EPP-affiliated group leaders from the national parliaments met this week to discuss the future of Europe. Just before the American elections, it was clear that traditional parties need to listen better to the concerns of citizens and provide concrete answers that reach the hearts and minds of Europe’s citizens.
No more business as usual
Esther de Lange, EPP Group Vice-Chair responsible for national parliaments and chair of the debates, insisted that, after Brexit, business as usual is not an option any longer.
“In Europe, solutions look good on paper and make sense if we look at the numbers, but if we don’t connect these solutions to real people out there, then support for the EU will continue to diminish,” she said.
If we don’t connect these solutions to real people out there, then support for the EU will continue to diminish Esther de Lange MEP
Keynote speaker Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was equally clear about the need for change: “I do think that we have to change our wording. We should stop telling people that we are aiming at having, by the end of the day, a kind of United States of Europe. That's not what our citizens want. They want to be what they are - nationals, locals and Europeans.”
No giving in to existential pessimism
Former Member of the European Parliament and current Spanish Minister for Education, Íñigo Mendes de Vigo reacted by calling for a fundamental analysis of the problems facing us today. However, at the same time he warned the EPP not to “to be tempted by existential pessimism and not to fall victim to utopias. Let us ask ourselves as well, where would we be without the EU?”
We should stop telling people that we are aiming at having a kind of United States of Europe. That's not what our citizens want. Jean-Claude Juncker
Former Council President Herman van Rompuy was asked to provide his analysis of the rise of populist and anti-European parties.
“If traditional parties can’t provide the right answers, the voters are ready to believe empty promises and even lies coming from outsiders or extremists. And if people are really afraid they will be ready to prefer less migration even at the cost of their own prosperity.”
The debates on the future of Europe were of course closely linked to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. MEP David McAllister was clear on the fact that the consequences of the vote should now be carried through. “We need clarity before the next European elections in May 2019. Just to remind everyone, the British have asked for this divorce, not us. The Article 50 procedure should be triggered.”
If traditional parties can’t provide the right answers, the voters are ready to believe empty promises and even lies coming from outsiders or extremists Herman van Rompuy
Other important speakers at the meeting were Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, MEP and EPP Secretary-General Antonio López-Istúriz White, EPP Group Vice-Chairman Paulo Rangel and former MEP and current Vice-President of the European Affairs Committee in the Polish Parliament, Rafal Trzaskowski. The EPP Group's summit of leaders of national parliamentary groups was organised for the 24th time.