Ilhan Kyuchyuk, MEP, vice president of ALDE:
Citizens can initiate much-needed reform
People’s vision of our common home is important and an increasing number of them are wondering if we will have multi-speed Europe
5 January, 2018
Close-up: Ilhan Kyuchyuk is a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament from the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe/ Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Having served as Vice President of ALDE Party since 2015, he was re-elected on the position on 3 December. Mr Kyuchyuk is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and of the Delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries and the Arab Maghreb Union, as well as a substitute member of the Committee on Culture and Education, and of the Delegation for relations with the US. Since November 2014, Mr Kyuchyuk has been a member of the Human Rights Committee of the Liberal International, and since May 2015, he has been ambassador of the European Entrepreneurship Education Network. Between June 2013 and May 2014 he served as parliamentary secretary of the deputy prime minister of the Republic of Bulgaria in charge of the government’s economic policy. He has been a member of the Youth Movement for Rights and Freedoms since 2005 and, in November 2012, he became its president. He is fluent in English, Russian and Turkish.
- Mr Kyuchyuk, at the recent party congress in Amsterdam you were re-elected as Vice President of ALDE Party, garnering the largest number of votes out of the entire ALDE Bureau. What new initiatives do you plan for your new term?
- The results from the vote are recognition for my work over the past two years as Vice President of ALDE but they also carry a great responsibility. I am happy that I was elected with the largest number of votes, but what is more important is that we, in the MRF, are working in the right direction and this is obviously being noticed around Europe. In this term I will continue what I started in the previous years, with the focus remaining on the integration of the Western Balkans and strengthening democracy in the countries of the Eastern Partnership. Of course, as the youngest member of the ALDE Bureau I will maintain close relations with the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC) in a joint effort to promote strong youth participation and combat youth unemployment. Last but not least, this ALDE Bureau will lead the liberals in the upcoming European Parliament elections in 2019, and it will be our goal to position the liberals as a key factor in setting Europe’s agenda.
- On 1 January 2018 Bulgaria will assume the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and the Western Balkans are said to be among its priorities. Given that you have active communication with the region, how do you think this priority will help bring about a clearer picture of these six countries’ European integration?
- It is true that I am in active communication with representatives of the region, and I work with our partners quite determinedly. Identifying the Western Balkans as one of the Bulgarian government’s priorities during its Presidency of the Council of the EU is a good starting point, but it cannot solve the region’s problems and set the countries on the path to integration in and of itself. All six nations need comprehensive political and financial assistance, but if they are to achieve a true progress, above everything, they need a clear roadmap that will set deadlines for them. We in ALDE believe that the Copenhagen criteria are necessary but not enough to achieve progress. This is why we have proposed a new approach, which is not based on lowered criteria but on the region’s realities and includes a strategy built on tree elements - a holistic treatment of the region, re-commitment to the Copenhagen criteria for membership and a strong support for structural reforms.
- You also take an active part in many debates on Europe’s future. What precisely occupies the attention of citizens and how should the EU be reformed to be more open to their needs?
- At this time, it is crucial that we listen to what European citizens have to say and what their vision for our shared home is. It has caught my attention that along with familiar topics such as high unemployment rates and the European economy’s lack of competitiveness, an increasing number of citizens are concerned about whether we will have a multi-speed Europe. This is good because right now we lack real capacity to handle many of the modern day challenges, and the system of making unanimous decisions often blocks vital efforts aimed at the EU’s evolution. This is why I believe that the European citizens are the ones who can initiate the necessary reform, both in terms of institutions and values. We need a deeper integration and for Member States to be more active participants in the common European project. The EU needs a joint and synchronised foreign policy in order to address global issues such as combating terrorism and climate change. It needs a common European defence operating under the umbrella of NATO so as to ensure the security of European citizens but also respond to provocation from third countries. It needs a joint protection of the EU borders in order to make the European region safer and freer. Naturally, this will only be possible when all Member States join the Schengen area. The EU also needs a stronger economic area and single market through the participation of all Member States in the Eurozone as well as a banking union that will guarantee the sound state of the banking sector in the Eurozone and across the EU.
- The ALDE congress noted the rise of liberal parties in Europe but at the same time it was a liberal party (FDP) that torpedoed the Jamaica coalition in Germany and sent the country to the brink of a political crisis. What is your opinion on the reaction of its leader Christian Lindner and would it not have been better if he could affect the country’s executive branch by being in it?
- After the wave of populism and nationalism of the past year, the liberal parties are now on the rise in Europe, which indicates that people are returning to the liberal democratic values and rejecting the political strategy of empty promises. Quite recently, Andrej Babis formed a cabinet and became Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, which put the liberals in front of the socialists and at eight seats we are now second in terms of representation in the European Council. It is the same situation in Germany where the Free Democratic Party (FDP) had a strong showing in the elections and returned to the Bundestag. But I do not think that the liberal party and its leader Christian Lindner are to blame for the failure to form a coalition government. After all, Ms Merkel is a chancellor and the one holding the mandate, and so she should be the person bearing the political responsibility for forming a cabinet. FDP was already in coalition with her one time and it suffered the heavy consequences of that decision. This is why this time around Lindner was adamant that even though seeking middle ground is always necessary it cannot be at the expense of fundamental principles that political parties should share.
- You were among the first members of the European Parliament who warned about the existence of modern slave markets in Libya, where traffickers sell African migrants trying to reach Europe. In that context, what is your assessment of the decisions made at the EU-African Union Summit held in Abidjan?
- I brought attention to this matter because the trade with innocent people on slave markets, in EU neighbours at that, is an unacceptable practice that has no place in the 21st century. Not long ago, we were all shocked when CNN showed footage of young men from the sub-Saharan region being sold like livestock in Libya, and I think we cannot stay silent. We should join the African Union in demanding that the Libyan authorities investigate the case thoroughly and also support President Macron’s initiative to draw up a plan aimed at breaking up human trafficking networks.
- Investment in the youth was a main topic of this summit, which the European Commission president called a meeting of equals. How can the European Parliament help to reach the goals set on this priority?
- Indeed, the main topic of the EU-African Union Summit was investing in the youth and this is completely logical considering the fact that Africa is the continent with the youngest population in the world. This is an enormous demographic potential, but if the necessary measures are not taken to better the future of these young people, it can turn into a weapon. It goes without saying that the poor social status and the lack of education and good standards of living could easily push these people towards extremes like radicalism and terrorism, which will undoubtedly hurt Europe too. This is why we should treat this matter responsibly and prepare a plan for smart investments as soon as possible. Its main points were outlined during the summit by the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and include investments in education, infrastructure, peace and sustainability as well as good management, which will help foster a favourable business environment, jobs and economic growth.
- In your view, is Europe closer to finding a better solution to the migrant problem, now that the European Parliament added new elements to the Dublin Regulation?
- At its November session, the European Parliament approved the proposal of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) for a review of the Dublin Regulation and I personally believe that this is a step in the right direction. The establishment of a well-functioning European system for providing protection is among the key factors that will determine Europe’s future. LIBE proposes a new solidarity-based mechanism with clear rules and compliance stimuli both for asylum-seekers and Member States. Now the Council of the EU must express its position as soon as possible so that the tripartite talks can start and a well-functioning and truly new European system for asylum provision can be created quickly.
- How do you think the crisis in the frontline countries who receive asylum-seekers first will be resolved?
- The proposal for a new regulation rests on two pillars - solidarity through shared responsibility and clear rules. Over the past few years, we saw many Member States not showing the needed solidarity in the distribution of refugees, and it is my hope that once we get clear rules this will change. For their part, all Member States with external borders (the point of arrival to Europe for most refugees) will shoulder their responsibility for the registration of all arrivals and the protection of the bloc’s external borders.
- At its last for 2017 session the European Parliament debated the Schengen area membership of Bulgaria and Romania, which has long been supported by the EP and the Commission. Do you think that the European lawmakers’ voice will finally be heard?
- The European lawmakers’ voice has always been heard but we have repeatedly said that Bulgaria’s Schengen membership is an entirely political matter and not technical. For example, our European partners are extremely worried by the participation of a radical nationalist party in the Bulgarian cabinet. The very circumstance that key ministries are headed by its members deepens the unease. I will repeat this - their involvement in the government is an obstacle on Bulgaria’s path to the Schengen area.