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“Europe as a scapegoat” (Interview)

11.07.2011 - Interview

In an interview published in Spiegel magazine on 11 July 2011 (edition 28/2011), Minister of State Werner Hoyer talks about the position of the EU in public opinion, the debate about the euro and Denmark’s introduction of border controls.

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Mr Hoyer, why has Europegot a bad reputation among people today?

People are still pro-Europe on fundamental issues. Polls show that the majority still want to have the euro. That said, it is true that the EU is not doing as well as it might in public opinion.

Why is that?

The political classes like to take anything that goes wrong and pin it on the EU. If something doesn’t succeed, then the EU gets the blame; if it does, the member states prefer to take the credit. I think that’s a mistake. On top of that, too many politicians lack the courage to push for greater integration. They are afraid of the political opposition to such measures.

That fear is not unfounded. Anti-Europe parties are making in-roads in Denmarkand Finland.

That is only partly about Europe. People are afraid of rising crime rates and social decline, and Europe makes a good scapegoat. But the societies which are slowly turning away from the spirit behind the EU are becoming more authoritarian and less tolerant. This is something I am very worried about.

There is not much enthusiasm for Europein evidence among German politicians either. MPs in your party are warning about the costs of Europe. The Chancellor is calling on people in southern Europeto work more.

I am not pleased that the debate is being conducted like this. For a start, we haven’t even got the facts right. If you look at holidays off work, we Germans are at the top of the list. We shouldn’t just talk about how much Europe is costing us; we should also talk about how valuable it is – and what it would cost us not to have Europe.

In the euro debate, the coalition can mainly be heard warning us that the EU mustn’t be allowed to become a union of financial transfers.

Even that phrase is misleading. We have had these transfers for years, in the form of agricultural and regional funds. They are a demonstration of European solidarity. What is true, however, is that we must not be made liable for debts accumulated by others. Otherwise, the system would break down.

Could the EU fall apart?

No. However, for the first time in the 25 years I have been in European affairs, I am seeing a real danger of backwards movement, not least on the big objectives of peace, freedom and prosperity. At the same time, we risk missing the opportunity to realign the EU, as we must, to accommodate globalization.

There is already backwards movement. Denmarkhas reintroduced border controls.

Denmark is setting a dangerous precedent. This is part of Europe’s shared achievements being sacrificed to right-wing populism. The rest of us in Europe must not stand silently by.

Jörg-Uwe Hahn, the Hessian Minister for Europe from your party, is even calling on holiday-makers to boycott the country.

I share his concern for what is a core European value and for Denmark’s image as the prime example of a cosmopolitan, tolerant country. Nonetheless, I don’t think threats and boycotts are a good idea, as that would be to play into the hands of these populists.

Reproduced by kind permission of Spiegel magazine.

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