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Touteleurope The Interview : President Jerzy Buzek reviews the first half of his mandate

Jerzy Buzek’s election as President of the European Parliament, the first deputy from an Eastern Member State to hold this position, was hailed as historic, particularly, in the context of the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the end of communism. However, looking back over the first half of his mandate, it is obvious that times were difficult for the European Union a year ago: the future of the Lisbon Treaty was uncertain and the economic crisis was deepening. Half-way through his mandate as President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek speaks to Touteleurope about his achievements during his first year in office.Â

The smooth implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, proposals in the area of energy policy, the negotiations on the financial perspectives for the period 2014-20 and the EU 2020 strategy were amongst his main priorities as President. He defends the European Union and the Parliament’s action in relation to the economic crisis, highlighting the work that has been done to regulate the banking and financial sector during his watch. Regarding foreign policy, Mr Buzek is uncompromising on the need to promote human rights through the EU’s trade and diplomatic relations. He underlines also the need to be coherent internally if the European Union is to be credible when advocating human rights abroad.

Finally, when asked about the future of European democracy, he seems to favour greater ‘europeanisation’ of European elections through the creation of transnational lists. Mid-way through his mandate, Mr Buzek is satisfied with the current system of the shared presidency between the major groups in the European Parliament which depends on political agreement to elect the President. Mr Buzek’s two and half year term of office runs until December 2011.

Watch the video of the interview (14’36) :

Jerzy Buzek : What achievements are you most proud of during your first year in office?

Touteleurope.eu : My first term is office was mainly introducing the Lisbon Treaty. I believe deeply that it will be very effective for our citizens in responding to the challenges and threats facing the EU such as the growing unemployment rate, energy issues and anti-terrorism measures. I was doing everything to make the Lisbon Treaty work for citizens. The second issue was how to respond to the economic crisis as quickly as possible to restore growth. I also had other priorities such as the European energy community to provide secure and cheaper energy, the budget perspectives and, of course, human rights which are very important for the Parliament.

TLE : What is the European Parliament doing to resolve the financial crisis?

JB: It was necessary to respond quickly with a rescue package for some countries and to show solidarity. It was also necessary in some countries to implement austerity measures to regain financial stability. Solidarity between Member States and responsible economic management are necessary at this time.

We focused on capital requirements and economic governance in Europe in order to prevent the crisis from happening again in the future. We need economic union, not just monetary union. The bonuses for bankers were not correct and we tackled this with legislation. We need also an exit strategy; we don’t want stagnation. We want to encourage growth and to create jobs for our citizens therefore some structural reforms are necessary. The EU2020 strategy setting out how to be competitive in global markets is an important strategy which we have discussed recently. This strategy will be good for the future.

TLE : What are the foreign policy priorities of the European Parliament?

JB : The first priority was to organize the external action service and our ambassadors in the community way. We need strong representation of the EU. The economic crisis and climate change are also global issues. Terrorism or nuclear weapons are all global problems. The EU must be strong on the outside as well as the inside if we want to respond to our citizens’ expectations. We need our common community external service to work for all Europeans. The EEAS will help us promoting global governance. I have been trying this last year to change some things on this front. The EU and US together represent 800 million citizens. If we put proposals on the table in the G20 and we try to influence the rest of the world together in a euro-Atlantic community it is possible to achieve results. We should work together in this way if we want to influence global politics on behalf of citizens. In a global world China, India, Saudia Arabia, Russia and japan are all important. Everything is global. Therefore, we must be strong and united in our foreign policy.

TLE : Is the US losing interest in Europe?

JB : As Europeans, I think that we could take much more responsibility for ourselves and our continent and even for other continents. We need to do more than in the 80s and 90s when the Iron curtain divided Europe and the Americans had to support us.

For example the Western Balkans was a big problem but we solved it ourselves by proposing them membership. We have the Eastern partnership cooperating with six states on the Eastern border of the EU. For Americans it is not so urgent for them to be present in Europe as it was 20 or 30 years ago or as it was after the war. Our integration is very fruitful also for Americans as they have a serious partner of 500 million citizens, the biggest economy in the world. President Obama is aware of this and Hilary Clinton is coming to the European Parliament and European institutions tomorrow. The visit is a good signal that the Americans are thinking the same way we are thinking.

TLE : What is the European Parliament doing to defend human rights in China?

JB : The Nobel Prize for Liu Xiaobo is great news. I visited china in May. We discussed the problem of human rights very openly with the Prime Minister and the leader of Parliament. There was a long discussion of human rights. We should always mention human rights when talking about the economy and cooperation. We should never omit such a problem as human rights. We believe that there will be an improvement.

We are in the process of constructing a bridge between China and the European Union as a whole. It is good that we have bilateral relations some Member States stronger or weaker than others. We are preparing ourselves for bilateral relations between China and the EU. It is very important to remind China about human rights.

I call on the Chinese authorities to release the Nobel Prize winner immediately and unconditionally because it is absolutely necessary for our cooperation.

TLE : What are your priorities for the EU budget negotiations?

JB: Some decisions are necessary because of the Lisbon Treaty for example the external action service requires funding. But we can spare a lot of money also if EU embassies are more efficient than bilateral embassies. We can thus support foreign policy via the budget.

It is very important to spend money on the EU 2020 strategy. We need an exit strategy from the crisis in order to avoid stagnation. We need growth at 4 or 5% to decrease unemployment. The budget must be about modernization and how to build a new and competitive Europe.

There are two pillars of competitivity: the knowledge economy and secondly, transport which unlocks the potential of European regions. Investment in energy, in the internet and in ICT are also crucial. If we want to relaunch the single market, we need investment in many fields to be strong economically. We should spend our money on the two pillars: research and innovation and structural funds.

Tweet your MEP connects citizens to MEPs all over Europe. Have your say by sending your question or comment to Jerzy Buzek directly via Tweet your MEP : www.tweetyourmep.eu

TLE : Do you agree with the proposals for transnational lists for the European elections?

JB : Let me say about transnational elections that I think our citizens should know who they are voting for. Usually they are national parties and very often citizens don’t know that they are voting in a European election! If our parties would also have a European name it would be obvious that it is the European election and not a national election. It could be a very big difference form the point of view of seeing Europe as our common entity and to feel a common responsibility. I support this approach. Our national parties should be closer to the European parties. These European parties should be better known by our citizens at election time.

TLE : Should the shared Presidency of the European Parliament between political groups be changed?

JB : The shared presidency works and has worked since 1979. There has never been a case that any party had a majority of more than 50% of the seats, so for any party to have a president it is necessary to agree with the other parties to have a majority. It is about having political agreements. Big coalitions happen very often. Sometimes the Prime Minister is from one party and the leader of the parliament in the lower chamber and the upper chamber from another party. Our democracy consists of free elections and then political agreement between elected members of the parliament. It is the same procedure in many national parliaments. In my country at least 35% of committees are in the hands of the opposition. It all comes down to political agreement. This political agreement is working very well and I don’t think we should end it.

TLE : Is the Roma issue a question for Romania and Bulgaria to resolve or for the EU as a whole?

JB : The Roma problem is certainly a European issue. If we preach human rights all over the world in Cairo, Beijing and Moscow, we must first of all respect human rights in our own backyard.

We have to protect the Roma minority against any type of discrimination. We should solve the problem at European level. I met just today with my colleagues, including Lívia JÁRÓKA from Hungary who is the only member of the European Parliament of Roma origin and other colleagues from the regional and civil liberties committees. We would like to discuss how we can help the Roma community through use of the structural funds. They have been European citizens for hundreds of years.

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