S&D; Group President in the European Parliament

“European leaders must speak clearly to people”, my interview for Times of Malta


interview by Kurt Sansone - “Times of Malta”, November 11th 2015

The Berlin Wall fell 26 years ago but today in Europe many more walls are being built. Is this disappointing for European socialists?

Yes, definitely. The illusion that walls can push back poor refugees who are escaping war is very preoccupying. We have to absolutely beat this temptation and reaffirm Europe as the principal bearer of solidarity in the world.

The socialists face the challenge of having to communicate a Europe of solidarity in a situation where the far right is using populist discourse. This also poses an electoral challenge. How does a socialist in Europe today overcome this challenge?

By speaking clearly to people without fear. First of all this is not an invasion. One or two million refugees [is not an invasion] when Lebanon, a country of 3.5 million people, is hosting 1.5 million refugees. Turkey is hosting millions of refugees. For a Europe of 500 million people, hosting two million refugees is not an invasion and not the end of the world. It is also absolutely false to believe that every migrant is a terrorist or a person who steals the jobs of our children and grandchildren. These fears stocked by a xenophobic and racist right wing have to be contrasted strongly: we have to reaffirm the value of hospitality. We have to have the capacity to identify those who need protection, the ability to relocate them among all members states and avoid countries like Malta, Greece and Italy shouldering the burden all alone, and work on repatriating those who have no right to be here.

This discourse is difficult to communicate with Europeans who have experienced joblessness as a result of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. How do you communicate solidarity [with migrants] to this Europe?

By having the patience to explain things. It is very simple to engage in demagogy and propaganda. This is the politics that leads to nowhere. It is the politics of destruction… it is easier to destroy than be constructive. But socialists, reformists and progressives have to build [a welcoming society] not engage in destruction.

The temptation to be populist exist in the Left as well. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat attempted in 2013 to push back asylum seekers but there has been a volte face since then. What happened?

I’ve known Joseph Muscat for almost 16 years… and always known him to take responsible, reformist and moderate decisions but never populist ones. I believe Joseph Muscat’s position is one of hospitality [towards migrants], relocation and an efficient EU foreign policy that tries to resolve the big Syrian question, stabilise Libya and bring an end to the problem of the Middle East [Israel’s occupation of Palestine]. Europe’s foreign policy should also put Africa at the centre… the Valletta summit, like Joseph Muscat said, could be a historic event and represent a step change in the relations between the EU and Africa. These relations should no longer consider Africa subservient or dependent on Europe but the two continents should be on an equal footing.

Are you positive the Valletta summit will have a historic impact?

I not only hope this is the case but along with the presidents of the European People’s Party and the Liberals I have written a letter asking the summit not to let people down. I should kick off a true programme of investment in education, rural development and give young Africans a future. But investment must not be conditional on African countries managing migratory flows. The two must be kept separate. Aids are absolutely indispensable and must not be conditional.

Is there a political solution for Libya?

I am in constant contact with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini, who is working silently and intensely and what she tells me is that a plan is being prepared and which all factions could be represented in a unity government. I am optimistic that stability could be achieved in Libya.

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