cafebabel.com: What do you think the reasons are for the success of the right in the last European elections?
Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca: In the European elections, unfortunately, national issues are still very dominant, so you should in fact study these elections from the perspective of the twenty five different member states. If one had to establish a general European framework for these elections, I would say that for the European citizen these elections were based on effectively two elements: economics and international politics. We live in a time when the attention of citizens is increasingly focused on international policy, as things that happen thousands of miles away can have decisive consequences for Europe. [As a result] foreign policy, which traditionally has not been a decisive issue for European citizens, now is.
cafebabel.com: As you mentioned, the 25 member states are various shades of both left and right. Do you think that a European constitution can reconcile all these constituent parts?
Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca: The constitution is a result of consensus among all politicians; it is a result of an agreement, a balance, whereby people of the centre-right and people of the-centre left feel comfortable in each others’ company. But who opposes it? The extreme-right and the extreme-left. [This is] because it’s a constitution that is moderate in its approach and conception, a constitution that tries to be based on principles and values that can be shared by every European citizen who possesses common sense. That’s why the socialist parties and the centre-right parties are both supporting this constitution, [whereas] you find strong opposition in the extremes of the politic spectrum…which are outside the [political] system.
cafebabel.com: But you can’t deny that there is a growing far-right, or indeed far-left, element out there; UKIP for example. Surely if they are not attended to, that might represent problems for the future?
Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca: Yes, you are right! There is a problem. There are certain issues that favour the revival of these extreme political positions. For example, immigration: it is very easy to excite xenophobic sentiments in people because of immigration. Or even the need for structural reform [of] the welfare system, which…can be exploited by extreme-left proponents. People are very worried about security and criminality; this is what transforms into winning votes. I think that the solution [to this problem] is for the big moderate parties (centre-right and centre-left parties) to work as a team in supporting the basic principles that make up our democratic society. And the second thing is leadership; we need in our governments and in our parties people with real leadership [skills], that can nurture trust from the people. So these are the elements that we must use to fight against the survival of extremism: leadership, team-work and agreement within and amongst the main parties
cafebabel.com: The majority party grouping in the European parliament is right-wing. Do you feel that this represents the Europe of today?
Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca: Well, it reflects the majority of the EU as a whole….but that can fluctuate. The parliament has had a socialist majority in the past. The majority is moderate and centre, it can be sometimes be centre-right or centre-left; it depends on the evolution of public affairs or political issues. But the vast majority are in the political centre.
cafebabel.com: Is the accession of Turkey to the EU a subject that the right is comfortable with?
Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca: Turkey’s accession [will not be immediate]. They were given the status of ‘candidate country’ and a recent commission report stated that since all constitutional, legal and economic reforms have been satisfied, negotiations should begin. [The commission] reiterated that in legal and constitutional terms, they have made great progress, but implementation in real or practical terms needs a lot of work. In theory, the Turkish constitutional and legal system is now impeccable with respect to human rights, but if you go [into] prisons, courts of justice, police stations, etc. perhaps human rights are not sufficiently implemented in reality.
[However] We should open negotiations - the process will be long, but if during this period Turkey proves that at the end it complies with EU requirements in theory and in practice, then they should be given the opportunity [to join the EU]. If we prove to the world that a society in which 98% [of the population] is Muslim can be transformed into an open society, a true democracy as we under stand it in the West, it is worth the perceived risks. It will be a vindication of the European model. I know that many of my colleagues are sceptical and are not in favour of starting negotiations, but I think it is worth trying.
cafebabel.com: Finally, are you happy with the new commission…do think it may reflect one political persuasion over another?
Alejo Vidal-Quadras Roca: No, it’s a very balanced commission where all political families are well represented in a very balanced way. After all these problems we’ve had over the last weeks, now it’s a commission that can do a good job. Barroso is a very competent political leader and within the commission there are very bright personalities suited to the tasks that they must do. One thing that has emerged is that we have worked as a real democracy. The Parliament has sent the message to the member states ‘Don’t send us just anyone as commissioner, because we will analyse them, scrutinize them very carefully and if we find they are not right for the job, we will reject them’. The member states have been obliged to accept this challenge, as the Italian, Latvian and Hungarian governments know too well. In this sense, the experience has been a democratic improvement in the life of the European union…it shows that the parliament is there not just there to rubber stamp things.