Gianni Pittella, President of S&D Group in the European Parliament:
We must override the austerity era
The status quo is unbearable and I think the positive message which the EU after Brexit is releasing is that we have to relaunch the European project
Maria Koleva, Brussels
13 April, 2017
Close-up: Gianni Pittella is President of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament (S&D Group) since July 2014. He has been member of the European Parliament since 1999. Prior to this he was MP at the Italian parliament. For the period 2009-2014 he served as EP vice-president in charge of conciliations between the European Parliament and the Council. In June 2014 he was acting President of the European Parliament. Pittella is author of several books on the future and challenges of the European project. He is also a visiting professor at the University of East Anglia's London Academy of Diplomacy. Gianni Pittella is married and has two children.
- Mr Pittella, as the triggering of article 50 is a fact, what should be, according to you, the EU’s first priority in the Brexit negotiations?
- The first priority for the EU should be to guarantee the rights of the EU’s citizens living in the United Kingdom and also of course as a matter of reciprocity, the rights of the UK citizens in the EU. As in any kind of divorce procedure we should be committed to finalise first and foremost the relationship between two partners, the divorce procedure, and only afterwards we should think, talk and plan the future relationship between the UK and the EU. In this regard, the really first call is to guarantee the rights of the sons. Like in the divorce, the most important are the rights of the children. And in this case the sons are the citizens. We have to be sure that the citizens’ rights – these of the 3 million EU citizens in the UK and 1 million UK citizens in the EU, will be guaranteed.
- Do you think the Rome Declaration and its agenda outline the whole spectrum of necessary actions for overcoming the challenges Europe of 27 is facing now and will face ahead?
- It is very complicated to give a kind of black and white judgment about the declaration without putting this declaration in a larger context. We have to understand where is Europe at this point, what is the common feeling and the national positions. Otherwise we can not understand the step forward brought about by this new Rome Declaration and of course also the shortcomings. We would have wanted to have much more progressive dimension or sort of long term strategy in this declaration, but we understand that this was not possible for different reasons. At least, I think the positive message that the EU after Brexit is releasing is that the status quo is unbearable, the status quo can not be held and we have to relaunch the European project for the people and with the people. We hope to go on in the integration process all 27 countries together. Of course if some country will decide not to proceed along this line and to sideline for a while, it will be their own choice, their own responsibility to do so but this will not prevent the other countries that, on the other hand, want to integrate further, to proceed on this track.
- In this respect, can the ideas for an EU whose parts are moving at different pace and intensity make the EU integration and the EU setup stronger, as there is a big concern among the EU newer members on this issue?
- I can understand their concern and this is also our concern. For us, the first option is to go further all together. This must be the main track. It must be clear, we cannot accept to have first class Europe and second class Europe. We don’t want citizens of first class and citizens whose European citizenship or rights are undermined. But on the other hand, we cannot prevent some countries willing to further integrate and giving absolutely the guarantee that this most advanced integration group must be open to all the others. We should not be surprised or too much shocked by this approach also because multi-speed Europe is already a reality nowadays. Look at the Eurozone or Schengen. Some countries have joined the Schengen area, some countries are not there, and only 19 member countries are using the euro as their currency. Now it is just a matter of going on all together if possible and keeping the way open to all the countries that want to join eventually the advanced group of integrated countries.
- What will be the composition of this advanced group?
- It is absolutely premature to say which countries will be there. Actually we don’t know yet in which field countries will sit together and decide to integrate more. There is nothing already boxed and packed. The details have to be tabled, discussed, clarified and each member country will have possibility to understand and finally to decide whether to integrate more or not.
- What part of your party’s vision for Europe should certainly find place in the future plans for the Union?
- For sure, it should comprise more social agenda. The European social pillar must be strengthened and must finally find the financial means and tools as to make it effective in the daily life of all citizens. We also call for a common mechanism of asylum and for common response to migration crisis, and as well insist for more actions on defence and security field. Also we must totally override the austerity measures and austerity era, which brought about, let’s say, many casualties on the field, affecting citizens, small businesses, medium enterprises. We must put an end to that.
- Can the Union succeed to keep its social Europe values?
- For us, the social pillar is a priority that cannot just be set apart or sidelined. It must be at the core of the European Commission’s proposal and also to be part of the next integration steps. Europe has to become again a social project that works for its people and delivers decent living conditions.
- Do you think the scheme of mandatory quotas for migrants and a permanent relocation mechanism can be ever applied by all Member States?
- Let me start by saying that this relocation scheme has been approved by the European Council, so by the Member States. And the countries that are not applying it, probably decided not to follow up their own decision. The most important thing is that the common European mechanism should be implemented and should work. We cannot imagine leaving all the burden of solidarity, from registering to housing and caring for migrants, to be on the shoulders of the first approached countries like Italy or Greece. This is a European problem and needs a European solution. So, if this scheme could not work we should find another one which can be applied. There are many proposals on the table and those countries that are not ready to host migrants can for example contribute to the common efforts by other means and we have to see which one and under which terms every country can participate and contribute.
- Dutch elections showed a rejection of the ideas of populists and Eurosceptics. Do you expect a similar result at the upcoming elections in France and Germany?
- I hope so, but as populism and anti-European movements are strengthened when we are weak, we have to reinforce Europe giving it tools to deliver, because this is what citizens expect and need from Europe. They want Europe that works and in this very moment I can understand that there is a kind of complaining that Europe is structured in a way that cannot work for ever and is just not effective. I would underline that those countries that point a finger at Brussels against Europe are often the same countries that don’t allow in the Council to be taken common decisions or do not implement common decisions. For sure, Europe needs to be restructured and to be reviewed the way it functions, but the Member States should not blow on the fire of populism.