Gibt es bald eine Europäische Union ohne Großbritannien? Frühestens 2016, jedoch spätestens für 2017 ist ein Referendum geplant, welches über den Verbleib der Briten in der EU entscheiden soll. Michel Boldt, Mitglied der Politikum-Redaktion, sprach am im Februar mit zwei englischen Europaabgeordneten über diese, und andere Herausforderungen.
Die Beziehung zwischen Großbritannien und der Europäischen Union ist seit eh und je keine einfache. Aktuelle Umfragen zeigen, dass ein Großteil der britischen Bevölkerung die Mitgliedschaft in der Europäischen Union als negativ wahrnimmt bzw. diese vollständig ablehnt. Schon vor der vergangenen Unterhauswahl am 07.05.2015 kündigte die Conservative Party für 2017 ein Referendum an, das über die Teilhabe und Teilnahme am Projekt Europa entscheiden soll. Wider Erwarten hat die Conservative Party die Wahl mit einer absoluten Mehrheit gewonnen und wird nun die nächsten fünf Jahre mit David Cameron ihrer Spitze von Westminster aus regieren, sodass das Referendum, und somit auch die Möglichkeit des Austritts Großbritanniens (zumindest Englands) in greifbare Nähe rückt.
Das Ergebnis des Referendums wird, wie auch immer es ausfallen mag, den Streit über den Verbleib Großbritanniens in der EU erneut auf einen Höhepunkt treiben. Paul Brannen und Judith Kirton-Darling, beide Labour-Europaabgeordnete vom Nordosten Englands, haben dazu einige Fragen beantwortet. Judith „Jude“ Kirton-Darling hat bereits über 15 Jahre Erfahrung in der Labour and Trade Union Bewegung und wurde bereits 2011 als Confederal Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation bestätigt. Seit 2014 arbeitet sie im Committee for International Trade und im Committee on Petitions. Paul Brannen hat seine politische Erfahrung während seiner 5-jährigen Amtszeit als Councillor in Newcastle, sowie mit zwei Kandidaturen als Parlamentsabgeordneter in 1997 und 2001 sammeln können. Nachdem Paul seinen Master in Betriebswirtschaftslehre abgeschlossen hatte, arbeitete er als „Head of Advocavy“ für eine Wohltätigkeitsorganisation in London.
Interview vom 27.02.2015
Michel Boldt: Mr. Brannon and Mrs. Kirton-Darling, what do you think are the most important things about the European Union?
Paul Brannen, MEP: Well, there are several things, but the standout one is, it’s a way of enabling what is now 28 countries to work together at a political level. And I think, it’s not factually so provable that ability to work together at the European level. Warfare sense in the history of Europe before 1945, and 100-150 years before that, is a bloody history. I think the European Union played a key role in ensuring peace in Europe since the end of the Second World War. So no country that’s ever joined the European Union has ever gone to war against another country in the European Union. This is always a danger sort of forgetting that, because we kind of take peace in Europe for granted. You have got to be over 70 years old to remember the Second World War and obviously there is less and less of those people around, no more of people for whom the memory of the Second World War – there is no personal memory, it’s a historical issue and there is a danger there of people forgetting to put that as the number one.
Judith Kirton-Darling, MEP: I think Paul is absolutely right and I think that’s the thing which is the least discussed part of reason. People come up with economic arguments and with social arguments and cultural arguments - but ultimately the EU is a peace project build around economic integration. […]
Michel Boldt: Paul, you started with telling something about the history of the European Union as a peace project. So, do you think it was a mistake not to join the European Union at its inception?
Paul Brannen: Well, I think this is a very difficult question at once. It’s now really as quite a long time ago that the European Union or the start of the process began. And in some ways I’m not sure how useful it is to have an answer to that question. There was obviously a period when Britain did decide it wanted to join and France’s Charles de Gaulle blocked us joining.
Michel Boldt: Two times.
Paul Brannen: And we eventually did join. The important thing is, that we did join and we all sit in here as members of the European Union, long may that continue. You can speculate either way as to what the pros and cons were of us not joining at the beginning. But that’s what has happened and we can’t do anything about it now. But I guess it ties in to the narrative, alas, that we were reluctant Europeans. And that is still an issue. Our behaviour now in relation to the European Union though, even if we had joined at the very beginning, we would still be seen as reluctant Europeans. It wouldn’t have solved the problem, I don’t think.
Michel Boldt: My impression is that migration is a very big topic at the moment – UKIP ‘won’ the European election – I mean, that’s a fact when you take a look at the election outcome. How does UKIP affect your work?
Judith Kirton-Darling: I think the effective UKIP is the disruption that they create. So in the past, UKIP were elected in the European Parliament and they took the money, they turned up, they signed their expenses forms, they claimed their salary and they didn’t participate in any active way. They used the European Parliament basically as an extension of their You-Tube Channel and it was all about grandstanding and making a soundbite. […]
I think it brings us down to the gutter and that’s the basic objective of UKIP in the European Parliament, so I think they’re undermining the capacity to deal with the big problems and they are not representing there the people who went out and voted in the European elections in any meaningful manner.
Michel Boldt: But I think people believe them, partly because of their scepticism –
Judith Kirton-Darling: Do you think people believe them or do you think people just distrust everybody else? Because I think it’s the latter. I think there is a lack of trust in political parties. I think UKIP is setting themselves up in a very dishonest way as a non-political political party. […]
I think on people’s concerns: The future of the NHS [National Health Service] and education. That UKIP are using that, that concern to their own political ends without being honest about what they’re actually pushing for in terms of policy, so I think that is a backlash against traditional politics, but not of massive vote in favour of UKIP – if you like. Maybe Paul has something to say there.
Paul Brannen: I would agree with that. I mean, the experience with the European elections was, that winning votes was less on their policy on leaving the European Union and a less more on their policy about immigration. Economically the country is in a difficult place and certainly was in May of last year. And for many people in the North East times are really quite tough. We have seen it before in European history when people blame the outsiders: ‘We wouldn’t have all of these problems if we didn’t have these immigrants come in.’ That’s a story that at last gets told over and over again in history and I suppose one of the things that we have to do is we have to raise our game in countering that narrative approach and say and pointing out to people in other facts of the situation. […]
The big thing there, the big lesson for us on the left is that we need to be much clearer and on a regular basis to people about the benefits of being in the European Union. That’s our job. Our job isn’t so much to argue with UKIP about policy, our job is to get out there and tell people: these are the benefits of being in the European Union and then by default you are in the argument with UKIP.
Michel Boldt: The idea of ‘Britain is better off Europe’ is being pushed forward. There is a referendum planned in 2017. How likely is it that this referendum would be successful and at the end of the day Britain would leave or could leave the European Union?
Paul Brannen: As it currently stands in February 2015 there will not necessarily be a referendum in the near future in the next few years. Whether there is a referendum will depend on the outcome of the general election in May, so if the Labour Party won, our position would be not to have a referendum. […]
So our approach is to make sure that we are out making the case for a continued membership and encouraging others to come out and make the case as well. So when Jude and I have a meeting with businesses, one of the things we always say is that: `what’s your view and if you haven’t got a view maybe you should sit down at board level and decide what your view is and if you’re pro, please come off the fence and articulate it and learn from the lessons in Scotland where there was a referendum where business came very late off the fence into the debate.´ […]
Judith Kirton-Darling: I think the only little edition, I agree with Paul, is that I think that part of that making the case for a place in Europe is making Europe personal. I think part of the attractiveness of Scottish independence in the Scottish referendum is that kind of rosy glow vision that UKIP present if Britain were outside, kind of some mythical 1950s Britain outside the EU. […]
It’s much stronger to be sticking together in the biggest trading block than to be a very small boat bobbing about in a very volatile sea, so I think that case for Europe has to have the economic hard-nose argument and the emotional, personal argument.
Michel Boldt: Why is there so much scepticism then?
Judith Kirton-Darling: Well, I think it’s not just Europe. This scepticism, a broader scepticism, in society is about all kinds of areas of power: for example if you look at public polling around trust and the way that public trust and people’s trust in institutions has developed. In the last ten years there have been dramatic changes in the trust that the public put into different institutions. And today politicians find themselves in the lofty company of bankers and estate agents which is a pretty grim place to be, but that’s partly because there have been some real abuses of public trust and that has to be faced up to. […]
Another thing is that political education is really crucial, because without political education you can have complete public capture by specific quested interest and that’s what the right wing media had. They had the free reign in the last 20 years to set the agenda on how what Europe looks like and what Europe is doing, because there hasn’t been that political education in schools and in public debate. And I think that’s something which has to be addressed and it’s not just, for Europe it’s probably more pressing, but I think it’s equally important that the people understand how their local council works.
Michel Boldt: So, how do you ‘tackle’ this lack in political education? And how do you advert the European Union? The only thing I have seen so far is a sign which says: ‘This project is funded by the European Union’ or ‘subsidized by £50,000’ – that’s not very much. I don’t say this is very different to most other countries, but this is just what I have noticed here in Newcastle.
Paul Brannen: If you look at other European countries, to some extent, those countries we began by talking about, what are the advantages of the European Union, and we both cited the EU being a mechanism to make sure that we don’t go to war with each other again. I mean if I was pushed then on the second thing which I think is European Union has been uncontinuoused to be a mechanism whereby money is redistributed from the rich to the poor, so from the richer countries to the poorer countries. So historically when the likes of Ireland, Spain and Portugal joined, they were net recipients of and they had big infrastructure projects, which were clearly marked as being funded from European Union and I think if you lived through that period any of those countries were very aware of the fact of the European money coming in. […]
But it is also within the richer countries a distribution of money to the poorer areas, so we in the North East are a net recipient of European funds. And it is not as clearly flagged up as probably it could or should be.
Michel Boldt: Spain does it very well – signs everywhere. […]
Judith Kirton-Darling: I think there is an extra dimension to it. If you think about the example of Spain: The Spanish, Portuguese, Greeks and Irish were subject to massive cohesion funds, which were specifically targeted at them from the European Union, so they had a whole set of money, which was quite separate to the structural funds in the Regional Development Fund. […]
For example, for us as MEPs to get those stories out, to get those personal stories of `the white van man´ from Jarrow in South Tyneside who I met on the campaign, who got his one man band electrician company supported in its start up through European small business development money in grant to get his business going now. He doesn’t drive around the region with the European flag on his van, but his business wouldn’t exist without that European money. So it’s making sure that those stories get out, because the value for the EU has slightly gone under the radar.
Michel Boldt: Paul, you have already mentioned that Britain could be seen as, let’s say, the ‘awkward partner’ of the European Union. How important for the EU is it to have an ‘awkward partner’? – if you know what I mean.
Paul Brannen: I don’t think there is an intrinsic importance that comes from being awkward, I mean nothing. It’s maybe making an advantage out of a, making the best out of the situation. I mean, I think, not the more countries are constructive in their engagement with the European project the better. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for disagreement and seeing things differently. And certainly in my relatively short experience being a member of the European Parliament it is clear that you get different views from different geographical parts of the European Union. […]
I guess the difficulty, the key thing that we would like to take out of the mix is the uncertainty around whether or not Britain is going to stay. I don’t think that is a helpful thing and it doesn’t really exist in relation to any other country at all.
Michel Boldt: Do you think a step in the right direction would be to join the Euro? So, are there still valid arguments to join the Euro, I mean, it would take you a little bit further away from the side line, because you would obviously be more integrated.
Paul Brannen: It’s not in play as an argument at the moment. I mean, it’s a non-issue, it’s not foreseeable in the shorter or medium term that Britain would join the Euro. And therefore, by the time we get to the point where it might be the context would have completely changed. […]
Jude Kirton-Darling: I mean the reality when the Maastricht Treaty was being negotiated and the question of whether Britain would join to today is a completely different political context and I think to be fair to him, Gordon Brown and Ed Balls made the right call not taking Britain into the Euro and I don’t think that’s just that the five tests weren’t met. I think it is also that the Euro is flawed as a system, it was flawed right from the beginning. I think you can’t have a single currency with only common monetary policy. […]
What is important though, that it’s highly likely that the Eurozone will either have to deepen its integration or will fragment. And fragmentation of the Eurozone, I think, is really worrying. I think it’s quite, the idea of go and return every trenching and going back to the national currencies which have massive economic ramifications and so, you know, that has to be dealt with really carefully. I think what’s likely to happen is that there will be greater integration and that greater integration then poses questions for those countries, and we’re not alone. The UK is not the only country that is not inside the Eurozone. But for those countries who are outside and how we fit into European integration going down the line, so that’s where I think the two questions link of whether the UK is awkward or not. […]
Michel Boldt: I have one last question, which is aiming at the PEGIDA demonstration on Saturday [28.02.2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne]. PEGIDA has its roots in Germany, why will there be a PEGIDA demonstration in Newcastle?
Jude Kirton-Darling: I think this is very cynical. The North East has the highest unemployment in the country. We’ve been hit the hardest by council cuts. There are people who are very angry and they don’t know how to channel that anger into a way which is improving the situation. In the context of that public anger, far right groups always benefit, because they present very simple, and I think Paul actually said it in a previous answer around scapegoating and targeting and other. Sometimes that other is, you know, as somebody who is on benefits, so they might be from within your own community, but you target somebody we taught in society to always kick downwards, to always kick the person who’s below you and is trying to aspire to rise up and the whole process is kicking downwards and I think PEGIDA is a great example of that spreading of division and spreading of hate and racism, presenting a very simple answer to a very complex question. […]
I think PEGIDA is basically an affront for those same extreme right forces who’ve marched and tried to mobilize across the North East before and they target the North East because they think they have got a seat bet on which they can fertilize their really poisonous seeds and that’s why I think it’s really kind of moving that people from across the country have said that they are going to march against PEGIDA in Newcastle – making a symbolic statement that they are not welcome here, that they don’t represent us. […]
Michel Boldt: Alright, thank you very much for the interview.