Nicolas Schmit: Socialists and Democrats won't do deals with far right after European elections

Nicolas Schmit: Socialists and Democrats won't do deals with far right after European elections
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Isabel Marques da Silva
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The S&D's lead candidate in the European elections outlined his views on revising the Migration Pact and opposing the far right to Global Conversation's Isabel da Silva Marques.

For the past five years, Nicholas Schmit has held the Jobs and Social Rights portfolio in the Ursula von der Leyen-led European Commission. Why has he decided to run for the presidency of the EU's executive body? 

"I think that after the five years where we tried to put social [agenda] at the centre, I thought that there was still more to be done. I think this is the right moment for social democracy to get the Commission [presidency] after such a long period, because we had for 30 years, well for 25 years, conservative presidents of the Commission. It's time for change."

Schmit believes EU citizens are living through a time of great instability and insecurity, and that that has fuelled the rise of the extreme right:

"We are living in a very uncertain period. It's uncertain for different reasons. We are coming out of major crisis: the COVID crisis was not so far away, the financial crisis. We had difficult moments for many, many European citizens due to inflation. We have a war in Europe. So, I think this uncertainty, plus the topic of migration, has now being focus of the debates. And finally, the extreme right are playing on fear. They are not proposing anything, but they are playing on fear. And I think this creates this special situation. But we still have a few weeks to go and to show that it's not about fear, it's about building confidence."

To save the Green Deal, support farmers

A major undertaking of the next five years will be building confidence in the Green Deal, according to Schmit. The future of the EU's landmark strategy to achieve net zero climate goals has been called into question by angry farmers' protests in recent months. 

"We have seen during the last years and decades that farmers' income has gone down," Schmit says. "We have seen immense hikes in their production cost but their income, their prices have not reflected these increases. I think we have to reflect about how far also the idea of a pure market functioning is adequate, because it penalises, finally, many, many farmers. In many cases, smaller and medium sized farmers have big difficulties."

"This another fact: how to support the transformation of our farming industry, of our farming. Also introducing technology, obviously is important. We are developing artificial intelligence. How can farmers be supported by artificial intelligence or other technological means? And, at the end, it's also about bureaucracy. I agree that if the farmer spends more time in the office than on the field, this is something which is not normal. But, at the end, farmers have a big interest in the success of a fair, socially fair and economically fair Green Deal."

Deep concerns about Migration Pact

The EU's groundbreaking Migration Pact is another transformative piece of legislation from the current parliament. Years in the making, it centres on bilateral agreements with Tunisia, Egypt and Mauritania. But Schmit views it as a work in progress:

"I am quite reluctant about these deals, which have still to be prove efficient. We are spending now huge amounts of money, giving these money to different regimes or governments like the Tunisian government. We know that the authorities there are really treating very badly the refugees. We have still the problem in Libya, where there is no real... there is a government there, even two governments. We have the question in Egypt. So I'm quite reluctant with this kind of, deals. [...] 

"I think we have to revise them and see what can be done. How can we do it differently? Because we do not know exactly also how the money is used. That's another issue. I've heard now that there has been a deal with Lebanon too, to keep the Syrians away from Europe. Nobody knows exactly how the money which has been announced will be spent in Lebanon, given the situation of the Lebanon's government, which is in some way a very weak government. And the Hezbollah and other influences, being there."

Countering a resurgent far right

Migration is among the main issues of the European election campaign and one that far-right parties seek to capitalise on. Polls suggest they will make major gains in June and become a substantial force within the next parliament. Schmit believes the conservatives of the European People's Party may be willing to negotiate deals with the hard right on the legislative agenda, but he is adamant that his Socialists and Democrats bloc will not.    

"There is no way. I'm very clear on that. There's no way to have any arrangement, deal or whatever with the extreme right. Because I noticed that, with EPP, they make some very special distinction between extreme rights; the 'decent' extreme right and the pariah extreme right. Well, when I look at the so-called decent extreme right, who are these people? They are Vox. They are Franco admirers. They are Mussolini admirers. They are PiS party, who was about to abolish the rule of law in Poland and was sanctioned by the commission. So where is the decent extreme right? There is none. And that's why there is no way to have any arrangement to just buying votes. Because the extreme right is intelligent, they will not give their votes for nothing. So, they will ask concessions on the way how European policy will be defined.

"Their [the far right] idea, their conception of Europe is fundamentally different from ours, social democrats. But I suppose, I suppose now I am not sure anymore of the EPP conception, because the EPP conception is very much linked to the former Christian Democrats. Now, I know that for real Christian Democrats, there's no way to have an alliance with whichever form of the extreme right. And that's our position too. I'm very clear. No way to have any understanding here."

To see more on this and on Nicolas Schmit's views on supporting Ukraine, dealing with China, and other issues, click on the video above.

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