As part of our Monday Talks series, which is supported by Science 14, we are talking to MEP Manon Aubry who is the co-chair for the European United Left and Nordic Green Left. Besides her vision for Europe as a first term MEP, we discussed the current challenges of the EU including Brexit, migration policy and the electoral success of the far-right as well as several foreign policy issues.
Matthias Peschke: Your background as an activist shows that you have strong idealistic convictions and you are willing to stand up for them. However, some of your peers have expressed doubt over whether you will be able to transform your convictions into actual policies. So, it would be interesting to know how exactly does your vision for Europe look like and what do you hope to achieve as an MEP?
Manon Aubry: I wonder why they expressed doubt. I think they did so because I’m a new MEP, because I’m coming from civil society, because I’m a woman and because I’m younger than 30 years old. This might look like a handicap when you get to a place like the European Parliament which is completely isolated from the real world. However, in my opinion, being connected to the outside world is of great benefit for our political group because it was my impression so far that everything in the European Parliament is trying to cut you off from what’s happening outside.
To counter this, we are the only group that proposed a list of ten points for the Commission about what we expect from their mandate. Europe needs to be completely reshaped in order to deliver results on climate change and tax justice. We know there are tax havens within the European Union which need to be dealt with. The power of MEPs is very limited in that respect but we will work tirelessly over the coming years to make sure our vision of fair taxation is put into practise. Another thing we need to talk about is free trade agreements. There will be a big debate over the coming months within the European Parliament on the free trade agreement with Mercosur which we think would be very dangerous for our planet.
It will also endanger European farmers and I think we can have a majority in the parliament against this. We will be leading this fight as we did this morning at the conference of presidents in the European Parliament where I have asked for debates to be held next week. The Socialists refused this but, since they are divided on the issue, we will try to convince them and work together with them so that our voices will be heard. We will also try to put pressure on MEPs by engaging with civil society because they often forget where they are coming from. Since I am still a young MEP in her first term who transferred from a civil society organisation, I have not forgotten that.
Matthias Peschke: While the UK was always keen on the idea of economic integration and free trade, it has been less fond of political integration. So, assuming Brexit will happen, how will this impact the future of the EU?
Manon Aubry: First of all, no one knows what’s going to happen and that’s a big challenge. News on Brexit change on a daily basis so, in order to anticipate what will happen, we need to understand what had happened and why the British citizens voted to leave the EU in the first place. One can regret the day they decided to leave but we do have to respect their decision. If they voted to leave, we have to let them leave. Nevertheless, there are big uncertainties like for example if no deal can be agreed upon. The British people would have to pay a heavy price as their economy would suffer the most.
Another worry is that a deal would be reached which gives the UK all the benefits of EU membership without having to bear any of the costs. We already know that the UK is tending towards becoming a tax haven. This would mean that another tax haven would be right outside the EU. They already decreased the corporate income tax rate from 19 to 17 percent. In France, it was 43 percent, now it’s at 28 and it will go down to 25 percent. You can see the impact of this as there is a race to the bottom in the EU when it should be a race to the top. We need to harmonise our tax policies at the top to be able to protect people. Only once we have understood the symptoms of Brexit, we can also implement the necessary changes to prevent other states from leaving. I don’t think any European or any MEP wants this situation to happen again because we don’t know where it is leading us.
Matthias Peschke: Should the EU pursue further enlargement especially toward Western Balkan countries or would this be politically unwise as extending too far increases the problems the EU is currently facing?
Manon Aubry: I think we should learn from the mistakes of the past enlargement where the EU was enlarged without having a set of common rules that would help us prevent a race to the bottom with regard to corporate income tax. We included Hungary where the corporate income tax is now at 9 percent which is precisely the race to the bottom we need to avoid. Therefore, before another enlargement, the EU needs to change its rules in order to ensure social justice, tax justice and climate action. Otherwise, you just enlarge competition with more competitors and the one who will suffer from that are workers. While I am in favour of freedom of movement for workers, this needs to be accompanied by social protection. We need to work on these rules before we think about enlargement but, unfortunately, this is not the course the EU is currently taking.
Matthias Peschke: As someone with a degree in human rights and hands-on experience in two African countries that have experienced wide-spread human rights violations for a very long time, we would like to hear your opinion on the current EU migrant policy especially with regards to the deal that was made with Turkey in 2016.
Manon Aubry: The problem with this deal is that it is presented as a tool to protect human rights when it does anything but protect human rights. What the EU has been doing over the last few years is externalising its management and handling of migration issues to Turkey in exchange for money. But that’s not the way to go because, this way, the EU is just closing the borders around it. As if migrants who come to the border of the EU have a choice. As if one day they are living in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and just say to themselves “oh, life must be better in the EU so let’s go there.” But who wants to risk their own life in order to get to the EU? Certainly only those who do not have another choice. I think we need more dignity and more humanity when we are handling migration issues and migration policies.
However, the answer of the EU is to close its borders even more which is the main objective of the deal with Turkey. Letting people die in the Mediterranean Sea is the current migration policy of the EU and it has gotten even worse now with the new migration commissioner saying that we need to protect the European way of life. This means that the migration issues we are facing threatens the European way of life and I think that is dangerous because we don’t fight the far-right by using their rhetoric, their words and their fury. I think it’s very important that we fight to improve on this issue.
Matthias Peschke: How do you think is it possible to manage the humane and decent treatment of refugees and migrants while keeping these right-wing elements in check?
Manon Aubry: I think we should have a good analysis of why the far-right is increasing. I am from France so I know, unfortunately, very well how important this issue is and how dangerous they are. What they are doing is that they are pointing at immigrants and say it’s their fault if your salary is decreasing. It is their fault if there are inequalities and this is precisely what we have to fight. The reason why there are rising inequalities in the EU is austerity measures and privatisation of essential services like public health all across the EU. We should also note that the big flow of migrants that came to the EU made up less than 2 percent of all its citizens. Plus, it’s on the decline.
By contrast, there is only one number on the rise and that is the number of people dying in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, this number is rising sharply and we need to make it the mission of the EU to save these lives. Second, we need to analyse why migrants are coming. Climate change is already playing a role in that and by 2050 there will be 140 million climate refugees. Therefore, it should be a priority for the EU to fight climate change since the EU is one of the biggest polluters on the planet. We also need to understand that wars, in which EU member states participated, have increased migration numbers. And, last but not least, the EU needs to stop with the intense competition between people, companies and everything. Only then can we give better answers to the people and stop them from voting for the far right. I think this is an ambitious agenda but it is the way to go.
Matthias Peschke: Should the EU uphold the Iran Nuclear Deal or return to a policy of confrontation?
Manon Aubry: Well, I don’t think it’s a bad deal because it is about certain conditions that prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. While one could argue that the deal doesn’t go far enough or that we should confront Iran more, we should be more careful about what Trump is doing because he is the one who is putting everything at risk. The fact is that international organisations have confirmed that Iran has respected the deal. Therefore, we should use the weight of the EU to counterbalance Trump’s stupidity to unilaterally withdraw from the deal. Nuclear weapons are quite the serious topic and by withdrawing he is putting the entire world at risk.