Josep Maria “Raimon” Obiols i Germà is a Spanish politician and Member of the European Parliament for the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, part of the Party of European Socialists.
Ramon Obiols comments during the interview on EU-Turkey relations, the accession process and how the economic crisis is affecting Europe.
ABOUT EU-TURKEY RELATIONS
Last 21st of January we participated in the AFET Committee Meeting, which focused on the 2012 Turkey Progress Report written by rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten (Group of the European People’s Party) Its focus was on- just as the previous one- the interdependence between Turkey and the European Union (EU).
We also assisted your intervention as the Shadow Rapporteur and we would like to know more about your opinion on this topic. In fact, we shared with you the idea that “the EU-Turkey accession negotiation process in general is a positive experience even though the progress is slow” and we do hope that the EU and Turkey enhance their political understanding.
Besides that, as part of EPN, we are also very interested in your opinion on an economic level. In fact, we believe that the European Union needs Turkey’s economic dynamism.
Starting with a question regarding the Irish Presidency, we would like to know if you think the Irish Presidency’s priorities will change and affect EU-Turkey relations positively.
Yes, I think so, in the sense that things are changing in some national governments and their approach is becoming more constructive. The French government is an example, especially the new French presidency. The German position is changing as well, it’s not a huge change but their priorities are shifting and it seems that the next period in the negotiation process will be positive.
What about the differences between Irish and Cyprus presidencies?
Cyprus is certainly a controversial issue! It is one of the main problems; another one is the public opinion. Even so, we focused deeply on the relationship between Turkey and the European Union with a positive approach. Personally, I think that Turkey is in Europe, it’s a European country, therefore I hope there will be enough space for a compromise to reach some agreements in the future in relation to the accession in the European Union. This is my personal position but I am perfectly aware that there are a lot of problems. Cyprus is the main issue, but not the only one and here in the European Parliament we try to be positive. When I say positive, I mean to reach a larger majority and to help Turkey by adjusting the annual Progress Report in a positive way, thinking of the consequences that it will have on the EU and on the public opinion in Turkey. Even though, Turkish opinion is now more European orientated compared to the past years, there are still issues generating a sense of hypocrisy, such as the lack of progress in the negotiations. Here in the European Parliament, the majority is in favor and this is clearly encouraging. We have a good relationship with our colleagues in Turkey from all political parties and we try to be constructive.
According to Mr. Satoru Hayashi, President of the Japanese Business Council, Turkey is a gateway to Europe. What is your point of view on Turkey being a strategic bridge between Europe and Asia on an economic level? Do you think Turkey could bring something positive to Europe on an economical level?
It’s true that Turkey has a very good economic situation in this sense…
… Yes, because in Turkey, the society and the business community have had a lot of problems but there are stamina and strong energy – especially in the fields of education and business and it’s a very dynamic country. This is positive for Turkey and of course for Europe. On the other hand, Turkey has a strong power in the region but now it’s in a complicated situation because of the war in Syria and the never ending problem between Israel and its neighbors, to be precise Palestinians. We agree in general with the diplomatic and political approach of the Turkish government.
So do you think that the situation with the neighboring countries prevents the negotiation process to advance?
No, no I don’t think so, I don’t see any problems there, on the contrary, in Europe they believe that Turkey has the power of stabilization in the region but there are a lot of obstacles concerning Human Rights!
ABOUT NEW EUROPEANS AND YOUNG TALENTS
EPN, in collaboration with UNITEE, has organized an event on the 2nd of March based on NEW TALENTS, which means young talented professionals with migrant background. The aim of this event is to give advice and inspire these talents to work within the EU Institutions and to offer the possibility to discuss the integration of cultural diversity within these institutions. We also want to tell them that the EU counts on future generations to bring a new dynamism to business. Probably the most important change in the future of Europe will be marked by the transition to an aging population structure and this is already visible in several EU Member States. How do you think this will affect us? How do you think the EU should approach and facilitate the integration of migrants in relation to this issue?
Yes, I think that we need a liberalisation policy for visas and in general the mobility issue represents a challenging and important objective for us, but the governments are reluctant… the public opinion is concerned about immigration and the populist wave doesn’t help … We must avoid clashes on this issue in order to reach a positive solution and to facilitate progress.
ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS
As a member of the Subcommittee on Human Rights we would like to know what you think about the democratization process in Turkey. The Report seems to underline that the membership negotiations have helped the democratisation and modernisation process in Turkey. However, there are forward and backward steps which have to be dealt with such as the liberty of expression in the media, the Kurdish party, the nationalist groups and the exclusion of the ethnic minorities. What is, in your opinion, the priority for Turkey in 2013 in order to improve the democratization process?
I think there are two main problems in this context. One problem concerns the judiciary system in Turkey, the other one terrorism. Although there is an evolution and some positive changes, we must face the fact that there are problems of warranties in the application of the anti-terrorist legislation. This is what interferes – on the whole – with the current Kurdish situation in Turkey. They are conscious in the sense that these issues must be solved and we appreciate the start of conversations between the Kurdish groups and the government. We also think that it is a complex problem, but talking and negotiating is essential to put an end to the problem. We must try to change the routes of violence and we must try to avoid the explosion of violence at any cost.
What is your opinion on the terrorist attack in Paris where three women were murdered by the Kurdish?
This is the proof that the problem is extending but we don’t know who the authors were. It’s a very complicated and terrible problem. Turkish politicians and the EU altogether must try to solve this problem from the historical point of view. I remember a British historian; I think it was J.A. Hobson who said that the last national problem to be solved in the whole world will be the Kurdish one!!
… Are you optimistic?? I try to be in general, but I am conscious that the problems are huge and the situation is difficult especially concerning the Syrian issue.
As you know, Turkey is writing a new Constitution; what is your opinion on this process?
If the new Constitution is approved it would be a good step for Turkey. I appreciate the good will of the parties, but the negotiation of a new constitution is very difficult. I hope they reach an agreement!
Why do you think the European policy towards refugees and asylum seekers became an issue of security? What is your opinion on the recent changes regarding citizenship in Belgium and the application process?
In general, Europe is not being very generous and the problem of refugees is terrible. We try to push in order to raise the amount of money to help it … but it’s not easy. I agree that we should do more because it’s not a local problem but an international one, and the EU should contribute more.
Across Europe, austerity policies and cuts did not help to have a good perception about the EU institutions. People are worried about their future at the moment due to the crisis. They tend not to consider the positive aspects of the EU, such as the implementation of environmental directives, the efforts towards gender equality and the re-launching of enterprises. This feeling of insecurity intensified Euroskeptiscism at the Member State level and at the international level. According to recent polls, support for European integration among Turks has dropped from 73 percent in 2004 to 40 percent in 2007, with only 45 percent of Turks supporting enlargement in a 2011 Euro barometer.
Well, this phenomenon is very European! I think Turkish people are absolutely in tune with the whole of Europe. This is a problem concerning the relationship between the regulated economy, the austerity issues and the power of democratic politics. People in Greece, Portugal, Italy, Spain and probably in other countries are very angry and disappointed but this is a problem of correlation between political forces in Europe. To give an example, here in the European parliament, the left and the center left positions disagree with these austerity policies because we think they have not done enough to solve the problem of the debt and deficits. It touches me deeply … the risk of social explosion is a reality. The Italian elections are an example; we have seen the rise of different positions and to a certain extent they are positive. I don’t agree with the idea that Pepito Grillo represents just populism and so on. Berlusconi is more of a demagogic populist but the “Movimento Cinque Stelle” is a sort of “experiment”, a new form of political action, of participation and deliberation. It’s very new and fascinating! Because they are parties of the 19th century, with programs of the 20th century but with the problems of the 21st Century! In some way this represents a huge contradiction and it should be solved in the future, otherwise we will fall into new forms of authoritarian power. I think the renewal of the democratic life is essential.
ABOUT THE EUROCRISIS
In which way can the EU Institutions generate a more profound “European sense of belonging” among the member states? Especially in Spain/Greece/Italy where the crisis is particularly harsh?
To be frank, I don’t know, we are in a very difficult situation and Europe is responsible for dealing with this question. It’s not easy! But the solution in my opinion would probably be a midterm solution with the rising of a more political EU, in the sense that we, as Europeans, are the only possible answer. The most important element for people is to understand. For example, during the 2007 Presidential Elections in France, in my town – Barcelona – people started to follow the debate between Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal mainly because it was delivered on 2 channels and people were instinctively involve. They were able to understand the change of tendency in France! At that time it was absolutely a new phenomenon. Over the years, there has been a change of perception and people are getting more open minded. If, for the next year’s EU elections, there are transnational candidates, it will be a sign of positive evolution.
ABOUT THE 2014 EUROPEAN ELECTIONS
What are your expectations?
I expect a shift to center- left in the European Parliament and. I sense the dispersion of populist and euro skeptical candidates, however, I wish for a change towards more progressive and more pro-European politics.
2013 EUROPEAN YEAR OF CITIZENS
How do you feel about the European years of citizens?
On the one hand, this year will be positive: there will be campaigns, activities and programmes on the other hand, we can also consider them marginal because the main issue remains the crisis and the politics related to the crisis.
… AND SOME PERSONAL QUESTIONS
Could you tell us how you reached your current position? And what challenges you faced on the way?
In fact, I am in politics in some way by accident because there was the dictatorship in Spain that pushed my generation to politics … to clandestine politics. Politics was clandestine for 20 years! … and then we had the first elections in Spain; I was a candidate and I was elected. Politics can be very addictive, interesting and frustrating in so many ways!
I started my career in politics in 1977 and I have never stopped ever since. The dictatorship was the main reason, because in 1959, when I was 19 years old, the situation in Spain was really hard! We were the “Indignados” of the era. Our goal was the political and democratic revolution; it was a sort of hybrid result between leaders of the power and the people. I am happy with the result of 35 years of democracy in Spain even though now we have terrible economical and social problems but that’s another story. Anyway the results were positive… during the civil war nearly 1 million people died, half million were exiled and then we made a change, a change towards peace and dialogue and I am more or less proud.
But of course now the situation is not good, we are in a globalized crisis and it has affected us and our neighbors from Wall Street in a question of seconds, it’s a very difficult situation. We are not used to solving these kinds of problems because they are global. The answer would be European politics… but it is very complex. We are always saying we are in crisis, but in some ways the crisis is not only financial and social but also political and moral. However, rather than thinking of a crisis, we must think of a change of tradition. A change of ERA, a change of moods, of people’s habits, of mentalities…
Do you think we will reach a political union in time? Well yes I hope so
Do you have any suggestion for young people wishing to have a career in the European Union? Do you have any particular tips for our young professionals?
No suggestions, I think they are clever enough to follow their own intuitions.