With the European elections a few months away in June 2009, Annemie Neyts, leader of the European liberal democrat and reform party (ELDR) uses the occasion of the party’s annual conference in Stockholm to assess the Barroso commission’s performance. To try and repeat their record result in the 2004 elections (102 MEPs), the 64-year-old is moving towards an ecological and social democrat position.
You point the finger at the enemies of liberalism. In Europe, who are these enemies?
To varying degrees, the social democrats, the old-fashioned socialists and the extreme right. And now the financial crisis is just fuel for their fire.
State intervention to save failing banks: is it a liberal or socialist measure?
It’s an effective measure.
Should we think about creating an ‘effective’ party?
All politics should not only be about effectiveness. If that were the case, we should follow China as a prime example, since Chinese society is very efficient in many ways. Moreover, the Chinese people have more freedom now than they have ever had before. But to get back to the question, when it comes to the economy, efficiency is what counts. You know, I really like the Dutch word for ‘economics' - we use the expression ‘State housework’ (‘Staatshuisverkunden’). Economic measures should not be taken with an ideological aim. If a state-controlled company is working well, and there is genuine competition which benefits the consumer, it should not be privatised.
So if the post office is working well, it shouldn’t be privatised?
That’s right, but there must still be a choice for the customer and unfortunately the post office is trying to make competition impossible for letters weighing less than 20 grams. That I don’t agree with.
Is state intervention necessary to overcome the current economic crisis?
Absolutely. The situation is very serious. The system created products which were completely removed from economic reality. Once the bubble bursts, there is no trust left and only the state can intervene to change things.
Have you always been in favour of market regulation?
Yes. My party and I have always defended it. We may fall into love with a market but there must be regulation.
Would a European authority to regulate the financial markets be a good thing?
Yes, but not to co-ordinate the markets. What is need is a system for supervision and checks on the markets. As banks become multinational, the systems which supervise them must become multinational too. That said, there are five such systems in the USA and that did not prevent the crisis.
You often criticise the passive attitude of the European commission’s president José Manuel Barroso. What should he have done?
He should have been the first to speak out, make a statement … Just like during the summer war in Russia and Georgia: he said nothing and let the heads of state and government carry on. I thought it was scandalous.
In two crises Nicolas Sarkozy has filled the void left by Barroso
He wonders what the use is of suggesting something and whether the 27 member states will accept it, but he should have come forward and taken hold of the fact that this is Europe’s time. But we have benefited from Nicolas Sarkozy’s energy during France’s six-month presidency of the EU. In these two crises he has filled the void left by Barroso.
Will you support Barroso for a second term at the head of the commission?
We don’t have anyone to suggest as an alternative candidate – within our party no-one has put themselves forward as a potential candidate. Personally, I’m very disappointed with Barroso. There seems to be no dynamism at European commission meetings. For him, being president of the commission is enough! That said, he is surrounded by very good commissioners: Meglena Kuneva (consumers, Bulgarian), Louis Michel (development aid, Belgian), Neelie Kroes (competition, Dutch)…
You place so much importance on the fight against climate change that you are encroaching on the territory of other groups like the green party…
But you know, in Scandinavia, the liberals in government are very committed to green issues. And we are really in the centre of the political spectrum. For these reasons I believe we can keep our 102 MEPs.