“Austerity was not the alternative!”, President Hannes Swoboda of the European Socialists and Democrats on another Sting Exclusive

 

Hannes Swoboda's exclusive interview by Carlo Motta at the Sting’s pavilion during EBS 2014

President Hannes Swoboda’s exclusive interview by Carlo Motta at the Sting’s pavilion during EBS 2014

This revealing exclusive interview with President Hannes Swoboda, President of the Progressive Alliance of European Socialists and Democrats (S&D), was conducted by Carlo Motta at the European Sting’s pavilion during European Business Summit 2014. In the following interview Carlo Motta will be signalled as C.M and President Swoboda as H.S.

 

C.M.: I am very pleased to welcome President Hannes Swoboda, President of Socialists and Democrats of the European Parliament. So, Mr President I would like to start with a research released on the 2nd of May by Eurostat. According to this study the Euro area’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 11.8% in March 2014. So this means 25,7 million men and women in the EU 28, of whom 18,9 million were in the euro area, were unemployed people in March 2014. So we have some interesting numbers like Greece 26,7%, Spain 25,3% were unemployed people against 4,9 % in Austria, 5,1% in Germany, 6 % in Luxembourg, with the unemployment rate of 22,8 %. What are the plans and the proposals of the S&D Group to help European Youth get back to life?

H.S.: Well, first of all we need better economic policy, giving incentives to investments, because investment is a key of creating new jobs; maybe investment in existing companies, maybe new companies, startups; secondly of course promote education and training, because we need well qualified young people; but of course well qualified people then have to find jobs that are more or less in harmony with their qualification or the qualification is in harmony with the job available. And of course we need not only more education and training, we need less bureaucracy to give incentives for new startups; there are a lot of things that have to be done; from macro-economic policy there is public investment that plays a bigger role, cause public investment is most going down, there is always public investment, and of course we need credits. The Banking Union, the safety net created for banks is very important because banks should give now more credit, especially to small and medium-sized industries.

C.M.: What is your opinion Mr President about the fierce austerity policies of the past years in Europe? Do you believe it was the only road to take to face crisis? What is the Socialists and Democrats’ resolution for economic recovery in Europe? To return to sustainable growth?

H.S.: Austerity was not the alternative. Now reforms are without alternative. Reforms are necessary. Especially in the countries you mentioned with a very high unemployment. Of course reforms were necessary but disturbing in the sense of cutting down too strongly and too quickly, thus creating more unemployment, and therefore we always proposed a longer term perspective of doing reforms, of cutting of course spending which is not necessary, redirecting spending towards investment, education and training, and to have a cut in the deficit and in the debt, which in the long run of course is necessary, combined with less unemployment and more future for the younger generation. So I think we proposed a lot of alternatives in our progressive economy proposals, partly they have been respected or accepted in the last years, but we have still a long way to go to be positive, to give the younger generation a positive sign that is a chance for you, there is a possibility, creating new mobility devices and possibilities, also in Europe. So there are many many things which still have to be done, beyond the simplistic   austerity policies of the past years.

C.M.: What do people expect from S&D nowadays in your opinion, and also what do you expect the election outcome to be for the Socialists and Democrats at the European Elections next week? And what new could your party bring to that new parliament?

H.S.: Well, of course, first of all we hope to gain further in these elections. It is not easy because if you fight for an alternative, there are other people who also fight for alternatives but with very simplistic and primitive remedies and conceptions like the extremists of the left or especially the extremists of the right. So we are in competition with all those who say “the present policies are not ok”, therefore we will see how the results will be. Secondly of course we started two very very important initiatives, the one is progressive economy and the other is jobs for Europe programme, where we go also more into details; and jobs, creating news jobs, promoting new industries is very important, especially industrial policy in Europe has been neglected very often. Competition policy alone is not enough; we need industrial policy for Europe to be competitive globally; we need international trade agreements which are respecting our peculiarities, our sensitivities but nevertheless open new ways of trade; there is a lot to do and I think socialists have a pragmatic attitude towards these issues; we are no lunatics and no opponents of for example trade, but it should be of course in harmony with our special interests as Europeans.

C.M.: This is very good to introduce my next question. Mr President you talked about trade before. We had an interesting discussion with Mr Tim Bennett, who is the CEO of the Transatlantic Business Council, and we had an interesting chat with him about TTIP. There are major obstacles on the way to an agreement; this is no secret. We discussed about data privacy and GMOs, which are very very important things for our citizens in the EU and future electors. We would like to hear from you your opinion on the compromise the European citizen should or should not make in order for the EU to benefit from a huge trade agreement like this?

H.S.: Well, I always said, also to the Americans, be pragmatic, go step by step, don’t think you can do it in one year, and be very open minded and transparent. Unfortunately, if some of the governments now who complain about secrecy are not helping in making the mandate very public. The mandate should be very public officially; there should be a discussion with the citizen. Now on the acceptance, I think there are many ways to deal with the issues; for example information. If people have enough information, if goods they don’t like but it is clear, they are informed where they come from, how they are treated, including GMOs, it’s a different thing. There are people that do not mind consuming, people who do mind can say so I don’t want this kind of product. So I do not think we should be ideological on this issue. For data protection yes here we need rules; the European Parliament since months has a concept of the basis of the proposal of the Commission, but the Council is not coming to the table to negotiate. It’s up to the government. I have always said, I don’t want to have a trade agreement with the US without sufficient data protection. We can do it. The Council just has to come and we negotiate as we do on other legislative acts and we have it. But it is very hypocritical of some of the Council members, some of the governments who speak loud about data protection but don’t come to the table. Who speak loud about transparency but are not ready to publicise the mandate for TTIP. That endangers this important project we have with the United States of America.

C.M.: I would like to get back to the elections for my last question. We recently released a story within the Sting about the alleged lack of interest of the European voters about the upcoming elections. Without getting again on numbers I can tell you that a lot of people, especially in countries like Italy of France consider the economy damaged by the EU in the last few years. What’s the problem behind this? It’s just communication or is there an actual problem now from the EU to help its citizen?

H.S.: Well, probably both. Many politicians if they hear negative things, they say they come from Brussels, if it is positive they say it comes from them. Let me take the two examples you mentioned. In France reforms are necessary. And of course not only reforms from France but in European policy. And much more should have been done already from the side of France to put the pressure on the rest of Europe to do what i said before a policy beyond mere austerity, and do of course the internal reforms. Italy, if you look at the difference between the north and the south, if there is a big gap, is not only in Europe, but the situation in Milano and the situation in Calabria is totally different. If a country cannot succeed in bridging the gap inside its own country, how can it be that Europe can help? So I think we need a better cooperation and readiness of national governments to use Europe as a positive instrument, and not only complain if things go wrong that again it was Brussels.

C.M.: That is an interesting point of view but I think that also when all those countries entered the EU we and they already knew about the differences and the breaks in between those markets. So, it’s not actually something new , which is happening now; it’s a very long coming problem.

H.S.: But this is my argument. That Europe helped with a lot of money but it was not used always in a very sufficient way; to build up the infrastructure, or industrial reforms, or to build tourism. I was recently in Calabria, I saw the potentiality of the region but not enough has been done; maybe not enough from Europe but not enough from Italy itself. So I think that is very important, that the countries don’t only put the blame on Europe but also do their job. And they didn’t do their job in the past in many many cases.-

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