The European People’s Party (EPP), which is essentially a conservative political force, won most seats at this year’s European Parliament elections. Head of the party Wilfried Martens initiated establishment of the Center for European Studies in Brussels in 2007, which is the EPP’s political foundation at the European level and an EU think tank.
The congress of the EPP held in Dublin on March 5-6 resolved to rename the foundation the Wilfried Martens Center for European Studies (hereinafter the Martens Center). The letter M, crowned by the top of the five-pointed star, has been added to the center’s logo. The center consists of 29 research centers in EU countries that support conservative views. It is clear that the EPP will remain a major player in the EU politics.
However, the question is whether the new EU leadership and European Parliament will preserve a favorable attitude to Ukraine? How should Europe respond to Russia’s actions that have led to the crisis in eastern Ukraine? To get information first-hand, The Day’s reporter visited the Martens Center in Brussels and met with its deputy director Roland FREUDENSTEIN.
The European Parliament has completed the process of forming factions and choosing leadership. We in Ukraine are wondering whether this convocation of the supreme legislative body of the European community will support the European aspirations of Ukraine as strongly as the previous parliament did?
“I think on that question there is going to be continuity. Parliaments always find it easier to support democratic movements abroad than some governments, because parliaments are more about values, about democracy, and this is good, you know.
“Governments are sometimes more about Realpolitik. But within the European Parliament, there has also been some difference between the big groups about Ukraine, and indeed, about answering Russia’s aggression. And I think it has been the European People’s Party out of the big political parties that was most outspoken against Russian aggression, and it was the socialists that were sometimes hesitant to clearly name Russia and to clearly support the Ukrainian democrats in their efforts to stabilize their country.”
This European Parliament has had a fairly large group of skeptics entering it. How can it affect the stance of the body on Ukraine?
“I think the populists are much bigger in this parliament than they were in the last one, but they will not set the tone. They will not have a decisive influence on the agenda. The amazing thing is, some of these parties, especially the right-wing ones, but also the extreme left parties, are big friends of Mr. Putin, it is a phenomenon. We have a new convergence in the European Union between the extreme left and the extreme right, and they can both agree on some understanding for Putin’s action. I find this amazing, but if you really look at this new ideology, Aleksandr Dugin, Eurasianism, and so on, it does make sense, because the worst enemy of Eurasianism is liberal democracy, and the worst enemy of the extreme right and of the extreme left in Europe is liberal democracy, so they have a common enemy.”
You may have heard that Aleksandr Dugin said in his speech at a Moscow university that the Ukrainians ought to be killed. Should Europe react to this?
“Unfortunately, no one takes that guy seriously here. But I think we should. Two years ago I also would have said, forget that, he is evidently a case for psychiatric treatment. But I must say that his role has been growing so much, and elements of his ideology have become elements of official Kremlin doctrine, as you could see in the March 18 speech to the State Duma by President Putin, that I must take this man more seriously. And I think it is not only a pity, it is actually a danger to freedom across the entire world, that this crazy guy is actually a consultant, an important element in the thinking of Vladimir Putin.”
Is the EPP aware of it, and is it looking for a way to resist it?
“I think we are slowly waking up. It will take us some time. It is the classical reaction of the West, of liberal democracies to external challenges and threats, it has always been slow. In the 1930s people reacted very, very slowly to Hitler. I am not comparing Putin to Hitler, but I am comparing the reaction of Western democracies to an external threat and a fundamental challenge. And the same is true now, it took the West some time to get into a cold war mode and to react to the new Soviet challenge after World War II. I think it will take us some time to get used to the fact we have a long confrontation ahead of us here.”
How can the liberal democratic ideas win in this case?
“I would make three points: it is about containing Putin’s Russia, about strengthening the Union, and rebuilding the Alliance, and I mean the European Union and the Transatlantic Alliance. So, containing Putin’s Russia of course implies first and foremost support for democratic Ukraine. And you know, it is absolutely obvious over the past couple of months, that the majority of Ukrainians want to live in a normal modern European country, that’s all they want. So, if this works on friendly terms with Russia – beautiful! But Russia seems to be completely opposed to this idea, which is why Russia has become such an enemy to the majority of the Ukrainian people. And we need to support these people in their struggle, we need to do this with financial means, consulting, helping to strengthen the rule of law, to strengthen a functional market economy in Ukraine. I think we also have to do it with military assistance. It does not mean combat troops, but we certainly should do everything we can to strengthen the Ukrainian military: training, logistics, and other kinds of support.”
What about the prospect of membership?
“If I had to decide here, I would say, we should give a firm membership perspective in principle. Unfortunately, that is not the consensus among the member states of the European Union. There are still many member states, especially in Western Europe, France, Belgium, which don’t even want to talk about membership. Now, the compromise between the skeptics and the proponents of a membership perspective for Ukraine was to say the Association Agreement is not the last word. That is the formula they could agree on. That means there is more to come. I do not think that in this situation we can go any further in the European Union, unfortunately. I wish we could.”
Could you explain why David Cameron opposes Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as the President of the European Commission, and why one of his arguments is that Juncker is allegedly a man from the 1980s?
“Well, you know, David Cameron believes, and with him many other people believe, that Jean-Claude Juncker is the wrong guy for the Commission. On the other hand, the EPP has nominated the candidate, the EPP has won the elections with still a clear difference over the socialists in seats in the European Parliament. Well, so that means that Jean-Claude Juncker is our candidate, and he has got a lot of experience, he certainly represents some kind of the middle ground within the political family of the European People’s Party, and also a middle ground in the European Union. So, there are good arguments for him, some people believe there are good arguments against him, but I think in the end, we will see that he will be nominated by the Council, because if you look at the crown constellation of forces (Parliament, Council, member states, political parties): in this constellation, no one will get the majority in the Council and the Parliament whose name is not Jean-Claude Juncker. That is my guess.”
Who can become the President of the European Parliament, in your opinion?
“This I don’t know. There may be a continuation of the deal that the EPP had with the socialists in the last three terms of the parliament. It was always that the two big groups divided the five-year term into two and a half year terms, and then it was a socialist and then a Christian Democrat for the President of Parliament. I think that is the decision which will be taken by the Parliament itself, the member states have no say in this. But there are two other interesting personnel decisions that have to be taken. That is the High Representative for Foreign Policy, and that is going to be determined by the member states alone, and there is going to be the President of the Council, and that is also a decision of the member states alone, without the Parliament. Now, it could be that we get social democrats on both of these posts in exchange for the social democratic support for Juncker as the Commission President. I am sure that one of them is going to be a social democrat, but maybe, the other one is going to be EPP or maybe some other third person not from these two big political families, I don’t know.”
It is said that Radoslaw Sikorski may become the High Representative on the Common Foreign and Security Policy.
“Certainly, he has the support of the Polish government, and I can’t tell you what his chances are, I know that he is interested in this job, he studied French last summer indeed, for a lot of money, and he has been saying good things about France, that is also new for him. So, these are clear signs that he is interested.”
What about the President of the European Council? Who has a good chance to replace Herman Van Rompuy?
“A President of Council? Well, there is talk about Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who is a socialist, and you know, initially she has been not very successful in her own country, but her opinion polls have slightly picked up in Denmark. And you know, she is a young, dynamic woman, so it all speaks in her favor for this post.”
Do you have any idea of who can take the position of the European Commissioner for Enlargement?
“I don’t know. Frankly speaking, it is too early now to speculate about the individual commissioners. Firstly, the question of the Commission President has to be solved, and then High Representative and Council President, and then we see about individual commissioners. I think we won’t know the composition of that Commission until September.”
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reiterated lately that Europe could split over the Ukrainian crisis and urged Russia and Ukraine to negotiate. Do you feel that
Steinmeier’s statement is a positive, given that Russia is the aggressor towards Ukraine and it is actually recognized as such by the whole world?
“Steinmeier had a hard time getting rid of his illusion about the so-called modernization partnership. Anyone could have told him years ago that this is nonsense. Well, now I think he has understood it himself. But it is painful. Even though Steinmeier claims to be a realist, he still harbors illusions about the long-term goals of Russia and of Putin, of the Russian government. I still believe that he grabs every single chance of believing that Russia is now climbing down from the tree and becoming constructive again. I think it is not going to happen, not with this guy in charge in Moscow. But yes, Steinmeier will have to learn it the hard way.”
How do you think the Ukrainian crisis can and should be resolved, to bring stability in Ukraine and restore the government’s control over the eastern regions, where terrorists, wielding the latest Russian weapons and calling themselves pro-Russian separatists, operate now?
“I think it is very, very important in these days and in the next couple of weeks to bring a clear military victory over the terrorists and the separatists in the east of Ukraine. That is the point of departure. Well, there can be talks all the time, but there needs to be a military victory on the ground. This will not eliminate them, they will still be around, but they will be much weakened. I think the fact that Russia is now actually bringing battle tanks across the border and bringing heavy weaponry to the separatists is the sign that they are losing. It means that they feel they are in trouble. And they are also not winning the majority of the local people. All this tells me that the Ukrainian government has to remain tough, and I am not one of those who call all sides for restraint, I think that is nonsense. I think, faced with the absolute brutality of the terrorists in the east, you have to react militarily. It is absolutely right that the Ukrainian government is doing this, and I can only support them in this. And then we can negotiate from the position of strength. And yes, there needs to be some kind of deal about the relationships between the regions and the capital, all this needs to be talked about, no doubt about it. Frankly speaking, a lot of the frustration in the east is the same as the frustration in the west: it is about corruption, it is about a government administration that does not care about the people, it is about the general economic situation, which has been stagnating in Ukraine for a long time. It is just that in the east this frustration takes on a kind of pro-Russian overtone sometimes. So, these problems need to be solved, and at the same time, I think the administrative structure of Ukraine needs to be renegotiated – that is fine. But first of all, there has to be a military victory.”