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Article initialement publié par notre partenaire Eyes on Europe le 28/11/2019.
Ms Svenja has been a member of the European Parliament since June 2019, after the European elections. Coming from Hamburg, Germany, she did a master in media studies before joining the ALDE group as an executive member. In parallel, she joined the European Liberal Youth (LYMEC) in 2014, becoming the President last year. Today she deals with European affairs and challenges at the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) and the Delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (DASE) inter alia.
Q: Do you believe that we can be proud of the European Union today? Are we in a better shape than 5 years ago?
Svenja Hahn: I definitely think that the European Union (EU) has grown in the last years. There have been some crises but I am proud to see how the EU managed them. One of the main topics is migration and I’m proud of the solidarity that some countries have shown. On the other hand, we have seen a lack of responsibility from other EU member states and that the EU needs to have better working mechanisms in place.
There has been a lot of solidarity and support among the Member States. For example, during the Brexit negotiations, the EU has stood united as one and has not given up on fundamental EU values. So, I think that in all the crises that the EU has faced, it stayed united however there is still room for improvement.
Q: Is Brexit the direct consequence of a lack of European solidarity?
SH: Absolutely not. Brexit is the consequence of Brussels blaming, of a lack of responsibility of national politicians, of long-term populism. When we look at European politics and when we look at the UK level, there is the reflex of blaming the EU, not mentioning that at some point they have raised their hands and they have been part of the decision-making process in the Council or the Parliament.
When there is something working out fine, national politicians tend to take all the credit for that and not giving the reward that the EU deserves. But actually, European solidarity has been shown by the 27 other member states, working for good terms for the rest of the European citizens and for the UK citizens to make sure that their interests are covered. I personally hope that the Brexit is not going to happen. Let see what the December elections will go out because now people know what they would get through this accord. I will campaign to the last minute for the UK to remain in the EU.
Q: Have we not been too far with the Brexit negotiations, reaching a non-return point?
SH: From the EU perspective, there is no problem if the UK wants to remain. What matters is the situation in the UK. There is a huge split in the society for generations, reaching families, the work place, friendships etcetera. There is a wound in the UK society about Brexit. I think it is going to be very difficult and we need to show European solidarity and they will be welcomed if they decide to remain.
Q: What are the biggest challenges that the EU should deal with?
SH: It is about institutional reforms and the protection of democracy and the rule of law. As a member of Renew Europe group, our name is our agenda basically. We are pushing for a conference on the future of the EU, where new democratic reforms should be done, starting with one shared electoral law, maybe going to transnationalists, that was my preferred option but let’s take in account how we can redefine the decision-making process, giving more power to the European Parliament because it is directly elected by the European people. We need to defend democracy and the rule of law because some member states such as Hungary are undermining European law. We cannot leave European citizens alone if their governments are working against European law and against human rights. We need to work on a rule of law mechanism where we can link basic EU laws to the money that these member states are getting.
I think another big challenge is climate change. It trickles down into all areas of policy making but as well another topic such as digitization. The Committee for the Single Market is working on that and this is the first topic. We need to turn it from a buzzword into action. It ranges from infrastructures (where we have different starting points in the member states) to copyright topics, same framework legislations, digital services, cars, agriculture inter alia. This is very broad and this is a topic on which the EU should focus.
Now our biggest industries are old ones. If we do not go forward with the digitalization of the single market, it will be harder to keep up but the question is: who will be setting the standards, in artificial intelligence, in ethical standards and work standards and for us they must be based on European values.
Q: Digitalization also brings the security problem. Telecommunications instruments cost a lot of money and neither Orange nor Huawei want to pay for them. But they are necessary for the 5G deployment. Huawei has offered to install them, however it is connected to the Chinese government. Therefore, should we abandon security to all the financial benefits that the 5G could bring?
SH: I was extremely outspoken on this topic, being from Germany and it allowed Huawei to install 5G infrastructures. I think this is a strategic mistake because they are security relevant and strategic relevant infrastructures. I am in favor of fair competition, open market but in this area there is a need for security and I think it is a mistake to collaborate with a company that does not share the same values and respect for private life. Huawei is one of the actors, connected to the Chinese government but there is also Facebook and the EU should totally have a concrete position on these issues.
Q: Donald Trump has imposed taxes on imports on products coming from the European Union. Do you think that the idea of a European defense would allow us to “show our muscles” and thus avoid future US economic sanctions?
SH: I think we should not mix apples here. Defense Union and trade policies are different. I am in favor of a European defense. It has to be more deepened in itself. We have something in place with the PESCO but I think we should reduce the costs. I am in favor of a European Army and a Defense Union but this is something different. When we look at the trade situation, we have two issues. The first one is the EU has imposed tariffs on steel under the argument of protecting the national interests and the idea of: ‘if there is a war, we need our own growing businesses’. That is investigated by the WTO. I do not think that this is a valuable reason and for me this is protectionism from the US but we are operating under WTO rules and we respect them. The second issue is the so-called ‘Airbus-Boeing’ case. Rightfully the EU is allowed to impose counter tariffs because of illegal state aid for Airbus but the US did the same thing for Boeing so we are going to impose counter tariffs higher than the US. The situation is that the EU is very interested in negotiations and I was in favor of the TTIP but unfortunately it is stuck with Mr. Trump even if last year he met Mr. Juncker in order to include specific industries. The US wants to include agriculture, but the EU does not. We tend to be protectionists on what we eat and consume but we still are opened to discussion because I believe that there are no winners in trade wars and especially with the US which is a very valuable ally and partner. If the trade war continues, the winner will be China. This is going to be a very important topic in the next five years.
Q: We would like to focus on the new European Commission. Does the refusal of the Hungarian, Romanian and French Commissioners show that a commissioner must be irreproachable and are the European citizens responsible for having put some kind of pressure?
SH: I think it shows that the Parliament takes that role very seriously, because the European Parliament is the representation of the European citizens and they have a very important role in the decision-making process. In addition, it highlights the fact that the members of the European Parliament have high expectations for the European commissioners and they really care about transparency.
Q: What do you think of a Commissioner charged with defending the European way of life? In your opinion, is there a European way of life?
SH: There is no one European way of life, the European motto is “United in diversity”, so there are many European ways of life.
Q: During a conference with Federica Mogherini and Pierre Moscovici a few weeks ago, several critics pointed the lack of EU competence at the communication level. In fact, citizens are more interested in what is wrong than what is going to be done or what has been done. My question is: do you think that the next big challenge for the EU remains on its ability to value and defend its results, its outputs?
SH: European Union is a great success story with great achievements, we have good values but we certainly could be better communicant. Maybe we need to think about new topics and new ways to spread them. In Germany, on the most popular TV news shows, they explain every week what is going on the National Parliament so maybe we should do the same with the European Parliament. It is nice to talk about critics but maybe we need to explain to the European people how the EU works and explains to people the outcomes.
Q: And finally, a question a little more personal, if you had any advice to give to young students, what would it be?
SH: Definitely experience Europe. For me, Europe is a feeling of gathering people together. My advice is to travel through Europe, to study, to work, to learn in other countries, learn other languages and experience Europe by yourself. It is important to take every opportunity to experience Europe. When I was a student, I couldn’t experience the Erasmus program because I was not aware that there was youth financial aid, I didn’t know about that. So don’t be afraid, there is certainly a program to help you to achieve your dreams.
Jean-Stanislas Bareth and Thomas Rambaud are master students at the Institute of European Studies.