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Belgian Deputy Prime Minister: EU must stop being just a crisis solving mechanism

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Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
To discuss about Brexit and the big challenges in Europe I am joined by the Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium in charge of Digital Economy and Telecommunications mr Alexander De Croo.
I am going to start by the big big discussion right now which is brexit. What went wrong and what are the lessons learnt?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
We need to have more parallelism between what is being discussed here and what is being discussed in the home country. And I also think that the method of the heads of state trying to come to an agreement on the direction that Europe should be going, that leads to the Europe of today. Europe of today is a crisis solving mechanism. It’s actually not that bad as a crisis solving mechanism, solving the greek crisis has been done in an ok way, dealing with the refugee crisis I think that was actually not that bad and maybe solving this brexit crisis will be another test. But Europe should be much more than that. Europe in the essence at the birth was not a solving crisis mechanism. I was something that was supposed to give shape to european society, something that should have aview on the future of our communities, on the way we want to live.

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
Now, of course the negotiations are starting. But this new arrangement could really bring the UK in adifferent relationship with the EU in the single market?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
Well, I think if you respect democracy it will be different. If it’s not different, then the whole discussion would be pointless. The relation between the common european market andUK market will be another relation than it was up to now. We should not dramatize it. It will be different, that’s for sure, I would have preferred to see it differently but we have to go on and make things clear as fast as we can.

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
The thing is that this discussion of more or less Europe is on top of the agenda right now. And we see a big gap between national parliaments, member states, between institutions here in Brussels. So, what do you think? It’s time to have more of Brussels, more of european politics or less?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
If we look at security, if we look at the threat of terrorism, if we look at the threat of return of foreign fighters and so on, is any of the national countries today believe that they can solve that on their own? No. The whole discussion today is always about how we can exchange more information and how we can work better together, how we can better intervene in our neighbourhood just outside Europe in order to better protect our citizens. If we think about our economy the digital economy is an economy that needs growth, needs ties, you need a big common market, this is part of success of the United States that it has a big internal market. So building a bigger internal market is one of the best things to make sure that you continue creating jobs in that domain. So if you look at the big challenges today those big challenges everyone knows that it’s working together and not just goinf each our own way. So, Europe should be better at defining what are those top of mind topics and try to book successes in these topics. And maybe have politicians that only have a european agenda and don’t really have a national agenda as it is too much the case today.

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
The problem is how you get back the trust of the citizens, the trust of the people because if we see for example here in Belgium, we see the people who were demostrating against a law that your government brought about working hours, the end of this 38 hours of the week. So, the people feel that they are losing something. How are you going to get the trust back?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
Very often observers say that Europe needs a new narrative. And I’m not against a new narrative but I don’t think that the narrative really makes a difference for people today. You cannot convince people with stories any more. You convince people with results. You convince people with making sure that their security is better ensured, with creating jobs, making sure that their pensions are preserved. And that I think that Europe should do. To pick those domains that really make the difference and show that it can deliver. And we have so many domains that Europe actually is delivering. If I take my domain, telecoms, the fact that we will be abolishing roaming abolishing charges next year, this is a big victory. It’s a big victory to making sure that people can move throughout Europe without having to be afraid that their telephone invoices going to explode. People today are convinced by facts and by things that change their own lives and this is what Europe should be doing much more. To think on those domains that have a real impact in the life of people.

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
Are you afraid of a Europe of two speeds or you think this is the solution right now?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
Well, I think it is already the case. Not everyone is part of the european currency zone. Not everyone is part of Schengen today. And we see that it works actually quite well. And the euro and the Schengen are actually great successes. There are certain things we can improve but it’s a really great success. If certain countries want to go ahead and want to go faster, let’s give them the opportunity to do it. But I would put it in a positive perspective. The positive perspective is the ones who want to go faster, give them the freedom to go faster. Not in a negative perspective where you say to certain countries, you cannot be part of the club.

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
Are we going to see more austerity right now because of Brexit?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
The feeling I very often have is that the political discussion is getting almost polarized in the sense of, well, you need more austerity and it’s almost framed as: you need to punish people and the other side says: we cannot do anything and we should continue spending. I think that it’s a false choice. I think the right choice is how can we make lives better. How can we make sure that governments and public services are actually adapting to a trend that is happening in the whole society. In whole society, everything is being done to make things more simple, to make things more efficient, to make things more adapted to your own lives. It’s almost the smartphonization of our lives. The only ones who are not following us is the public service. So, let’s make sure that the public service is efficient, is relevant, is adapted to your life And it’s not a choice between hurting someone or not hurting someone. It’s a choice to make things better.

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
But now we saw for example the EU deciding sanctions, a procedure of sanctions against Spain and Portugal. These are two countries that suffered a lot because of the financial crisis and now the EU finance ministers decided to activate this procedure. Isn’t this a message of punishment?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
It’s not a message of punishment. If you want to be part of a Union, you make some agreements. If everyone starts to say, well those agreements is a joke, we don’t really care about it, you need a mechanism to make sure that everyone sticks to the plan. You cannot be part of a single market, enjoy the benefits of the single market but not do the effort that is necessary to make sure that the economies are converging. I think that from most european countries, there is always a path, warnings of giving incentives to go to a certain direction but make sure that everyone takes a part of the burden. That is the basis of a Union. If Union is not doing that, then in the end it will not be union any more.

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
So, do we experience now the end of the EU as we knew it?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
No. I don’t think so. It’s a bit like a sad event in life. A loss in life. It’s a sad moment. But afterwards, life goes on. And I’m sure that european life will go on but I hope in a more focused way.

Efi Koutsokosta/ Euronews:
Are you optimistic?

Alexander De Croo/ Deputy Prime Minister of Belgium:
I’m always an optimist.

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