Andrey Kovatchev is a Member of the European Parliament, chairman of the Bulgarian delegation in EPP, member of GERB. Member of the Committee on foreign affairs, Subcommittee on security and defence, and the EP Delegation for relations with the US. Degree in Biology from the University of Saarland, Germany, Doctor of Natural Sciences from the same university. Area commercial manager for CIS for US company John Deere International. Six years in Elsevier B.V./Amsterdam as Regional director for Central and Eastern Europe and CIS. Fluent in English, German, French, Russian and Spanish.
European politicians so far could not clarify to their citizens that the advantages of European integration outweigh the disadvantages. - Mr. Kovatchev, isn’t the present situation in the Eurozone indicative of weakness in the intergovernmental approach to crisis management?
The price of salvaging Greece is smaller compared to the price of its default and letting it leave the euro.
Religion cannot have priority over democracy.
- All moments of crisis, and particularly of recurring situations, also question Europe’s ability to have an adequate response. I have always been of the opinion, especially as vice-president of the Union of European federalists, that Europe should work for mechanisms in which the European supranational institutions play a dominant role. We have crises in many fields, not just in the financial and economic sphere, there is a crisis in migration policy when migration waves are expected, mainly from the South, from the restless North Africa and the Middle East, or natural calamities, conflicts, where Europe is also active, so I think supranational mechanisms are more efficient and comply with the principle of subsidiarity. As we know, every decision of EU is weighed from the point of view of subsidiarity, whether it would be more efficient to be taken at European level, or at national level, or lower, at regional or local level. It is more efficient to take decisions that do not allow crises at supranational level.
- How threatened are the euro and the integrity of the monetary union at the moment?
- The euro and the monetary union will be threatened until we build a real economic and political union, based on these supranational principles. As it is, there are two scenarios for the euro. The pessimistic scenario is if in the EU we do not agree on supranational mechanisms that would come into force automatically whenever the rules are broken and the relevant sanctions or corrective steps would not have to be bargained between the Member States. For example, what happened with the Stability Pact and which was the first country that infringed this principle – it was Germany. Any resistance on the part of national governments to keep control over the rules of operation of the economic and monetary union in fact gives an opportunity for manipulation and through diplomatic channels to achieve some agreement between the Member States concerned, which would break the rules again. I think, as many of my colleagues do, that if we want to have rules that are really observed these rules have to be automatic and to be beyond the control of national governments, which would always find a way to reach an agreement and get round a rule. Thus we’ll have an optimistic scenario for the euro, too.
- In this context, what are the chances for a government of the Eurozone?
- The devil is always in the details. It depends to what extent national governments are ready to hand over part of their competences to this economic government of the Eurozone. In a longer-term perspective, why only economic, I think it should be a government of the European Union, based always on the subsidiarity principle, which would be keeper of the rules that need to be observed, as the EC is keeper of the EU agreements.
- Do you agree that all EU Member States should demonstrate solidarity, including financial aid, in solving the problems of the Eurozone?
- Of course. Solidarity is a fundamental principle of United Europe, but here we enter into what is a sensitive topic at the moment. In many Member States, such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, which are considered donor countries or net contributors to the EU budget and their citizens cannot understand why they need to save others who have not observed the rules. My answer is the following: European politicians, particularly in the major parties, centre-left and centre-right, are indebted to European society. Because they could not clarify to their citizens that the advantages of European integration outweigh the disadvantages. I would like to see for each Member State a very clear substantiation of the advantages of this European integration, especially for the so-called net contributors. For instance, in recent years euroscepticism among Dutch citizens has grown, but they should realize what huge proportion of the EU trade goes through the port of Rotterdam. In this way the Netherlands benefits very much from the common European market, so the whole picture should be seen. The same is valid for Germany as a large export state – the EU funds that go to the new Member States return to the old Member States in the form of contracts for supply of goods or services, especially Germany as a leading EU economy. The whole truth should be always said, and not let populist and nationalist parties speak only of what scares citizens – immigration, crime, the security of their jobs and social benefits.
The salvage plan for Greece is an expression precisely of the solidarity between the citizens of Europe and the price of salvaging Greece is smaller compared to the price of its default and letting it leave the euro and introduce the drachma, which will naturally be depreciated. All loans which are in euro can by no means be paid back by a Greece that has the drachma as a means of payment.
- Weren’t the EP and the Council a bit late in reaching compromise on the six legislative acts package on the economic governance of the Union?
- We can always say they should have been faster, but the democratic procedures of decision making are fundamental to EU and cannot be ignored. In a dictatorship decisions are always taken faster than in a democratic environment where politicians are responsible before the citizens and must take all their concerns into account. I wish the reaction was faster too, but these are the facts at the moment. The European Commission will play greater role in monitoring and imposing the sanctions, while the Council will still have the option of rejecting the sanctions proposal by qualified majority. I hope this plan will work from no on.
- Is the EU capable of taking on greater political commitment in the fight against corruption?
- This is an ever present theme. In all Member States, and across the world for that matter, the phenomenon of corruption exists at all levels, however in the advanced democracies it is restricted to minimum. Once corruption practices are discovered, they invariably lead to convictions. This is also the purpose in the EU – to have efficient detection of such corruption schemes or mechanisms, bringing benefits to government servants, with the help of the private sector which offers them, respectively. We mustn’t close our eyes to the fact that many international companies, doing business in various regions of the world, are themselves carriers of corruptions. According to a survey, corruption costs €120bn per year to European tax-payers. This is to the detriment of both citizens and entrepreneurs. I think the EU could take on a coordinating role in the fight against this phenomenon, because in many cases corruption is a trans-border phenomenon and concerns more than one country. Markets in the European Union are linked, so the fight against corruption can be effective only if it is supranational. Specifically, we are working on greater transparency of financial transactions and harmonization of European law regarding the protection of persons who give warnings of infringements and illegal riches.
- Is the world, including Europe, more secure now, ten years after the 9/11 tragedy?
- Indeed, 11 September 2001 set the beginning of a new era in international relations and 10 years later the world is quite different. There are different challenges related to radicalism, the situation in the Middle East. According to the US President, 10 years after the attacks the network of Al Qaeda is weakened, but can that be said of the source of radicalism, which after all is the economic state of many countries of the so-called „third world“ and the Arab countries, which are much more susceptible to manipulation toward radicalism and blaming for their fate the US or the West in general. Whatever goals the 11 September 2001 attackers had I think they failed because the civilized world sided with the US and anyone who wants to live in peace and respect the rights of everybody, regardless of origin, views and religion. Religion cannot be used as a pretext to any superiority. Religion cannot have priority over democracy. When religious communities demand tolerance, they in turn should be tolerant to the others. I hope very much the so-called „Arab spring“ will lead to the establishment of secular democratic states, where every creed can enjoy freedom. European leaders should show clearly that xenophobic movements and political talk based on hatred have no place in United Europe. The traditional political spectrum, centre-left, centre-right missed the moment, I hope they will still explain to citizens that radical movements cannot bring us any good and they do not have the answers. The Dutch radical movement of Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom has no answer to the question, what is to be done with the immigrants from the Islamic countries to the Netherlands. They are already there, whatever some may say of the death of the multiethnic and multicultural model of society.
- Do you think there is a chance the division of opinion between the Member States on the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen to be overcome soon?
- I am very surprised and aggrieved at the Netherlands stance, which does not take into account the realities but is based on emotions and the so-called „fact-free policy“, policy of absence of facts. There isn’t a single fact to substantiate the Dutch decision. For the past 9 months we have been part of the Schengen Information System without a single case of misuse of SIS information. On the contrary, by including Bulgaria and Romania we contribute to enhance security in the Schengen system. Besides, our border with Turkey is extremely well-guarded by all Schengen standards, including the upgrading that is underway. In conversation with me, Frontex director said Bulgaria guarded very well and reliably the border with Turkey. There is no reason whatsoever, except the internal political reason in the Netherlands and the xenophobic attitude of Wilders’ party. Unfortunately, this is yet another example of Europe becoming hostage to extreme populists. The main political forces in the Netherlands are afraid to call things by their name and say that by blocking Bulgaria and Romania they would not stop the travels of their citizens to the Netherlands. This is absolutely improper and is a sheer lie, because it has nothing to do with Schengen. The EPP has repeatedly reiterated its position, supports the position of EP, of the European Commission, of the European Council experts for accession of Bulgaria and Romania to Schengen.