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DW-TV talked to Hans-Gert Pöttering, the likely new president of the European Parliament, about the German EU presidency, the chances for an EU constitution and his plans as leader of the bloc's legislative.
Pöttering has been a European parliamentarian since 1979
DW-TV: Germany has taken on the EU's rotating presidency and with it the running of the bloc's business for the next six months. What can we expect?
Hans-Gert Pöttering: I would like the German presidency to come up with a way of moving forward. And I would like a decision on what mandate any conference on the European constitution would have -- if such a conference takes place -- in an attempt to realize the main goal of the constitution.
When it comes down to the substance, though, the main thing will be to come up with some kind of timetable for a European constitution. Is that the least we can expect from the Germans in the next six months?
We certainly expect that -- but that isn't all that we expect. I hope that the German presidency will be more ambitious than that -- and I'm sure it will be. I hope there will be a discussion about how far we want to see the enlargement of the EU to go. Do we want to take in every country that wants to join the Union -- or do we want to say that there have to be limits, geographical limits as well?
Are there geographical limits?
How much further can the EU expand?
In terms of the steps we take, there certainly are. We first need to strengthen the structures of the European Union -- and that's why we need to see the substance of the proposed constitution enacted. If we don't have that, then -- with the possible exception of Croatia, we can pretty much forget any further enlargement. Then we have to look at what's going to happen with Ukraine, and the Balkan nations, what's going to happen with the countries in the Caucasus, and the countries in northern Africa. These are all neighboring countries, and there are lots of things that connect us to them -- but also things that don't connect. And we need stable partnerships, we need policies for our neighbors, and I hope the debate on that will grow in intensity during the German presidency.
The Balkan nations have already been given a perspective on their EU aspirations -- and one day they will probably join. Then the EU will comprise 33 or 34 nations. Independent of the debate on the constitution: Would that already represent a critical mass, when the EU is no longer what it was, but effectively an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) with a few differences in its substance?
Yes, it can't just become another OSCE -- it can't just be a loose union. What we want is a strong Europe that can act. Nonetheless, we should be happy that Europe is as it is today. To put it personally: I have been a member of the European Parliament since 1979, since the first direct elections. And if someone had said back then that on May 1, 2004, we would see Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia joining the EU, then I would have said that's wonderful, that's visionary. And this vision has become reality in our lifetimes.
Celebrating EU membership in Romania
The people in those countries have chosen our values. Communism has vanished, fallen apart, and that is a wonderful development. The European status quo of the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s, the division of the continent, the Berlin wall, a divided Germany -- all of that is gone. So we can be very happy with the way things have developed, and now, of course, we have to try to structure things in a way that makes sense, in a way that Europe's citizens can understand it. And that is the main task we are facing.
And that's one of the tasks the constitution sought to address. But it was rejected by voters in France and the Netherlands, and there are other countries where it's far from clear that it would be passed in a referendum -- probably not in Britain, for example. What has to be salvaged from this constitution to make Europe capable of action?
We certainly have to keep the core of the constitution. And that includes majority voting in the Council of Ministers. This European Union can no longer be led if huge swathes of European legislation require a unanimous vote. We have majority voting in the European Parliament - and it has to be that way in the Council of Ministers too. I would also argue strongly that the second part of the constitution, which deals with values, human dignity, democracy, the principle of law, the principle of solidarity, human rights -- this part must be transferred into European law. Without values, this EU has no future. That is why these values are so important.
Herr Pöttering, you will most likely be elected as the next president of the European parliament in mid-January. If you are elected, what are your goals for the next two and a half years?
The European Parliament in Strasbourg
I would like to use that position -- and I would need the support of the whole parliament, of course -- to try to bring the EU and the European Parliament closer to the people. And I would like to make our relationship to the Islamic world a high priority. Those are the things I think I would focus on.
You said yourself that the last 50 years in Europe have been a great success story. And yet the EU is suffering a bit of a depression. What would your answer be to this sense of melancholy?
I don't know if the EU is suffering from depression. Sometimes the situation is very paradoxical. In the Polish capital, Warsaw, we have a government that could certainly be more committed to Europe than it is and yet opinion polls show that 80 percent of the people in Poland support the European constitution. So the situation is very varied.
Of course there is skepticism. That has always been the case. And that's why it's important that we press ahead with European projects, as Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso says. It's important that we have successes and we do have successes, and we need to talk about them. Above all, we need to make it clear to people that the glass is half full, not half empty. And if we approach European policy with optimism and hope and confidence, then I think we will be able to get Europe moving forwards again and the people of Europe moving forward with us.
Alexander Kudascheff interviewed Hans-Gert Pöttering (win).