New Europe: One-on-One interview with David McAllister „Pandemic fallout and enlargement wishes“
By Basil A. Coronakis
New Europe’s founder, Basil Coronakis goes One-on-One with David McAllister, the German-born MEP from the European People’s Party (EPP) from and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee to discuss how the world will change after the COVID-19 pandemic, virus diplomacy, and the relationships between the EU, US, China, and Russia, as well as the future of EU enlargement.
Basil Coronakis (BC): When do we come out of the crisis, and what does the day after the Pandemic look like for Germany?
David McAllister (DM): It’s difficult to predict an exact date. I think we have to differentiate at the moment. iIt is all about flattening the curve and the centre of attention in Germany now, like in all other countries, is still making sure that less people get infected and that most people who have been infected are treated under the best medical circumstances.
I believe that Germany has responded well to the crisis. The government and the Länder (state) governments are doing a good job. We see that especially many SMEs are worried about their future and as soon as it’s possible, we will have to start lifting the measures, but everything has to be done step-by-step and the most important thing is that we keep our health system stabilised.
Of course, after the crisis, we will then quickly have to develop measures on how we can recover economically and we all know that these times will be very challenging. This is a global crisis that requires a global response and especially, one thing is very clear, we’re all in this together in Europe, and that’s why we need European solidarity.
BC: Germany is probably the top country in the world controlling the crisis. You have an excellent health system, and from this point of view, you should be proud. I am sure that you will get out of this crisis with minimum collateral damages and losses, but the question is [what happens] after the crisis, because Angela Merkel, who is the standard point of reference in Europe, politically speaking, has decided to step down. The future of Germany in political terms looks uncertain, since more unconventional parties are gaining votes and power, like AFD in certain states. I am afraid that the day after in Germany will be politically not as certain as before …
DM: This is an unprecedented crisis, and as Chancellor Angela Merkel said, is the biggest challenge for us [Germany] and for the European Union since World War II. This crisis is certainly also a test for the German health system and for the economy and we will have to learn from the events of March and April.
One example is that Germany, just like the whole of Europe, needs to become more independent in the area of medication and protective clothing. So, after the crisis, with our European partners, we should think very carefully what we can do to avoid some of the difficulties we’re facing at the moment especially when it comes to medical equipment being produced and stored in Europe so we’re more capable in a future state of emergency.
Another question I see is that we need to fundamentally re-think industrial policy at one point or another. We, as a European Union, benefit from free trade, benefit from globalisation, but on the other hand, the trend we have seen in the last years is outsourcing more and more crucial parts of our industry. I think this needs to be carefully reconsidered.
So, Germany is facing a huge challenge but these difficult days we are also with our minds and hearts with our true allies and partners in Europe, Italy, Spain and France – just to name a few countries.
BC: I can see a new approach from the side of Germany towards Europe, which begs the question, what do you think the future for the European Union will be the day after? Can the EU survive the way it is now or will it require an in-depth restructuring?
What we need to learn from this unprecedented crisis are lessons, and this goes beyond our immediate health response. Based on the single market, we need to re-launch our economy, strengthen the industry – especially SMEs -and embolden sectors. In detail, we need to boost EU research and innovation, focusing on infectious diseases and related pandemics.
From my point of view, we need to launch a new European industrial strategy, which will follow a forward-looking approach and should take into account the need to combine the recovery of industries most affected by the current situation, and we need to create strategic reserves of material and commodities.
These are important points at the moment, but one thing is very clear – the European Union can only tackle these challenges together. This global pandemic requires a global response and especially a European response.
The European Parliament will be discussing all these issues at a plenary session next week, on April 16-17 and the European People’s Party has engaged in this debate and we will present an action plan based on five pillars: We need a united response to the health challenge now; we need to flatten the curve now in a coordinated way; we need to secure our critical infrastructure; we need to help the most affected people, businesses and regions and finally; we need to start developing plans for the future, now.
This unprecedented global pandemic is currently reshaping the international order with disrupting effect on global politics, that’s for sure.
BC: Since you mentioned the international order, what do you think will be the geostrategic balance after the crisis? I can see a ‘rapprochement’ between Russia and the United States. I was surprised to see that Russia sent assistance to the US and to see Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin [dealing with] the Saudis about the oil prices.
DM: Well, this will be a challenge for the High Representative and Vice-President Josep Borrell, together with the member states, to formulate a future vision for how this crisis has reshaped the global order and will continue to reshape it. That’s why I believe that the European response to the COVID-19 crisis also requires a strong external dimension, because this crisis can effectively only be contained through solidarity and coordinated global action.
The European Commission and the member states should now deliver their utmost and [provide a] supportive multilateral global response mechanisms through effective and close coordinations with partner organisations, such as the United Nations or NATO. I believe that the World Health Organization, despite some accepted criticism, remains an important partner to manage and coordinate the efforts.
We have seen in the last days a lack of transatlantic cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak. This once again underlines that the European Union needs to take a bigger responsibility for a proactive global role.
Regarding your question on China and Russia, I welcome all contributions provided by third countries to fight the virus and we should be, of course, thankful for the support we’re receiving from other countries, member states.
However, regarding the support from certain countries, there is, of course, a clear geopolitical and geo-economic dimension to what is been offered. [It is] for good reason that it is being called “virus diplomacy”, so we’re witnessing a battle of narratives and politicisation of humanitarian assistance and that’s not good.
BC: Do you agree that we’re entering a new civilisation? That the coronavirus crisis created room for a new civilization? Does the Western world need to have new principles, new ideas?
DM: It is always very difficult to predict the future, but once again as I am questioned, we have seen nothing like this crisis in the last 70 years. It will of course have an effect on the whole world and we will see if our world will become a better world or a worse one.
We should do everything as the European Union (to prove) that we learned our lessons from this pandemic and one lesson that certainly should be learned is since this is a global threat and it does not differentiate between continents, religions, north and south, west and east, the colour of skin; we’re all in this together, we’re all human beings, but hopefully we will see a new way of global solidarity and that’s why we Europeans have always been calling for strengthening multilateral organisations.
We need to have formats where we can cooperate together to the benefit of the people. So, last thing from my side is that we need to develop long-term crisis response capacity to be able to play a major role in fighting future pandemics on the one hand, and to substantially improve our communications of policies and actions undertaken on the other.
I will just say one example: The UN Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire. Rightly so, but does it really take a pandemic? [We should always be] calling for ceasefires. What we really need to do now is that the economically stronger parts of the world need to support those countries which will be in much greater need with weak public health care systems. I am especially concerned about the situation in Africa, in the Middle East, in Latin America and I welcome the High Representative yesterday and the call with the Development ministers discussing what we can do also in our own interest to help partners and neighbours in our neighbourhood in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
BC: What about EU enlargement? Do you see anything happening in the field of enlargement?
DM: Well, the enlargement policy remains a priority for the European Union. All six countries of the Western Balkans have a clear European perspective since the summit in Thessaloniki in 2003.
After the veto against starting accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, we had a setback. This was perceived as a failure, not only for the two countries but also for the whole region. Fortunately, since then, we’ve made some progress. We have modernised the enlargement methodology and on the basis of this new methodology, France, the Netherlands, and a number of countries are now ready to green-light the opening of accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia. I welcome the step, I believe it was overdue, and it shows that in the EU we are ready to make strategic decisions even in difficult circumstances.
BC: So, this means that after we resume activities, the enlargement process will continue?
DM: The enlargement process will continue.
Yesterday, I learnt that the Western Balkans summit, which was planned for May in Zagreb, is going to be postponed probably to June.
Yes, the enlargement process will continue on the basis of the new methodology, on the accession negotiations that Commissioner Varhelyi has presented. It is important that we send a clear message: All six countries have the European perspective, however, they need to fulfil the high criteria. They have to fulfil all the criteria; politically, economically, legally.
As the European Union, we remain fully committed to the Western Balkans, and major economic development in this region is in our own interest; politically stability of the Balkans is always beneficial for the rest of Europe, as history has shown.
So, let’s continue our enlargement process, but of course enlargement is hard, hard work! There can be no shortcuts. Every country has to be judged on its own merits and every country has to actually implement what is required. So, it is a long, long way to join the European Union, but I think the beginning of the accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania might be a further push for the necessary reforms, and especially North Macedonia after the Prespas Agreement and many other things, such as agreement with Bulgaria, the government in Skopje been clearly interested in good neighbouring relations, and it was overdue that we award this policy in Skopje.
BC: I understand that with the new requirements, it could be a process that starts immediately, but it has no definite end. It may last decades.
DM: Other accession negotiations have shown a country can join the EU when it is ready, and ready means not only to share our values, but also to implement the very detailed criteria.
History has also shown that once a country has fulfilled all the criteria, then all member states in the European Parliament will show solidarity and give the green light. I am often asked in the Western Balkans when the country ‘X’ will join the European Union and I say that ‘First of all it mainly depends on you. Implement the necessary reforms, do the hard work and in the end, it will be beneficial for your country and for societies’.
But it is not only about becoming a member, in the end.
I think the whole process of eventually joining the EU, and adhering to our standards, is positive because it concludes necessary reforms which are beneficial for the people and for the businesses. We do have success stories in Eastern and Southeastern Europe where you have seen how countries have tremendously benefited from the reforms required to join the European Union. Just look at the positive development in Poland or in the Baltic countries.