“Isn’t it rather that Europe turns away from the people?” This question from a Danish woman during a debate on why people turn away from Europe got Martin Schulz thinking for months. “This sentence really touched me," he told us a few months later in an interview. "Maybe it isn’t true, but we have to take this seriously, otherwise the European Union will fail.”
Schulz, who is the first EP president to get re-elected, is on a mission to bring Europe closer to the people. For him, the EU is not about creating the world’s largest single market, but about how it makes a difference to the lives of ordinary people every day. The EU should address people’s fears in order to tackle with euroscepticism and extremism.
Ensuring social justice
“The gulf between the rich and the poor in Europe is widening,” Schulz said. “More people find themselves in insecure work circumstances, while at the same time the super rich keep on getting wealthier. People don't consider this justified and this is what we should tackle.” He also called high unemployment among young people worrying. “We can reform the labour market as much as we like, but while there is no [economic] growth, these people will not get a chance and an entire generation will turn away from Europe. We risk losing a whole generation.”
Need to Europeanise politics
The former chair of the S&D group said people’s difficulties with Europe had nothing to do with a lack of information. “We can of course make the Parliament even more transparent, we can open even more information offices, but as long as there is a national filter for European politics, it is difficult to reach the people. Therefore, national politics needs to be Europeanised.”
Making the vote count
During the European elections this year, several political parties proposed a candidate for Commission president for the first time ever. Jean-Claude Juncker, as the candidate of the party that garnered the most seats, was given the go-ahead by the other political groups to try secure a majority for his candidacy. The Council later nominated him as their candidate for the post. Schulz, who was the SPE candidate, said this was a turning point: "If the Council had not taken Juncker, the next European elections could have been forgotten. Now we made one thing clear for the next European elections: the vote counts. If we organise it in the right way, we will have opened a new chapter of European parliamentarianism.”
We made one thing clear for the next European elections: the vote counts.
A stronger Parliament
The decision also reinforced the Parliament’s position. “I think the decision of the Council in favour of Juncker, who has been the candidate of the Parliament, means an enormous increase of influence for the European Parliament. In the last term my aim was to make the European Parliament as strong as the Commission and the Council. This will also be my main aim in the second term.”
Closer cooperation with the Commission
Juncker’s victory also resulted in Schulz standing again for EP president: “I had originally wanted to become Commission president, but the voters decided differently. It was then necessary for the two largest political families to collaborate to enable the Parliament and the Commission to work more closely together. So it made sense to me for one to be in charge of the Commission and the other to head the Parliament. The Commission will come closer to the Parliament and as a result be more legitimised. There will be a high convergence in the actions of the Commission and the European Parliament.”
The challenges ahead
Meanwhile Schulz has ambitious plans for the new term. “I want to strengthen the Parliament’s institutional role. I believe the European Parliament should focus on the main issues, such as the banks, youth unemployment, unemployment in general, climate change, the energy policy,” he said, adding: “The Parliament is becoming more powerful, more visible.”