The 2014 European Elections: Mr Lamberts, what have been your achievements as an MEP?
Looking ahead to the elections to the European Parliament on 25 May next, Europeinfos is conducting a series of interviews to shed light on the role and work of Members of the European Parliament.
Philippe Lamberts is a Belgian MEP and member of the Greens/European Free Alliance. Elected in 2009, he sits on the Committee on European and Monetary Affairs (ECON) and on the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.
Mr Lamberts, could you describe to us your best experience, or what you regard as your greatest achievement during your five years in the Parliament?
My greatest source of pride is to have contributed to the re-regulation of the financial sector. Accounting transparency (a prerequisite in the fight against tax avoidance), setting ceilings on bonuses, our first prohibition of a financial product, restriction of speculation on raw food commodities: we would never have logged so many marks of progress if the Greens had not been present in the European Parliament. What is more, the credit for these achievements is to be laid at the door of a remarkable team, the best one I have ever worked in during the course of my career, constituted around the trio that I formed with Sven Giegold and Pascal Canfin before he left to join the Ayrault government [in France]. We achieved our victories precisely because we held the same views on both objectives and strategy, had the skills needed for the issues tackled, formed a solid bridge with civil society and, above all, we had complete trust in each other at all times. Having said that, a lot remains to be done in this domain: separation of investment banks from retail and commercial banks, drastic reduction of bank indebtedness, regulation of shadow banking, banning of toxic products and activities such as high-frequency trading – all these are areas of work that we shall need to embark upon in the next parliamentary term.
Could you describe to us your worst experience?
I have felt despair every time when the European Parliament has been crushed – whether in the face of pressure from the Council (meaning the Member State governments), as was the case over the multi-annual budget for 2014-2020, whether in the face of lobbies, as has happened on so many occasions. The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which got off to quite a good start, was then subjugated to the demands of agro-industry interests. I’m also thinking about how we abandoned all the serious objectives in the environmental field.
But going deeper than that, what stays in my mind as the this term’s worst setback is not having been able to prevent the unleashing of one-track thinking in response to a crisis which it had itself generated. While it has been arguing for budgetary responsibility and a return to competitiveness, it became obsessed with cutting public spending, salaries and social protection. What did this lead to? Today it is the weakest who pay the highest price for the crisis. It is impossible not to see that there lies the main reason for the increasing rejection of the European project by our fellow citizens. When Europe gives the impression that it is working against the interests of the majority, we should not be surprised that the majority is now fighting back.
What do you see as the core of your role as an MEP?
In the 21st century, human societies are confronted with two challenges which threaten their very existence: first, the growing inequalities both between and within the societies themselves and, second, their ecological footprint that, every day, exceeds the physical capacities of our planet. The response to these challenges should be at the core of political action: how to give to everybody – not just to a minority – the possibility of leading a life worth living while respecting the limitations of the planet. In raising that question, we see immediately that no Member State, not even the most powerful, has the capacity to face all these challenges alone. In the absence of a world-wide democracy, working on a European scale seems to be an essential lever to give us a chance of success. Come to think of it: issues that are impossible to handle solely at national level, such as the ‘redomestication’ of finance, regaining sovereignty in the face of multinationals, the energy revolution, are becoming achievable when Europeans pull together.
Which political figure or figures most inspired you to become involved in European politics?
The person who comes to mind is Jacques Delors. While he certainly was not a true believer in environmental protection, he still had a very strong feeling for the need for social justice and that for me made him one of the great Europeans. I’m also thinking of Stéphane Hessel, whose indignation I share – as driver of commitment to a radical transformation of our world. Going outside politics, I can name you Fr Roger Schutz, founder of the ecumenical Taizé Community. Taizé is without doubt one of the places where you can experience and live a little of the soul of Europe; but more fundamentally, I share his decided leaning towards confidence. The challenges of this century may rightly paralyse us; in our heads we know that the battle is already lost. It is only in betting on confidence that we give ourselves a chance, even the tiniest of chances, to win it.
What in your opinion is missing at the level of organisational structure or actions of the European Parliament?
The issue of Europe has become an issue of democracy. The response to the crisis has in reality worsened the democratic deficit which leaves its mark on the actions of the European Union, including the Council (i.e. the Member State governments). I have already stressed the fact that current policies only serve to preserve the interests of a small number of citizens, thus bringing their legitimacy into question. This goes together with the fact that the political choices leading to these decisions are more and more the outcome of events or processes that are only put up for democratic debate as a mere formality – if at all. Hence, in economic matters, the European Commission is not in any way accountable to the European Parliament, and even less so is the European Central Bank – which has become a key actor. As for the Member State governments, they normally present their national parliaments with a fait accompli with regard to the decisions that they have themselves taken “in Brussels”. It is a matter of urgency to put this situation right: there must be public debate – in Brussels, in Strasbourg, in the capital cities of the 28 – on the alternatives for society. What balance should there be between solidarity and responsibility? What degree of social protection do we want? What distribution of work, of wealth, of national resources? What should be the roles of the State, the market and the tertiary sector? How do you get our societies to evolve towards a model designed to accommodate the limits of this planet? What balance can we find between public security and private lives? We have all these challenges, and many more, which cannot be decided behind closed doors by so-called “experts” who are only too often sitting in the pockets of private interests.
The interview was conducted by Johanna Touzel
Translated from the original text in French