IEP Lunch Debate with Axel Schäfer: „New Institutions, new policy? Expectations on European politics in Germany“

Gruppe 2

The IEP lunch debate on the topic of „New Institutions, new policy? Expectations on European politics in Germany“ with Axel Schäfer, MP and deputy head of the SPD parliamentary group, took place at the Representation of the European Commission in Berlin on 27 November 2014. Prof. Dr. Mathias Jopp, director of the Institut für Europäische Politik, moderated the event. An introductory speech was given by Bernhard Schnittger, head of the political division of the representation of the European Union Commission to Berlin.

Axel Schäfer pointed out that the EU was confronting low turnouts, rising Euroscepticism and a trend towards populist, radical right and extremist parties such as Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and Front National (FN). This was evidenced by the recent European Parliamentary elections. Apart from that, right-wing populist plebiscites in Switzerland were as much signs of growing nationalist tendencies as secessionist movements in Catalonia.

Such tendencies are contrary to the founding idea of the EU: to delegate national sovereignty to a supranational institution in order to preclude future wars. Based on this idea, the EU had evolved into a game-changing model. According to Schäfer, it therefore was with good reason that the EU was awarded the Nobel Price for Peace in 2012. He maintained that the outstanding achievements of the European project such as increased international understanding and the consensus beyond party boundaries in Germany on the peaceful settlement of conflicts should continue to be highlighted in the future.

Besides this, substantial progress has been made in the area of the EU’s democratic legitimacy. One example is the nomination of “top candidates” for the last European Parliamentary election. Furthermore, Schäfer complimented the established moderate parties within the EU on standing together in the face of extremism and Euroscepticism as recently shown by their consistent rejection of the vote of no confidence against Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. According to Schäfer, the Ukraine-Crisis has revealed that the EU is capable of acting together in a coherent way. This observation made him confident with regard to deepening the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

Notwithstanding his words of praise, Schäfer had several proposals on how to improve the functioning of the EU. For instance, there is the need to advance party democracy within the EU. This includes mutual electoral aid and regular political discussions between the national representatives of parties belonging to the same political “family”. Moreover, Schäfer called for closer cooperation between the European Parliament and the national parliaments. Annual conferences of both national and European representatives would offer a continuous platform for exchange allowing for better coordination and stronger emphasis on the interests of citizens within the EU, thus combating Euroscepticism and low turnouts in European Parliamentary elections. Schäfer concluded his speech with an appeal for people to engage in controversial debates on the EU at every level. This was the best way for creative solutions to be developed and the functioning of the EU to be continually improved.

By: Nora Happel