Martin Schulz: “EU has Agreed to Impose Tough Sanctions if Necessary”

For Me as a German Boycotting Jewish Companies is Unthinkable

Schulz_kleinJVG talks to the President of the European Parliament and candidate for the President of the European Commission in the upcoming elections   JVG: How much time does politics take, Mr. Schulz? My current position as President of the European Parliament is a very demanding one. My regular workday lasts 14 to 15 hours. It begins at eight in the morning and rarely ends before 11 pm. You advocate a 35 to 40 hour workweek – yet you yourself work twice as long… Yes, I work a lot. But other people do that too. You were elected the SPD’s EU commissioner with 98 percent of the vote, and 91 percent of the European Social Democrats voted for you as their chief candidate. That sets high expectations. On the other hand, in the last European elections the SPD took only 20.8 percent. This is the first time we’re having a personalized election campaign. For the first time, we we’re presenting clear personal and political alternatives. That will help us mobilize our core voters better than before. People will think: Martin Schulz – or for the conservatives Jean-Claude Juncker – that’s my candidate, so I’ll go vote. I am certain that the SPD will perform better than it did in previous elections. You are the European face of the SPD. Does that put even more pressure on you personally? It is a duty. One has to live up to this duty and the trust given to you, and that’s what I am doing, with all the means at my disposal, and all the possibilities I have. It’s my intention to live up to this duty with discipline and good arguments. You were mayor of the town of Würselen, a small town near Aachen, for 11 years. You were acutely aware of people’s needs. How can Europe get closer to its citizens? Many people say bureaucracy has to be cut down, but nothing’s happening… My argument is that the EU shouldn’t interfere in everything. When people see that the EU is delegating tasks to the local, regional or national levels, they feel that the message has been taken on board and that action is being taken. My experience as mayor taught me one thing in this context: the closer to the people a decision is made, the more readily they accept it. The EU will just have to have the courage to let as many decisions as possible be made as close to the people as possible. How do you explain the good performance of populist parties in Europe? Schulz_handshake_kleinWhen people get the impression that democratic structures no longer focus on them or their personal circumstances, they lose confidence in democracy and the enemies of democracy benefit. That is why the democratic parties would be well advised to put the people of Europe, instead of the banks of Europe, at the center of their work. In case of further Russian action, for example against eastern Ukraine, would Europe be willing to impose economic sanctions? Yes. The EU has agreed to impose tough economic sanctions, if necessary. But if that becomes the case, EU citizens will also have to be braced for the counter-effects of these sanctions. People have to know that sanctions could lead to big increases in energy prices, which, in turn, would be a huge burden on our economy. People have to be told that, but I think the EU is ready to deliver. How can we reassure the eastern EU members – Poland and the Baltic states? First of all, Poland and the Baltic states are members of NATO. And secondly, we have to think and act very pragmatically. The Baltic EU states depend on Russia for 100 percent of their energy supply. What is Russia’s interest? To sell energy and get hard currency. What is our interest? Sustainable energy security. I think we can find a common path. Russia’s own capacities don’t suffice to expand its infrastructure through the country’s gigantic expanses. The Russians need foreign investment. European industry, for its part, has great interest in direct investments. One can find a whole series of common interests. We should include them in the dialogue we conduct. The SPD was traditionally the party Jews identified with. From its founder Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-1864) to the mayor of Hamburg, Herbert Weichmann… But, except for Frankfurt’s mayor Peter Feldmann, today there are no Jews in prominent positions in the SPD. Could that be changed? Peter Feldmann revived the Jewish Social Democrat working group. I would welcome seeing more Jews become active in the SPD and gladly take your question as a suggestion that we should talk about it in the SPD… Do you unreservedly support Israel’s right to exist within the borders of 1948? Israel’s right to exist is non-negotiable, and certainly not for a German politician active in international politics. What do you think about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel? During my speech to the Knesset (12 February 2014) I spontaneously decided to add that the boycotting of Jewish companies at the European level is unconstructive. I believe that boycotts and the like would neither help the Palestinians nor change Israeli policy. Let alone that for me as a German, boycotting Jewish companies would be unthinkable. What constructive part can Europe play in the Middle East to help secure peace? I think we’re not yet capable politically to play the part that we would have to. We have not progressed enough in our foreign and security policy to allow us to stand up as a homogeneous unit. What the EU certainly can do, however, is the following: The more market integration we generate, the more access to the EU market we open up to Israeli and to Palestinian companies, the more sustainable our economic cooperation and our scientific collaboration is, the more prosperity will prevail. Social prosperity that brings economic security makes people more peaceful. Turkey strives for closer ties with Europe. Yet simultaneously it keeps part of an EU member state, Cyprus, under occupation, has blocked access to Twitter and YouTube and violates human rights. Is it thinkable that Turkey in its present disposition could become an EU member? We should acknowledge that in its first two terms, the Erdogan government introduced more reforms to put Turkey on a pro-European course than all other governments before it. But in its third term I’ve noticed that Erdogan and his party have been showing a different face, one that I hadn’t expected in this form, and which worries me very much. A country that seeks entry into the EU yet refuses, in violation of international law, to recognize one of its member states cannot expect to be granted membership until it does so. And anyone restricting freedom of opinion for party political reasons, as Turkey is doing at present, is parting ways with the EU’s values at the speed of light.     Martin Schulz has been President of the European Parliament since January 2012. He spoke to JVG editor Rafael Seligmann

Photo Credit: JVG

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