Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, just a few days ahead of the European Parliamentary elections. Polls show a very low interest of citizens for this vote, something Karel Schwarzenberg, until recently Czech Foreign Minister, is worried about.
Prague-born Karel Schwarzenberg was exiled from Czechoslovakia with his family in 1948 and studied in Austria and Germany. After presiding over the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in 1989 he returned home and, a year later, became President Havel’s chancellor.. Over the past two years he has run the Foreign ministry, managing the Czech’s EU presidency. Euronews met Schwarzenberg in the gardens of the Czech senate. euronews: “We are approaching the European Parliamentary elections, so a straightforward question: Will you vote?” Karel Schwarzenberg: “Of course.” en: “That means we are in the minority: just one out of three Europeans wants to vote.” KS: “Well, I am used to that in my life. I always was part of a minority. That’s the best way to have some fun.” en: “What are the reasons that citizens seem to be tired of Europe?” KS: “European politicians neglected to think in time about a sensible redistribution of competences. There are too many people involved in decision-making in Brussels, today. We, the politicians, should have thought better about what makes sense to be administrated in Brussels, and what makes sense to be given back to a regional or national decision-making level. We should have taken seriously the subsidiarity principle. That argument also works the other way round: some competences are so important that they should be decided really in Brussels, on an all-European level: Security questions, foreign affairs questions, energy questions should be decided in Brussels. On the other hand, when it comes to rules about what to call or how to produce a cheese, well, please leave that on a national or regional decision-making level. We have to be closer to the citizens. And therefore we must give competences back to where they belong.” en: “What is your main argument to convince a young first-time voter to go and vote in those European elections instead of using a nice sunny day to going fishing, for example?” KS: “They should have a close look at todays decision-making in Brussels and they will discover that lots of topics are not decided any longer in national parliaments or by national governments. And this should be a good reason for young first-time voters to get off their behinds and go to the ballot box.” en: “As a Euronews reporter I am travelling quite a lot around Europe and I’ve got the feeling that people in the small member states are afraid of the big ones. The rich states are afraid of handing out too much money to the poor members. And altogether, EU citizens are afraid of economic decline and afraid of migration. Is the current European election campaign turning out to become a campaign of fear?” KS: “I do not rule out this possibility. Extremist parties will use fear, extremists always do, whether they declare themselves right-wing or left-wing. It makes no difference: both are propagating fear, because they are aiming to profit from it. This goes also for those new hardline nationalists. They are a danger too, because they are preaching hatred against minorities, they stir up fear and hatred against people of a different colour, that’s part of their campaign. I continue to hope that Europe will grow together gradually, step by step. We will never be a unit such as the United States of America, because we Europeans speak different languages and we have nations with thousands of years of existence, with own traditions, own cultures. We have to preserve and maintain a Europe of diversity. That’s the unique thing European has.” When the Czech Republic took over the EU presidency from France, in January of this year, Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg had to cope with the Russian-Ukrainian gas conflict, effecting several EU member states. en: “Europeans say they want a common energy policy. What should this energy policy look like?” KS: “This is mostly a question of security. We have to approach this energy question from a security policy angle. That’s why I am in favour of concentrating power for this specific topic on an European level and we should push ahead with a common European energy policy with regard to our environment and with regard to our suppliers.” en: “This leads us to a follow-up question: What relationship do Europeans want to have with Russia? Russia has proposed a new European security architecture. Is this an alternative path towards the future?” KS: “That is just a bunch of proposals we heard already from Soviet times: that’s not about higher security, that’s about how Russia gets a foothold in Europe. That’s the real aim of Russian security policy. Russian politicians are still dreaming of the time before ’89. That means, it’s a way of thinking in spheres of influence. This thinking belongs to the 19th or to the first half of the 20th century.” Regarding the hot topic of enlargment of the European Union, Karel Schwarzenberg has a very clear position: the EU should enlarge further and quicker. In particular the countries of the Balkans, all of them, should become members of the European Union, he pleads. If not, the Balkans will remain a powder keg, as Schwarzenberg puts it. KS: “When those frontiers, created often by coincidence in the 19th and 20th century, lose their importance, then many of those innumerable minority problems will loose their importance as well. Therefore it’s a very urgent matter to solve this problem and to accept the Balkan countries in the EU. If we do not tackle this, the problems will remain and there could be another explosion… and then we will be surprised suddenly with the new migration we will get, a migration that no one will be able to stop at our frontiers.” The current open-air exhibition in the garden of the Czech Senate shows recent European history, remembering the Communist area, the cold war period, the evolution of the EU and NATO. And it remembers the horrors of WWII, remembering a Europe destroyed by Nazi terror. en: “Do you think that there is still a risk, in Europe, that the course of history could be reversed one day? Is there still a risk that hatred will be return among Europe’s peoples?” KS: “You never learn from historical experiences. But prejudices are passed on from generation to generation. Therefore, if once again some powerful charismatic figure decides to use these prejudices for their own ends, then unfortunately they will always have a chance.”