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Antonio Tajani: "There is only one strategy: responding to the people"


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Antonio Tajani: "There is only one strategy: responding to the people"

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Antonio Tajani has become President of the European Parliament at arguably one of the most unsettling moments in the history of the European Union. Amongst the issues he has to contend with are Brexit, the rise of populism, strained relations with Turkey, and the migration crisis. All this just as European leaders prepare to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome.

In this edition of the The Global Conversation, euronews’ Isabelle Kumar speaks to Tajani about his vision for the future of the European project, and asks if he has what it takes to steer the EU through the current storm.

Isabelle Kumar, euronews
“Soon, European leaders will meet in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Treaties of Rome. Some people have compared this to musicians playing on the Titanic as it was going under. Do you feel like the captain of a sinking ship?”

Antonio Tajani
“Absolutely not. I feel like a sailor who is working hard to survive the tempest, and I’m convinced that we will ride out the storm, and reach safe harbour. Why? Because Europeans have already proved that they are capable of resolving problems when they are in trouble, and we rose to the challenge after the Second World War. Thanks to Europe, we have had 70 years of peace and freedom.”

euronews
“But the context is very different now…”

Antonio Tajani
“There are three big issues: unemployment, particularly amongst young people, representing the future of the EU; illegal immigration; and terrorism. We have not yet won the battle against Daesh.”

Working together for Brexit

euronews
“Are those your main priorities for the future, the ones on which the European Union will focus?”

Antonio Tajani
“They are, and there’s also the issue of Brexit. For the first time, a country is asking to leave the Union. We will all have to work together: it is not the right time for conflict between the European institutions. The Parliament, over which I have the honour of presiding, the European Commission, the Council, and member states must all work together for our citizens. Our only purpose should be to provide answers to our fellow citizens. That’s our goal.”

A multi-speed Europe?

euronews
“The European Commission has set out five proposals for a future European Union. The proposal for a multi-speed Europe seems to be the most popular.”

Antonio Tajani
“If by multi-speed we mean having two, three or four countries leading the way, that’s no bad thing. For example, take European defence policy: if France, Germany, Spain and Italy decide to press ahead in order to open up a new way of doing things, to strengthen the foreign policy of the EU; if they do this without excluding other countries, but lead the way in order to prepare the ground for the others, that does not send out a bad message, it sends out a good one.”

euronews
“What will you do about the countries which do not subscribe to this vision? Will they meet with restrictions, and find themselves set apart from the European project?”

Antonio Tajani
“Absolutely not. We all have to move ahead together. If a multi-speed Europe means that someone tries to lead the way, it is a good thing. If, on the other hand, those at the forefront try to push the others to one side, it is a failing.”

euronews
“Poland has clearly stated that it wants to work against current European ambitions. How will you treat partners like Poland?”

Antonio Tajani
“There will always be political debate. In such a big Union, there are bound to be different ideas. It is a Union that consists of different member states, and each member state tries to defend its policies as far as is compatible with the overall strategy. We held elections for the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk: Poland voted against, and the others for him. That is democracy.”

The populist movement

euronews
“If Germany plays an even more important role in a future European Union, will that not that just fuel the arguments of populists who say that Germany gets to decide everything?”

Antonio Tajani
“We have to understand why citizens vote for these parties. If there is unease, obviously they will want to send a message to politicians, to the other parties. That is why it is important to focus on the problems, and not on the populist parties. You saw that in the Netherlands they did not win. Why? Because the Prime Minister gave the people some concrete answers.”

euronews
“The elections in France are the next test. Do you have a strategy in place for if the Front National comes to power?”

Antonio Tajani
“I think that there is everything to play for, and I am not sure that the Front National will win the elections. The position of my party on this matter is clear; the position of the Parliament is not a populist one. There is only one strategy: responding to the people. Providing answers. Resolving the problems of unemployment, immigration and terrorism, and resolving the issue of Brexit. The first thing to do is settle the divorce. After the divorce we will decide how to manage the relationship between the EU and the UK.”

euronews
“Great Britain has now raised the possibility of leaving the negotiations without an agreement, going so far as to say that it would be the Union that would suffer the most if no agreement was reached. What do you say to that?”

Antonio Tajani
“I think it would be worse for them and that it is important not to get angry when statements are made. The British are perfectly capable of reaching agreements, so we have to remain cautious, and defend our interests, but without ever forgetting that, after the divorce, Great Britain will continue to be represented in the EU. The UK is leaving the European Union, but remains a European country.”

The migration crisis

euronews
“Another problem confronting the EU is immigration. You have raised the possibility of having refugee camps in a country such as Libya. Is this a possibility in the future?”

Antonio Tajani
“I think we need to allow refugees to be welcomed in positive circumstances, that is with doctors, medicines, and someone to defend their right to life. We need to work with the UN on this issue. We need organisations that are able to welcome… “

euronews
“But how would this be possible in Libya, a country that is in disarray?”

Antonio Tajani
“We have to start in the south, in Sub-Saharan African countries. After that, once the situation in Libya has been resolved, we will be able to do the same thing there.

We still need to prevent the Mediterranean from becoming a cemetery, and the situation is already complicated. It is not enough to have camps, we have to invest more in Africa.”

euronews
“One of your biggest allies in this crisis is Turkey, with whom relations are increasingly explosive. Can you continue to work with Turkey to find a solution to the migration crisis?”

Antonio Tajani
“Those are two different things. Turkey is still a partner. I think that, after the referendum campaign, Ankara will reduce its polemic and that, therefore, we need to press ahead with the agreements. Of course we defend our rights, and no one can say that a European country is a Nazi country. That is unacceptable. We are the heart of freedom, democracy and the defence of human rights, so we can always listen to advice, but we can never accept anyone who is going to tell us that we are Nazis.”

euronews
“What would it take to revoke Turkey’s candidacy for membership of the EU?”

Antonio Tajani
“Why revoke it? If there are difficult moments, we must try to resolve them at a diplomatic level. We need to understand the problems the Turks have, whilst continuing to defend our values of freedom of expression, democracy, and human rights.”

The solitude of power

euronews
“Now let’s talk about you… your predecessor, Martin Schulz, was very close to the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who will leave the job at the end of his mandate. We sometimes refer to the solitude of power. Is this something you have experienced?”

Antonio Tajani
“Never, I have never experienced solitude. I talk to my colleagues, I eat with them… I am elected, whether in Italy or here in Europe, by the consensus of citizens and MEPs, so I never have the problem of solitude: I do not suffer from that problem.”

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