as a politician in general ?
Johan Van Operveldt:
Mr Verhofstadt has always been a man of the big dreams and the great perspectives, and of course there is nothing wrong with that. But I think that at the moment the European Union needs action on several topics and not action in 2, 3 years but now in coming months.
He’s an extremely voluntaristic guy. He’s always going the full monty as they say since that famous movie. He’s always pushing, he always wants more. That makes him likeable, because of course if you have big plans you always can make people enthusiastic about it But that’s not enough today. On the contrary, people wont go for these long term issues is they see that what are the problems for them today are not resolved sufficiently. And I think also there is an issue of credibility in terms of people like Mr Verhofstadt, but that also goes for other candidates we see coming to the forefront now. And I want to focus on the monetary union itself.
Because if you’ve been head of government for 8 years, between 99 and 2007, which means the golden years of the monetary union, and you didn’t do very much to get that monetary union on a better and more efficient footing, it’s hard to have credibility today by saying that now you know the way to do it. What changed in those few years ? You were almost for a standstill in the years where things could have changed rather silently and without too much fuss in terms of financial markets being very sensitive and things like that. Nothing was done.
We had the stability pact and the characteristic of the stability pact was that nobody obeyed it That’s not something to be proud of. And the second thing in terms of credibility that I think is quite important is that we have that Greek issue. Where I think everybody admits that , and among those the Belgian minister of finance during those days, that everybody knew the Greek data were false! Lets be serious, we had a huge turmoil, and still have in a sense a huge turmoil in the monetary union, in which the issues of Greece play an important role. And now we have to hear from some of these people, government leaders of that era, that everybody knew Greece was falsifying its data. I have a credibility issue with those people who are saying never mind what other people are saying we have the ways to get it back on the right track. If you have that kind of background in those years with respect to the monetary union, there’s a problem of credibility.
I would certainly also like to see what his fraction in the European Parliament is standing for.Because i think it’s quite important you have, among group that you represent in the European Parliament, a coherent view on what you want to do. And going back to the issue of the monetary union, which i think is still the issue on the table of everybody who has a positive view on Europe, we need an explanation from part of Mr Verhofstadt, whether his group stands for eurobonds or not. He himself is shouting at the top of his lungs that we need eurobonds tomorrow, as a matter of fact we needed them yesterday! But I hear for instance the dutch liberals are arguing all the time “eurobonds no way”.
So again, there’s a lack of clarity, a lack of what the programme is. For me that’s the bottom line.