Ana Popovici

Europe in Crisis: As part of their 10-year anniversary, Room for Discussion have reserved the month of October to debating institutions in crisis. This week, they invited Neelie Kroes to talk about the current state of the European Union and some of its pressing problems. As a follow-up to our Sunday article, here are some of the thoughts and opinions that the former European Commissioner has shared during the interview.

 

Starting off with some advice

It would be hard to start an article without acknowledging the important role Neelie Kroes has had in female European politics. Whilst joking about her grand-daughter calling her the “President of Europe, because of the red nail polish”, Ms. Kroes highlighted how important it is for women to take any opportunity that comes to them. She further stressed that this is exactly what she did when decided to do when offered the opportunity to represent the Netherlands in the Competition Committee. “When somebody comes to you with a good enough reason for you to do it, you accept”, she said, while reckoning that competition was not exactly her strong suit, given her background in the ministry of Transportation. This comes into direct touch to the “risk avoiding” she believes many female politicians exhibit. She tells women that taking an opportunity, even if you do not feel 100% ready, is the best way to develop yourself and break the glass ceiling.

 

Populism in Europe and the 6 Founding Fathers

The discussion about rising populism began with her stressing the leap of faith taken after World War II by the “Six European Fathers”. She spoke about the courage it took to unite countries that had been at war with each other since the beginning of the modern era. She strongly sees the European Union as “the best option we have right now”, but she believes that there are key differences between the member states.

“We have to educate them” and rules should be both accepted and followed” were reoccurring themes when she talked about rising populism in the former communist block. Recalling a rather unpleasant meeting with Orban she sees the raising of populism as “unfit for the EU”. She further goes to recommend transparency when communicating ideas and transparency about the political aims of the party as the only solution to avoid long-term instability. It is a must that politicians explain why they are doing things”, she stressed when discussing the impact social media has had on the transfer of ideas and political messages. She truly believes that the “one phrase idea” spread on Twitter is fundamental to the citizens and that some politicians should choose their words more carefully.

“Immigration right now, it’s just the drop”. As an advocate for the fight against climate change and the Paris Agreement, Neelie Kroes sees the immigration problem Europe is facing as the tip of the iceberg. She believes that unless action is taken, we will experience much bigger immigration waves from Africa due to climate change. “People will be moving North” she claimed, informing that it is better to look at all the problems from a “long-term” perspective and that this particular strategy would be a great determinant in maintaining stability within Europe.

When asked about strategies for the awakening of traditional parties, Ms. Kroes was quick to add that reformation is needed. Bureaucracy, lack of continuity between cabinets and a time lag situation until the establishment of trust are some of the factors she mentioned are to blame for the inner slowness of the EU. However, she did not offer any solutions to those problems.

 

Europe in the Digital Era

“Technology is a unifier” and “Europe needs to catch up” are in a few words the message Neelie Kroes wanted to put forward. With our five minutes after the interview, Rostra’s treasurer Joos Akkerman and myself made sure to follow-up about some points that we believed were rather overlooked because of the lack of time. As such, we were particularly interested in data collection whilst respecting state sovereignty. Ms. Kroes told us that aprivacy policy is already in place and there is room for rules that will for sure be implemented in the future. She assured us the EU has the capability of providing a safe environment for data, but did not particularly explain how a centralized database will be a non-subject for nations that seem to be increasingly interested about protecting their national interests. Our other question was focused mostly on the catching up of the states of Eastern Europe and how can we achieve the much-wanted transparency in those fragile democracies. She met our question with observations about the way representatives from those countries act within the European forum. They accept it in Brussels, but then they go home and do completely the opposite and complain”.

 

Conclusion and thoughts

Speaking in the manner of a true politician, it is clearly seen that Ms. Kroes is optimistic when it comes to the future of Europe. However, she is aware of the changes that have to be done to ensure stability. Balanced, but leaving some of our burning questions unanswered, she reflected upon her time in Brussels with great respect for the principles of the institution. Personally, we were looking forward to a more clear action plan when it comes to European intervention in the states with rising populism. However, there is one thing I tend to agree with when it comes to the actions of politicians. Looking at Romanian politics, saying one thing and doing another has become rather customary. This appears to happen at both national and international levels. Therefore, transparency and clear principles are indeed the ways to go. But like some Hungarian people nicely highlighted from the audience, it is way harder to impose your principles on somebody else than one might think. Without coming with a clear action plan and structure, transparency is just a nice word that fits with everything.