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As part of our Monday Talks series supported by Science 14, we have talked to Katarina Barley, Vice President of European Parliament. Among many relevant issues, we have talked about the current challenges the EU is facing and her vision to overcome these problems.

Carey Bennington: In Germany you have been the Federal Minister for Justice and Consumer Protection for the past year, and before that you held other Federal positions. For what reason did you decide to run for MEP and get involved in the wider European political sphere?

Katarina Barley: Well actually there are three main reasons. One is a personal one, that I am really a European from head to toe. My whole family is European, where I live is at the border of four European countries, and my whole life has been European. The second one is that, of course, now is the time where a lot of decisions are being taken in Europe, a lot of decisions that really will determine how this Europe will develop, where we’re going to go and what kind of Europe we want, and it’s the place to be at the moment. The third reason is my political party, which I wanted to support. We’re having a hard time at the moment in Germany and I wanted to do my share to help.

Carey Bennington: It is undeniable that in this round of elections there has been a significant popularity for far-right sentiment across Europe. So, to what can we attribute this increase and what do you think it will mean for the future of Europe?

Katarina Barley: My perception is that, yes we do have this discourse that has kind of mingled into the normal discussions that we are having all over Europe, but it has not turned out as something that people do vote for significantly more than they did in the past. The far-right wing parties, the populists, have not gained as many votes as expected, not Germany, not in other parts of Europe. So I think there is a gap between the discourse, and the publicity, and the attention they get, and what really reflects within votes, and what people feel. I’m deeply convinced that most people do not support this ideology of “every country first” and egoism before altruism. I believe that most people what to live together in Europe in peace and with respect. Maybe that media should also question themselves, if their discourse is the right one, because before the elections everybody said they’re going to have maybe 40% of the seats. Don’t make them bigger than they are.

Carey Bennington: Ms Barley, there are so many questions to consider in the European political sphere currently, from refugee issues, climate change, to youth unemployment and the enlargement process. What issues will be the top priority for your group, the Party of European Socialists in the next five years?

Katarina Barley: During the campaign we stood up for social rights. We want the European Pillar of Social Rights that was concluded upon in 2017 to be filled with action, with measures now. This is one very important point that we make, and definitely one other will be the rule of law, which is at the moment at stake in Europe, which is in my opinion, the ground that we should all stand upon, and to strengthen and defend that would be very important.

From Left to Right: Carey Bennington, Katarina Barley and Ebubekir Isik. 11 of July 2019. Credit | Vocal Europe

Carey Bennington: Regarding the Brexit debate, Jeremy Corbyn, of the UK’s Labour Party, another member of the Party of European Socialists, recently stated that Labour would take a pro-Remain stance and would support a second referendum. Ms Barley, I’m curious to know what your stance is on this debate and what it could mean for the Party of European Socialists if they were to lose those seats held by the Labour Party should Brexit go ahead.

Katarina Barley: Well, my personal position, I already took more than three years ago, when I already stated that I think a second referendum is inevitable, or at least makes a lot of sense, because nobody knew what that means, to leave the European Union, so even if you said “I want to leave,” everybody, or those that said Remain had to find out what that is, what are we talking about? Now people know, if they voted Remain or Leave, and now that you know, now everybody knows, I think this is the moment to take a second decision. It’s not the same decision, it’s a different one. So, of course, I would love for Britain to stay, for the UK to stay. I am a British citizen myself, and I love this country, and I respect every vote of the British citizens but, of course, I would love to see Britain in the European Union, and therefore, if the UK leaves then we will have less seats, yes, and then that’s the case. We will still be a strong force within the European Parliament.

Carey Bennington: A recent two-year survey by Deutsche Welle showed that from June 2017 to March 2019, women in Germany are still paid 21 percent less compared to men. As the former Federal Minister for Family Affairs, how are you going to work to decrease that gap not only in Germany, but across the whole of Europe?

Katarina Barley: Across the whole of Europe, it’s a bit less I think – it’s 16 percent but there is still a gender pay gap within the European Union. We have taken measures in Germany. In the first run, it’s the right to get the information if you’re earning less than your male comrades at work do. That is the first step, and I know that there are plans in Europe to install something similar, or at least this is what Frans Timmermans, our leading candidate, proposed. But you always see that this is an issue that Conservatives do not support. They actually even neglect that there is a gender pay gap of 21 percent in Germany. They say that you have to take into consideration certain facts that determine this 21 percent, and if you do then it’s only 6 percent. What are these facts? These facts are that part-time workers do not have the same career chances than others, that the jobs that women usually, or commonly have are paid less than ones that male persons usually fulfil, and I do not see why you should not take these points into consideration, all these agenda based points of influence. So yes, I think it is a scandal that in 2019 it is still the case, but as long as Conservatives and Liberals are the strongest groups, and are the ones that determine politics, I don’t think it’s likely to change. We need progressive majorities for that.

Carey Bennington: Ms Barley, thank you so much for your hospitality once again, and for this insightful discussion.