Democracy is crucial
European Parliament, seminar room, January 25, 2017
By Ole Aabenhus
"I like the idea that the European Parliament should be the guardian of democracy", said MEP Jeppe Kofod who hosted a seminar in the European Parliament on the "20 Recommendations For More Democracy in Europe". The recommendations are the end result of the My!Europe project, and developed through an 18 month process in 7 different European countries.
"I truly believe these recommendations deserve wide public – and political! – attention. It is an important role for the Parliament to ensure transparency, democracy, and active participation", Jeppe Kofod continued, "but I have to say, it's not simple. When we discuss transparency, we have to fight both the Commission and, in particular, the Council".
Other MEPs at the seminar agreed. Among them Svetoslav Malinov from Bulgaria, Margrethe Auken from Denmark, Julie Ward from Britain, and Julia Reda from Germany.
Jeppe Kofod used his work in the "LuxLeaks committe" - the special committee on tax evasion and fraud - as an example: "I worked - desperately to get access to some of the documents that will reveal what type of secret tax deals member states have made with big corporations, but we are not there yet. It's a disgrace for the European Union if we cannot hold our decision-makers accountable, especially now when we see what's going on the United States with the election of Trump and with populism on the rise in Europe".
"It is very important, perhaps more important than you think, because the time we live in there is a distrust between citizens and elite, big corporations, decision makers. Too many important initiatives on combatting tax havens and tax evasion are successfully blocked by a small number of countries in the EU - precisely because they can hide their true actions, in secret Council and Commission working groups. This has stalled European action on combatting tax fraud for years. We have to hold these countries accountable for their actions".
Pointing to the recommendation on whistleblowers, he said that we need a system for their protection. "The other day we had a hearing with banks, lawyers, auditing firms and so on, and it was estimated by one of the panelists that among wealth managers, 25 per cent feel that they would like to come out and talk about the illegal dealings they know of, if they were protected".
(The panelist was Brooke Harrington who wrote the book "Capital without borders" (Harvard University Press, 2016) on international tax evasion mechanisms)
In the LuxLeaks case, Luxembourg now prosecutes the employee and the journalists that revealed the LuxLeaks scandal, while the companies who committed these crimes are left untouched. "This illustrated that we need a common European framework to ensure protection of the employees, journalists and citizens who reveal malpractice, illegal activities and fraud".
The right of initiative
"It's a strange parliament, which does not have the right of initiative", Jeppe Kofod said pointing to yet another of the 20 Recommendations. "We can circumvent that in various ways but demanding the Commission to do something, but it is still very, very complicated".
Coming from the island of Bornholm, Denmark, which is home to a very successful political festival each year in June, Jeppe Kofod was a very positive to the idea:
"Dear friends: Let’s make this happen! So, that next time we meet, it will be in a field, somewhere in Europe – filled with tents and platforms hosting political discussions, events and happenings. Full of citizens from across Europe, engaging with MEPs, Commissioners, government ministers and high-ranking civil servants in constructive debates on what Europe we want in the future".