Juan Fernando López Aguilar is the head of the Spanish delegation of the PES and the current president of the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee. In this interview, the Canarian lawyer and politician links the promise of a better Europe with a turn to the left, asking pro-Europeans to believe and to vote.
What do you think about the prospects of low turnout in the European Parliament elections?
First of all, I combat the low turnout. These are crucial elections for the EU because it is going through the worst crisis in its history; and they’re also crucial for the Member States that have been hit by the catastrophic management of the crisis. In addition, this European Parliament is the most powerful in the history of the EU, as it will have the capacity to decide who will lead the European Commission. Therefore, voting is very important.
What is the origin of such negative prospects?
The EU has been in bad shape for a long time, due to the longest and deepest crisis of its history. The ideological accompaniment of the crisis has been conservative, reactionary and increasingly anti-European. I fully oppose this ideological construction. The poor state of the Union is not the EU’s fault, but a result of the mad policy that has been imposed by political forces, which are clearly listed towards the right. The solution is to stand up for Europe and the European social model, now more than ever.
How would you explain the rise of populist and radical party all across Europe?
It is part of the same ideological stew. The EU, dominated by conservative forces, has imposed a narrative that claims that policy cannot be effective against hidden forces and factual powers that are not standing for democratic elections. Moreover, the major European political currents no longer clearly differentiate from one other. This has discouraged pro-Europeans, and opened a niche for reactionary and populist forces. They constitute a new expression of the old extreme right’s drives.
In addition, the terrible handling of the crisis has impoverished the middle class and weakened workers. More people than ever before have become vulnerable to the temptation of simplistic speech which exploits anguish and hatred. Instead of explaining the complexity of what is going on, the extreme right blame scapegoats: immigrants, Southern European neighbours… It is a breeding ground of demagogy and simplification.
As the president of the European Parliament’s LIBE Committee, what do you think about EU migration policy?
The EU has to change its migration policy. The Treaty of Lisbon made the ‘area of freedom, security, and justice’ subject to legislative procedures. European policy-makers, and particularly the European Parliament, have amended important chapters of migration policy, such as the asylum package. But it has all been made under a conservative correlation of forces that has a negative view towards immigration, and even closes doors to regular immigrants.
The Lisbon Treaty should be amended, in particular with regard to the solidarity clause of the responsibility of Member States in the management of the external borders of the Union. We need to change our way of looking at immigration, not as a threat to internal security, but as a source of enrichment in economic, demographic and fiscal terms.
So you advocate for a turn to the left…
Of course! A turn towards progressive and pro-European positions. I believe Europe should use its last opportunity to restore the European social model and to re-launch European ethics and ideals. We are losing a generation of young Europeans, who are legitimately angry because the EU is no longer a land of promise and opportunity for them. Many of them are economic exiles in third countries, while many others are unemployed and have given up on having decent jobs and pensions as their grandparents did. This situation requires a progressive change of policy led by Social Democrats, and profoundly pro-Europeans.
Martin Schulz is the PES candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. He is not exactly a new face in Brussels. Is he the ideal candidate to lead that change?
Schulz is an experienced pro-European German socialist. He has spent the last 20 years at the European Parliament, and has been its President. Therefore, he has an ideal profile to spearhead the joint bid of the PES to the European Commission.
Tell me about the achievements and unfinished homework of the last legislature…
I denounce that the EU is in the worst crisis of its history due to the conservative majority in the Council, the Commission, and the Parliament. The measures introduced to face the crisis came late and led towards the wrong direction. This is the case of the Six Pack and the failed Banking Union. This is not only a crisis of the Euro, but a crisis of values and cohesion, and utterly a crisis of the European project.
However, during this legislature, we have moved forward in the ‘area of freedom, justice and security’. We have updated the asylum package with common rules for the entire EU, and the Schengen package has reaffirmed the free movement of people, in spite of the national governments that wanted to hinder it.
What would you say to our younger readers?
Nothing dismays me more than the loss of prestige and credit of the European ideal among the younger generations. I understand the problem: the narrative of peace and prosperity that legitimatised European integration in the 70s and 80s is depleted. The EU is no longer synonymous with hope and opportunities, but often with frustration and inequality. But the only possible way to re-launch the European ideal is with the involvement of young pro-European people.
I understand that young people express their anger on the streets and on social networks, but to change the state of things, we must vote. It is essential that the youth act, aware that they are full-fledged European citizens, and that the future of Europe belongs to them.