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Stepping down

July 14, 2009

Poland's Jerzy Buzek has been elected the European Parliament's first president from the former-communist east. The right man for the job, says his predecessor Hans-Gert Poettering in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

The outgoing Poettering (middle) and the incoming European Parliament president Buzek (left)
Poettering (middle) said he's proud of the European Parliament's accomplishmentsImage: dpa

What were some of the positive and negative aspects of your presidency of the European Parliament?

I believe that the last two and a half years were very successful and good years. We managed to pass the climate change legislation through the European Parliament in December 2008, which was, I believe, the most important achievement. Basically, the debate about the fight against climate change began in March 2007during the German EU presidency under Chancellor Angela Merkel. We concluded the legislative process in December 2008 under the French presidency, and we worked very closely with the respective presidencies in order to finalize the legislation.

The German Constitutional Court has now given the German parliament more say in European matters. One could also interpret this as meaning that the national parliament is now the actual place where European legislation is made. Does this not weaken the European parliament?

First of all, I welcome the Constitutional Court's decision that the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with the German Basic Law. The court has, however, declared the legislation accompanying the treaty as unconstitutional or as not in accordance with our basic law and said that the German Bundestag must have more rights within the framework of realizing the German position in European bodies. In principle, there are no objections, but we can by no means endorse the formulations concerning the European parliament. It is clear to me that what is right for Europe must always come before what is right for individual nations. But I must emphasize that the German Bundestag has a role to play in relation to control of the federal government --- of course, there must be a reasonable balance and the federal government must maintain the authority to act. The Bundestag (lower house) and Bundesrat (upper house) should play a role concerning the nation's fundamental issues. But the national parliaments' strengthened role should by no means detract from the role of the European Parliament. In fact, the European and the respective national bodies compliment each other. At the European level, the European Parliament and the national legislative body should compliment each other. The Bundestag has the following role respective to the Council of Ministers: it controls the federal government in the Council of Ministers. That is the right balance. I have never understood the Constitutional Court's reaction to the European Parliament. Legal entity demands that European law comes before national law.

Currently, the Parliament and the Council are embroiled in a kind of power struggle concerning Barroso. You are in favor of Barroso, but aren't you actually pleased that the Parliament is not adhering to a given timetable but rather exerting its influence?

We had that debate just a few days ago in Stockholm with the Swedish Council President, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, and I think that the election can take place in September. With regard to the person, I am not only in favor of stabilizing and defending the European institutions -- and that includes the Commission – but I also believe that Jose Manuel Barroso has done a good job over the past years. He is the candidate for the European People's Party (EPP), which constitutes the largest parliamentary group in the European parliament by far. And so it makes sense for the EPP to provide the president of the commission.

In Germany and in other EU countries, there is an ongoing debate over the question of whether Europe can or should move towards becoming a federal state. What is your position on this? Is this a goal?

These abstract debates are not very helpful. Having a goal-oriented theoretical discussion quickly leads to confrontation. Europe must find its answers with regard to the constitutional form and the problems we face. The European Union is special, without a precedent anywhere else in the world, it is unique. It is remarkable that 27 European peoples manage to formulate and pass common laws with the help of a joint parliament, the Council of Ministers, the European Court of Justice and the Commission. Historically, what is totally new in Europe, in the European Union with its by now 500 million inhabitants, is that we work out differing points of view by means of legislation and political discussion.

That is why legislation is important, maintaining our legal entity. And that is why we must insist that European law comes before national law. If national law were to have precedence, people would do as they please, every EU nation would pick and choose what is closest to its perceived national interest. That is why it is so important to maintain legal entity, those are, if you like, the federal elements. But I do not wish to have a theoretical discussion, rather to say that we must solve the problems we face. Look at the energy issue: just a few years ago, everyone would have said that is a national issue, whereas today, those who are responsible know that we have to solve this problem together.

Zoomed picture shows plastic dices with European colors
The EU and national parliaments are meant to compliment each otherImage: AP

A last question concerning Jerzy Buzek, who is to be elected as your successor: How significant is the fact that he is from Poland, one of the new EU member states?

As it were, he symbolizes that we all belong together now. Jerzy Buzek will be the first top-level representative from the nations in Central Europe that have joined the EU. That is a great step forward. If, way back in 1979 when I became a member of the European Parliament in the first European elections, someone had told me that we would reach the point where Poland and other Eastern European countries join the European Union, and that in 2009 we would have a Polish Parliamentary President, I would have said, that is wonderful, like a dream come true. And now it is Jerzy Buzek, which is wonderful, we have been friends for many years, he is the successor I favored. We think alike, and it is marvelous that he will be president of the European Parliament. I wish him much luck with this wonderful task.

Interview: Christoph Hasselbach (dfm/db)
Editor: Trinity Hartman