Former EU parliamentary president Hans-Gert Pöttering sees European principles threatened in Romania. In future, Europe should be more cautious in admitting new members, he told DW.
DW: Mr. Pöttering, you are one of the most experienced politicians in the European Union and have been through more than a few conflicts. How great are your worries when it comes to the euro crisis?
Hans-Gert Pöttering: Of course we are in a difficult phase with tremendous challenges, but in other ways these issues have always been there in European integration policy. I am confident that these difficulties will be overcome, because Germany, represented by Chancellor Angela Merkel, is making a decisive contribution. The European institutions are following this path, so without trying to put it too rosily, I can say I am confident.
To follow up: In the past, Europe stood for prosperity and progress; today it increasingly represents worries, even existential fears. Have the EU's basic principles been shaken?
I do not think that the European Union has been shaken. In public debate, things are often portrayed more dramatically than they really are. When we look to the United States, we see how there is a contentious debate, for example, about health reform. One gets the impression that the political rivals in American society are not in competition, but sometimes even see themselves as enemies. Or, we cast our gaze at China, where there are huge conflicts in society, because human rights are violated.
If we look beyond the borders of the European Union, it puts a lot of things into perspective and we realize that in the European Union we do not live in paradise, but in a community that, all in all, is a better role model than most parts of the world. About a year ago, a very important person in Russia said to me, we wish we had the EU's problems. We have much bigger problems in Russia and you will somehow solve the problems with the euro. I believe this observer from Russia was right.
But do we still have to take the concerns in Europe seriously? For many citizens, fundamental doubts are growing about European integration. Despite this, important European politicians are calling for a political union. Is politics governing over the heads of the people?
Of course we can always do more. Together we all have a great responsibility to the citizens to make national policy - and naturally also European policy - clear. But people must also be willing to follow this information and we cannot leave that up to just a few people. Not only politicians, but also the media have a great responsibility. We should join together to bring European policy to the people while keeping Europe's tragic history in mind.
In the EU, however, not only economic pressure is growing but also political pressure. Brussels has its differences with Romania and Hungary. In both cases, the EU has criticized a lack of democratic procedure, albeit in different ways. Are these incidents a sign that Europe is in danger of tearing apart politically?
This is a very important question because it makes clear that there is no longer any isolated national policy in the EU. If important constitutional principles are violated in Romania, it is the right and duty of the states, peoples, and politicians in the European Union to intervene. The principle of non-interference can no longer apply. Every state, every country, every people is committed to the principles that unite us, such as human dignity, human rights, democracy, legal order, freedom and peace.
If we allow these principles to be violated, then we are cutting away at the foundations of the European Union. The historical innovation of the European Union is that we are a community of law. The law has the power; the power does not have the law, as was previously the rule throughout the history of Europe and what led to all the wars. Today, we have a legal order that we must defend with all constitutional, democratic and free means.
And these principles are spread by EU enlargement. Can you still understand the calls to put the enlargement of the European Union on ice in view of the issues mentioned?
I would not go so far as to say put it on ice, but we should learn from the experiences in Romania. Romania clearly became a member of the European Union too soon. We do not want to shut Romania out, because it belongs to the European family. But in future we should only admit those countries into the European Union that we are certain will respect the principles of the European Union, not just on paper, but also in reality. In this respect, the example of Romania can teach us to be more cautious in the future with the further expansion of the European Union.
Interview: Ralf Bosen / sgb
Editor: Gregg Benzow