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Dutch MEP on why European elections matter
26 May 2014 Roman Cuprik Politics & Society
THE Ukraine crisis highlights how Europe has failed to develop a strong common foreign policy. Such challenges may provide an opportunity for the European Union, according to Dutch MEP Marietje Schaake, who spoke at the GLOBSEC international security conference held in Bratislava from May 14 to 16. Schaake focuses on a variety of issues at the European level and The Slovak Spectator spoke to her EU approach towards Ukraine as well as privacy and copyright protection in EU.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Elections to the European Parliament are being held in all EU member states. Conventional wisdom suggests that Europeans are not that interested in the work of EU institutions. Slovakia traditionally has the lowest turnout in these elections. How can the member states improve this situation?
If people have doubts they should keep in mind that if they don’t decide who represents them, politics will decide for them. We have a democracy and a quality of life that we cherish. And it requires daily work and it also requires citizens to go vote once every five years and I hope that’s not too much to ask.
TSS: Do you expect a low turnout in this year’s elections? What campaign issues are resonating the most in the Netherlands?
The EU is sometimes a big unknown for people and it’s not so much about Europe, but it’s about concrete topics like jobs, creating a digital single market or ensuring that we can defend ourselves with the appropriate capacity. Every member state is cutting budgets and we aren’t buying military supplies smartly together, and we aren’t training people smartly together, while we have had a very serious wake up call from the crisis in Russia to realise that hard power, sadly, still matters. Europe is the champion in soft power, diplomacy and development, but we can do so much more if we bundle our political voices and if we make sure we also have sufficient and adequate defence when needed.
TSS: In the Foreign Affairs Committee you are focusing on strengthening Europe as a global player. How do you assess the steps the EU has taken so far regarding the crisis in Ukraine?
However, if there is one thing we have learned over the past years it’s that when we are presented with difficult situations, everything becomes fluid and everything can change. So hopefully we will seize this moment and the member states will also understand that it is not about egos or individual roles, but this is really about sustaining our quality of life, interest and values like human rights. Different voices are fine, different languages are fine, but one strong political agenda in a very rapidly changing world that presents Europe – from Russia to North Africa and the Middle East - with very serious challenges.
TSS: You are part of the GLOBSEC discussion on balancing security and privacy. What are the main challenges in this matter?
Europe should seek a leadership role, not only at home but also in internet governance through international cooperation with other global players to make sure that in this globalised and hyper-connected environment people using the internet anywhere can count on European leadership to protect them and the public interest. Now it’s mainly companies dominating the internet and the internet sector; we also need to save part of the public interest and democratic values.
I’m doing that whole topic on behalf of a liberal group in the European Parliament. We do that to make trade easier, which is very important for economic growth, but we need public support to see the treaty ratified, and this NSA scandal has really caused damage to trust in the transatlantic alliance. It’s time for a fundamental discussion about what democratic principles mean in times of hyper-connectivity.
TSS: Europe’s Digital Agenda is another one of your priorities including the copyright dossier. EU is currently dealing with online piracy. For example the European Court of Justice banned downloading of copyrighted material from unlawful source. How should ordinary people illegally downloading music or movies be punished?
Instead of focusing on enforcement we should focus on reform. At this moment we have 28 different copyright systems for each EU country. It really hampers the development of a digital single market, [and] it hampers new services and start ups which could offer legal content and create more competition and lower prices. That’s where our attention should be.
I worked a lot on pushing copyright reform in the EU for the past five years but some of the member states have really not been helpful. Therefore, what I hope, and this is another reason why young people should vote, is if they want the internet to remain open and if they want to have access to interesting content and to do what they want online instead of the government or internet providers deciding for you, go vote. And choose someone who represents you to make sure that we invest in the economy of the future and not enforce outdated rules on the internet.
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