Have we lost control?
By Ole Aabenhus
"We live in a time when inequality explodes. Many people think of their children's future, wondering if the future of society will be more secure in financial and security terms and so on. Therefore: We must control and manage globalization for the benefit of citizens", says Jeppe Kofod, social democratic member of the European Parliament in an interview with myeurope.today.
"Many have the feeling that they have lost control of those events that determine their lives in a world of refugee flows, inflation, climate change, increasingly fierce competition for jobs, pressure on wages, working conditions".
Jeppe Kofod is hosting a seminar on January 25 in Brussels, where the "20 Recommendations For More Democracy in Europe", prepared by the My!Europe project, will be presented to MEPs.
"In the European context, we have a single market with free movement of labour. Many see the EU as part of the globalization problem rather than the solution to it. Thus, the EU is promoting uncertainty and that is probably why there is this scepticism. People just don't think that politicians come up with the right answer."
"The paradox is that many Europeans according to the polls are favourable of European cooperation, but many have no sympathy for what the EU has delivered so far. I can understand that, for the policy that the Commission has produced in many years has been lopsided. We have had centre-right heads of the Commission for 12 ½ years - first Manuel Barroso twice and now Jean-Claude Juncker - and they pull in a certain direction ... "
And that direction is neo-liberal direction?
"Yes, a neo-liberalism that does not protect workers' rights properly, that does not take social issues seriously enough, dismantling jobs instead of investing in new ones. These are things that people react against. So a different policy would increase confidence in European cooperation, I think. "
Struggles behind closed doors
"I think it is vital that we become much more open, transparent, democratic - opening up for discussions and getting them out into the open, so that citizens can see which politicians are fighting for which aims".
"Too often we see ministers sitting in secrecy in the Council of Ministers, diluting political decisions or adopting austerity policies that create mass unemployment across Europe. This is deadly to democracy. We must have such things out in the open, for we live in a world where many problems are transnational. No European country can solve problems alone. "
The national parliaments of the game
Many have said that the EU lacks a common public sphere, that the citizens of the 28 countries can relate to. The solution lies with the national parliaments, says Jeppe Kofod - rallying to one of the points in the "20 Recommendations": "The way forward has to strengthen national ownership, e.g. via national parliaments, so that they assume part of the responsibility. It is in the framework of national democracies that one can make cooperation flourish."
"In the EU, we are Danes, Germans, French, Czech, so when we must cooperate, we must do it from the bottom up with a strong involvement of national parliaments, the national public, civil society and so on. There are still people who imagine that they can make a federalist super-state in Europe, but I think that is the wrong way to go."
Is the idea of European superstate not dead already, I ask.
"Well, you spend less than 1 percent of the gross domestic product of the European Common. 0.83 percent return for the member states in the form of agricultural subsidies, structural funds and so on. It is 0.2 percent of gross domestic product we use common in Europe, so the EU is of course in no way a superstate ".
What could the European Parliament do to make people participate more at the European level?
"The European Parliament should focus on its core tasks: We need to be the guardian of transparency, openness and democracy in the EU", says Jeppe Kofod.
Specifically, he points to the fact that Parliament during the Greek crisis invited Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister to an open debate in Parliament so that people could see the political differences in the answers.
But he lacks the kind of open hearings, where Parliament could call the Commission to account in full transparency, like in the US Congress.
One of the places where such hearings do take place already are in the Special Committee of Inquiry set up on Diesel Gate (Volkswagen factories software scams) and the one on tax evasion and money laundering - one of the committees where Jeppe Kofod is a member.
Juncker's tax haven
Speaking of tax havens, something that really offends people, is that Jean-Claude Juncker, the Chairman of the Commission, during his time as finance minister and prime minister in Luxembourg was so heavily involved in tax manipulation.
"Juncker has a responsibility for what happened during his time in office in Luxembourg. That means that he must clean up the mess he made himself and support the legislation that we are now working upon. But not only Luxembourg is involved. There are a great many EU countries, which are themselves tax havens or help others to save their business, evade taxes or, what is worse, - even assist in money laundering. They all have a responsibility".
"There are some tax rules that apply to the ordinary citizen and the small businessman, but there are specific exceptions for the largest companies and the wealthiest citizens. This is completely unsustainable and highly destructive for democracy".
Should Juncker not go after all the revelations that have come about Luxembourg?
According to Jeppe Kofod the crucial is that the fight against tax evasion and tax havens should be a key issue in the work program of the Commission. It is. "We've got new legislation, e. g. In relation to Luxembourg, with automatic exchange of all fiscal decisions, and there are additional clean-up work on the road".
"Juncker has to be accountable, but there is a structural problem, there are governments and finance ministers all around who have to some degree assisted in maintaining tax havens and tax evasion".
Jeppe Kofod hopes there will be more openness in the debate on tax havens, "my experience is that it helps."
Support for public activities across borders
In the "20 Recommendations For More Democracy in Europe" the My! Europe project calls for more support to those for citizens' activities across borders. Does Jeppe Kofod agree?
"Yes, I do. And there are also a lot of ideas in your catalogue, - like international political festivals - which I think Parliament should address. It's a really good idea, I think."