Germany ‘working on borrowed time’ within eurozone — Dr. Hugh Bronson, Eurosceptic party member
The elections in the European Parliament have revealed that people are growing tired of the superstate giant of the EU. Eurosceptic parties won a significant number of votes – but will they be able to deliver on their promises? Disunited, will they be able to form a single bloc against the ruling hand of mainstream politics? Or will they end up arguing between each other? And what about the Germany – does it really benefit that much from the European Union? To find out the answers to these questions, Sophie speaks to a member of the German Eurosceptic party. Dr. Hugh Bronson from the Alternative for Germany party is on SophieCo today.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Dr. Hugh Bronson from the Alternative for Germany party, it's great to have you on our show today. So, well, first congratulations for the great results on these European Parliament elections. Really, Eurosceptics showed amazing results this time around. Parties won around 140 seats in the European Parliament. But there is no unity among them. So do their victories really mean anything if they are unable to form a coalition?
Hugh Bronson: First of all, I am very happy that we received 7 percent, that Alternative for Germany has now seven seats in the European Parliament. It means a lot for us, it means a lot for the party. You must remember that our party is just one year old. A year ago, we just came into being, we had our first elections. And to get from 0 to 7 percent in a European election is quite remarkable. We will of course negotiate with the British Conservatives, with Tories, to join the European Conservatives and Reformists – a group at the European Parliament headed by the Tories, by David Cameron, by Martin Callanan, and we are currently negotiating at what we can do together, how we can work together.
SS:But I am thinking - is that enough? Because what we are thinking in this part of the world is that all the Eurosceptics need to unite in order for something to happen or to change. And then, I am thinking even if that is to happen, what can the entire establishment do against mainstream parties who can just create a major coalition of their own?
HB: Well, you must remember that what you call Eurosceptic parties - they have different agendas, they have completely different agendas. Now, trying to bring these groups together you have very, very little in common. What brought them to the European Parliament was the great disillusionment of the people who are disappointed in Europe. If we look at the turnout, there is just mere 43 percent for one of the most important elections in Europe. That is a very, very sad statement. And it only shows that people have lost interest in Europe, they don't want to be bothered; they don't understand how important this really is. And to bring parties together who are trying to reform either the EU or eurozone is very, very difficult because in the end, these parties have very different agendas and very often national agendas.
SS: So nationalism is the main difference within these parties?
HB: I would not call it nationalism. You must remember that these parties will have very little effect in Europe. The vast majority, the center-right and the sort of leftist and democrats, if you throw in the liberals and the green parties, they are all pro-euro, pro-EU as it stands right now, and they will continue to govern Europe the way they have governed Europe in the last 35 years, ever since the first elections in 1979. But the main effect that those parties like UKIP or Front Nacional, or Freedom party, and other parties will have the major effect at home. Because at home, in France or in the UK or in Germany, the governing parties would realize they cannot marginalize the smaller parties who have gained so much in the European election, they can't marginalize them any longer. They have [to take] them seriously, they have to take points they make on bold to stand against them in national and local elections.
SS:But do you think we will see the mainstream conservative parties shift their national policies even further to the right on issues like immigration to adapt to the changing attitude of voters?
HB: This has happened already in Germany. During the election campaign Angela Merkel was suddenly saying: “We don't want a social union.” The Alternative for Germany made a clear point out of “We would like to have controlled immigration, we are looking at the Canadian immigration model as a very good sample that can be implemented to control the people who come into a country.” We want to have control over those who are coming in and Angela Merkel has made a point. She said “No social union,” meaning we don't want to encourage people to come to this country to benefit from our very generous welfare system. The CSU sister party in Bavaria – the CSU almost copied our election program. So you can already see that our success has made an impact. Even Martin Shultz…I am here in Berlin, I am based in Berlin and here outside in the streets you can still see these huge billboards that say “Martin Shultz from Germany for Europe.” Now, a few years ago this would have been unthinkable -unthinkable because of the reference made from Germany. That was a direct response to our party slogan for the European elections: “Courage to stand up for Germany.” So they took the idea of Germany and made it part of their campaign on the large billboards. So this…we as a very small party and a newcomer have already had some impact on national politics which I am very pleased to see.
SS:Now let's talk a little bit more of what you guys want or don't want. How would you combine your ideas about the Canadian style of immigration - doors open for professionals only - with the EU principle of freedom of movement?
HB: This is a very tricky subject of course. There is a federal bureau of immigration. They publish figures showing that Germany has had the largest influx of immigrants in the last 20 years during last year. Now, after the United States, Germany is the most popular immigration country. And figures also show that out of these people, two-thirds came from the European Union and one-third from the outside. Now, of course it is very tricky to renegotiate the Schengen agreement that allows freedom of movement, freedom of work, all these rather great benefits that enabled us to work and live freely in Europe in the Schengen Zone. But on the other hand, we can implement the point system used by the Canadian authorities to the other third which is coming in from outside EU countries where this law could actually work without us having to negotiate the Schengen agreement. So it is possible as a difficult balancing act, but it is possible.
SS: Another huge topic is obviously the currency. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany benefits from the single currency. Now, your party says it does not. What makes you think the German economy is suffering because of the euro?
HB: Well, of course it is not suffering, it is doing extremely well. But these figures are deceiving. I believe we are working on borrowed time. This is just for a couple of years and there is money that we have to pay for the 240 billion euros sent to Greece, for instance, as a bailout of money. This money is still on the books and one day it will show on the budget. And then we will have to find ways: either to raise taxes, or to come to some measures to find new sources of income, so these enormous amounts of money can actually be paid. Germany, I think, is now with underwritten 60 billion of money gone to the ESM and gone to different countries as bailout money or other forms of financial help. Now, this will have an impact on the German budget sooner or later. And right now of course it is later. The unemployment rate in Germany right now is fairly low - but only because a low salary sector is being developed. A lot of people need two jobs to get by, buying powers are decreasing. It's the policy you see not in one big chunk, but here and there. The electricity bills are incredibly high. Germany pays 46 percent more on just a power bill than an average EU citizen. All this will have to be covered financially one day and it will have a very strong effect. Of course Germany looks good on the figures, international, multinational, global players of course benefit enormously from the euro. The so-called Mittelstand – sort of the smaller businesses, they have to bear the burden and they have been the backbone of Germany's economic success for decades. And they really feel the pinch.
SS:But, Mr. Bronson, what do you propose? Return to the Deutsche Mark? Is that a solution?
HB: Well, that is option three. We have actually three scenarios; first of all we would like to reform the eurozone, meaning we would offer countries like Greece, Spain, Italy or even France the opportunity – not to forget Portugal and Cyprus - we would like to offer these countries to leave the eurozone. Right now in the contract no country can actually make that step.
SS:So just to make it clear, you are proposing for those southern states to leave the eurozone altogether, or for the eurozone to be divided into stronger northern states versus weaker southern states?
HB: Well, this goes together. If these countries decide to leave the eurozone, they can form their own currency union if they wish to do so or introduce national currencies – the drachma, the peseta - that is for those countries to decide. If that fails, countries like Finland, the Netherlands, Austria and Germany should leave the eurozone and either form their own currency union, the northern euro, if you like, or if that fails, the last option will be the reintroduction of the national currencies.
SS:So from what I understand, you want to get rid of the eurozone – I’m just trying to resume – but not the common European Community. What exactly is the difference?
HB: Correct. The difference is very simple. The eurozone, the euro, was launched as a political project. It has now 18 members. The EU has 28 member states. So, the eurozone is part of the EU, but it is not the European Union. Many people mix these things up. So you can very well reform and negotiate and restructure the eurozone without any jeopardy for the EU.
SS:And you don’t believe that creating a belt of poor southern states would actually threaten the stability of Europe?
HB: Well, if we carry on like this, stability in Europe is being threatened. We just have to look at the pictures in Greece and in Spain, where you had massive demonstrations. The last time Angela Merkel traveled to Athens, she needed about 7,000 security [guards] just to protect her. So, if we carry on, Europe is being divided into a poor south and a rich north, and that is contrary to the idea of bringing Europe together, that was actually the foundation of the European Union.
SS: Once again, if we believe your Chancellor Angela Merkel, she believes that the end of the euro would actually mean an end to the European Union. But you don’t agree with that, do you?
HB: No, absolutely not. She said that simply to enforce the image of how important the euro is for Europe, but you must remember that countries like Denmark and Sweden and Poland – they are not a members of the eurozone, but they are very established and very successful member states of the European Union. So, how it is possible to say that the end of the euro threatens the European Union? That is not valid and completely nonsensical.
SS:I’m trying to look at Germany from an outsider’s perspective. Now, it is the strongest economy in Europe, as of now, bearing the brunt of all the string of these bailouts, but also calling most of the shots, as well. It does seem like Germany unwillingly, really, created an accidental empire out of the EU. What do you think?
HB: Well, many people feel that way, many people feel that Germany is back in the driving seat, it’s a very powerful country, it’s dominating the eurozone, it’s dominating the EU. Germany has been criticized when Merkel flies out to Spain and to Athens, and tries to enforce the austerity measures…Now this is not a peaceful message, this is not what Europe needs. Of course Germany is a powerful country, but we could use this power in a much more beneficial way. It is not to enforce our system of running a country on other countries, and this is exactly how it is being portrayed and how it is being perceived. Now, if the Greeks want to run their economy in the way they run their economy and that includes all the other countries – who are we to fly down to Athens and tell them, “No, you should not be doing this, you should follow our model, because we are so successful?” It’s up to the Greek people to decide what they want to do, or the Italian people, or the Spanish people.
SS:So you’re thinking – just leave them alone with the debts?
HB: No. The debt was the first big mistake. I mean, the eurozone, once it was established, you had countries who could not carry the burden. It was just a fantasy to believe that successful countries and, let’s say, economic models following different patterns would actually work together in one eurozone. The famous example is: you have one t-shirt size as fits all – it doesn’t work! You have different countries, different economies, you have different outlooks, different models – they work together in the European Union, but they cannot work together in the eurozone.
SS:Now, Brussels. Because many people still believe that Germany has more power than Brussels itself – but you think that Brussels should return some of the powers to national governments. Which powers are we talking about exactly?
HB: Yes. I firmly believe so. Let’s take education. Now, in Germany, education is not even decided by the national governments, but it is “Laendersache,” meaning it’s being decided by the federal states. Now how can you take away something that is decided by local governments in the Laender, to a commission in Brussels – it doesn’t work. It is just one example. Another example where it could work, for example, energy supply and of course, a very good infrastructure. Other areas where we should have our own say in our own business would be, for instance, immigration, and of course, the military. Some people propose a European army, which I find completely superfluous. We have NATO, we have our friends, we have our allies, we don’t need to create another artificial European army if we don’t even have a super-building, let’s say, the United States of Europe – which I do not advocate, on the contrary – but this is something that is a project without backing, without any need.
SS:Another huge topic, of course, for Europe right now, is the rise of the far-right. We touched briefly upon it in the beginning of the program, but I would like to reiterate on it. Are you worried about the rise of the far-right? And, also, don’t Eurosceptics like yourself, for example, take the blame, partially at least, for creating the conditions for the far-right to thrive?
HB: No, I don’t take the blame personally, and I don’t think the party will take it either. The reason for the rise of, let’s say, Eurosceptic or Eurorealistic and EU-critical parties is that the gap between those who run these institutions and the citizens of Europe has become wider and wider. People are completely disillusioned about what is happening in Europe. So, very often, you have parties like Front Nacional or even worse, the Jobbik in Hungary or the Golden Dawn in Greece, who come with very radical solutions. Now, this is not because the people are right-wing or extremist – this is just a response to the situation, provided by the EU and by Europe. Of course, I am worried about the rise of extremely right-wing parties, because you cannot talk to them and live in a different timezone – in the last, or even in the XIX century. What we have to do is just to address the problems that Europe has and to involve more democracy, more transparency, and follow the principle of subsidiarity. I believe that can turn the tide, that can make people more interested in Europe again and actually take a stand.
SS:I want to know your view about current events other than the European elections. Now Merkel has been promising more sanctions against Russia because of this whole Ukrainian issue – what results, in your opinion, is that likely to bring?
HB: I think more sanctions are the wrong approach. More sanctions are confrontational, and more confrontation is something that we do not need. We need to come together, to sit at table and to talk. And for this we need Moscow, we need Kiev, we need Brussels, we need Washington. These powers are right now all involved in the struggle, and to come to a peaceful solution – we need to talk. I believe a very good model would be a federal model for Ukraine, like in the US, where you have federal states that make a bigger union. We’re talking about regions in the west, we’re talking about regions in the east – I think that would be a possible and a plausible model for Ukraine’s future. Otherwise you risk tearing a country apart, and that is something nobody can seriously want.
SS:There’s a lot of talk going around about who is to blame for what’s happening in Ukraine right now. Do you think European or the EU’s foreign policies may be partially to blame for what’s happening?
HB: I think there are no innocent parties in this game. The EU of course has to take part of the blame, as Russia and the US, and all the others that got involved in this. There are no innocent parties here. The EU, of course…if you push an association agreement without talking to Russia first and talking to other parties involved, you risk a confrontation, obviously. And, on the other hand, if the Russians make the moves they’ve made again, you’re looking at the confrontation we’re having now. So, all parties involved should really sit down and talk. There is no other solution.
SS:We’re also hearing that the EU is promising Ukrainians visa-free travel – what do you think of that?
HB: Again, this can only be part of a larger arrangement, of a larger agreement between the EU and Ukraine. If we talk about Ukraine – what is it we are actually talking about? Is it 57 or 60 percent who actually went to the ballot box on Sunday? What about all the people in east Ukraine who didn’t vote – is that still part of Ukraine? Does the visa-free arrangement apply to that region as well? Does it apply to Crimea? First of all, these questions have to be answered before we can make any arrangement or sign any contracts with Ukraine.
SS:Alright. Dr. Bronson, thank you very much for this interesting interview. We were talking to Hugh Bronson from the Alternative for Germany party. We were talking about the latest European elections, also about what the future holds for the European Union, and whether Ukraine has a place in the EU. That’s it for this edition of SophieCo, see you next time.