Vice-president of EU parliament: Riots, violence won't bring Ukraine any closer to decision on European membership

Brussels is trying to integrate more states into its union, but some Europeans who are already in, now want out. Ukraine is on fire, split between those who want to join and those who want to stay away from crisis-stricken Europe. Skepticism is gaining ground across the continent, and the upcoming EU parliamentary polls may bring some unexpected upsets. What can be done to reverse the bloc’s fortunes? To answer that, we are joined by Vice-President of the European Parliament Miguel Angel Martinez.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Kiev is seeing fighting on its streets, a legal crackdown on demonstrations, deaths even, and warnings of a civil war – all over the rejection of the association treaty with the EU. As a man who is directly in charge of relations with candidate countries, could you, or the body you represent, have done anything differently?

Miguel Angel Martinez: As a matter of fact, what we are doing and what we might do is to treat Ukraine and the Ukrainian people with high respect. Personally, I have the understanding that Ukraine is a potential member country of the EU. I would be very happy if Ukraine joins the European Union, sooner or later, because as long as Ukraine doesn’t join we have a hole in the mosaic of the European construction.

But of course we have to, first of all, to wait and respect what the Ukrainian people decide and decisions at the European level or on European issues are not taken by demonstrations in the streets. They are taken by voting, in elections and by giving the opportunity to the government and the parliament, which are the representation of the people, giving them the possibility to decide.

We hope that - the sooner, the better - the majority of the parliament, which will be to say the majority of Ukrainian people, makes clear choice to join the EU. Meanwhile, the only thing we may expect is that the Ukrainians themselves: authorities, political parties, governments and the opposition find the necessary understanding and especially the necessary climate to define their priorities, their future, also, in what respects the connections with the EU.

SS: You’re saying Ukrainians should decide by themselves; we’ve seen lately a lot of European politicians actually taking part in demonstrations in Kiev and picking sides in the dispute. What do you think of that? Is that justified?

MM: I think it is all right. I think anybody…I believe in the international solidarity. I come from Spain, I’m a socialist and have spent half of my life demonstrating for issues that were not Spanish issues, but demonstrating in favor of those who I think deserved to be supported. I have supported in a number of opportunities Russians who were claiming for their rights and I think it is all right if European politicians go and support those whom they feel are their political brothers or sisters.

I have criticized the EU leaders who have protested and claimed that there was Russian interference in Ukraine, and indeed I would criticize Russian authorities if they would think that there is a European interference, especially if people who feel that they have brothers or sisters, comrades in Ukraine fighting for a certain cause, which is the same as theirs. I think they are entitled to go and express their support. This does not mean that the European Union or that the European Parliament as such is taking positions.

Indeed, I do not hide that my expectation is that the Ukrainians in full freedom, in full dignity, will decide that they want to join the EU, and I believe that the European Union should play in such a way, and a clever way, first of all, to show Ukrainians that there is a way to join the EU, and second, to make clear also to the Ukrainian that them joining the EU cannot mean any kind of aggressive position against Russia, but rather, what would be convenient, in my opinion, for the understanding, is that Ukraine joins the EU and becomes a necessary bridge between the European Union and Russia, because few people know Russia and can understand Russians better than the Ukrainians.

This is my vision of the situation, and I think it is reasonable what the president has called on the opposition, in order to find means of understanding that will calm down the situation and reduce the tension which is becoming extremely dangerous.

SS: But what means of understanding? Because it’s completely obvious at this point that opposition doesn’t really control the crowd anymore. Who would the government talk to if they want to pacify the situation?

MM: Your statements are very strong: “it is obvious” that they control or they don’t control… In any case I think it is in the interest of the opposition as it is in the interest of the government to find an understanding in order to calm down the situation. It is obvious also that if you tell me that the crowds that are in the streets nowadays in Kiev and in other cities are not controlled by anybody, then it would be very dramatic, because it would be that many, many Ukrainians are on a revolt against the institutional bodies, against both the government, the political parties, the opposition and everyone. I cannot accept that, and I believe it is the firm requirement from the government and from the opposition to sit down and seek measures that will appease the current situation.

SS: But also we have heard in the press a lot of extensive criticism towards Kiev for passing the package of anti-rioting laws in the wake of the clashes. Criticism from the EU as well, but a similar law proposal that sparked riots in Spain hasn’t really provoked any criticism from Brussels. How do you explain that?

MM: In Spain, the current government is putting forward a project for what they called ‘National Security’ or so. I am an active member of an opposition to the current government and of course we have said we disagree with the law, which could indeed minimize the citizens’ rights in terms of their capacity to demonstrate and capacity to express their revolt and their opposition to the current government.

That does not mean we, being a party that has long experience and expectation of being a ruling party…of course we have to be aware of the fact that the demonstrations of the people must come into a certain order and not being moments of violence and of revolt which does not follow the democratic procedures which are foreseen in any society within the European Union, for instance.

SS: If you talk a little bit generally, the EU has not really considered Russia as a strategic partner - I mean, in words maybe, but not in practice - and Moscow is constantly berated by it. So could the EU have handled the Ukrainian negotiations any differently, so as not to alienate Russia, and if so, how?

MM: There is a clear vision for some of us that the Russian Federation must be a strategic partner for the EU. This is the one of the main claims of my own position on this issue, and in the framework of the world scenario today, of globalization, matters in the international community, and especially in what has to do with peace, have to be settled and are going to be settled by eight, nine, 10 global partners, global actors. And in my opinion Russia is one of these global actors and is going to be one of these global actors.

The EU is tending to consolidate as an older global actor, and there is no doubt that Russia and the EU are two global actors which are not only twin brothers, there are Siamese brothers. I believe that it is our common interest to understand each other, to work together, to sit down and discuss all matter, which are much beyond the Russian or the European Union’s territories. This is my vision, and this is what I am trying to fight for within the EU, without using any pretext to make out of it an obstacle in the relations between Russia and the European Union.

Of course, we can discuss about the Baltic Countries, we can discuss about Gazprom, we may discuss about Ukraine, we can discuss about issue that may become problematic, but in any case there are people who are interested in using those issues as obstacles to make the relations between Russia and EU more difficult, and to block them. My strategy goes to the contrary.

SS:You have recently said Baltic member states are hindering dialog with Moscow. Are they really that big an influence on the European Union’s decision making?

MM: I wouldn’t say that the Baltic countries are making difficult the relations of the European Union with Russia, I don’t believe that, frankly speaking, that Baltic States would have enough power or strength in order to be an obstacle to the relations between such two big powers.

It is obvious that in some Baltic countries making confrontation is more or less automatic, more or less in the instinct of many people, and making cooperation is more difficult. One has to sit down, one has to make arguments, one has to make concessions. And for the Baltic countries that would be much easier to be done through the EU, which is a power of similar strength that Russian Federation may be, while each one of the Baltic countries taken in a separate way is of course an enormously weaker partner, as compared with what the EU can do.

Now, the problem is how to convince some of guiding political forces of some of the Baltic countries that their interest is not in confrontation, but in cooperation with the Russian Federation.

SS:Another controversial thing with those three countries, with Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia - I can say with certitude that it is the case with all three of them – is their soft stance towards Nazism. We often see military parades and state funerals for those who fought alongside German forces. Does that worry the EU at all, is anything being done about that?

MM: In many European countries we are still facing the problem that a number of people do not feel aware or do not feel interested in denouncing the monstrous nature of Nazism and of fascism, and they try to banalize such regimes with horrendous crimes that those regimes and that those ideologies brought to our respective people. But this is a reality which is not only felt in the Baltic countries, it is felt in more countries, that is why we are really very worried and we are trying to fight strongly against that, among other things, because it is strictly against the principles, the values and the history of the EU as such.

SS:On a broader note Mr. Martinez, I want to talk to you about the shape EU finds itself right now in. The Euroskeptic movement is on the rise, especially in Great Britain. Would the Union suffer if Britain left, for instance?

MM: What do you mean? You mean, Euroskeptics – this is what you mean?

SS:Yes, Euroskeptics, people who think that EU didn’t turn out to be the great union that everyone aimed for when it was started, because of the crisis, because a lot of people are losing faith, they don’t have the solidarity in their vision anymore.

MM: This is, of course, a subject of concern. This is a very great paradox. In my opinion the European Union is more necessary than ever. More necessary to our respective people – in times of globalizations, none of our countries and none of our people will be able to maintain the progress that we have succeeded to achieve and which, I suppose, nobody discusses, even in the Russian Federation.

The standards of living and the social progress that we have built within the European Union are of enormous value, at least of enormous value for our respective people. The level of equality and inequality that we have in our respective countries, even if it is growing in recent years, under conservative ruling, the inequality in any of our country is much smaller than the one is reaching nowadays in the Russian Federation, not to speak about countries like China or others in the world.

Our system is a system which is reasonably satisfactory, even if it needs to be improved. In any case, it is indispensable if we want to maintain these standards that we have succeeded to build. The strange thing and the failure of many of us is that at the moment in which this process is more necessary than ever it is also – you were right with your question – more threatened than ever. Now, one has to question: why is this process being threatened and by whom? If you want, I can tell you why it is threatened and by whom it is threatened.

SS: Yes, tell me please.

MM: It is threatened exactly by the powers of financial world which know that if the EU consolidates itself the power that the financial, the banking system and in general, the capital, because I’m not worried with using a term which doesn’t seem to be very fashionable today.

The capital knows very well that if we consolidate the EU, it is going to build systems to control the capital, and to oblige the capital to behave with full respect for a number of social progress, social justice measures, and of course the capital doesn’t want that. The capital has been gaining power enormously in recent years. The capital which was controlled more or less at national level has broken these controls with the globalization in the world, and they don’t want the EU to become a political power, which will necessarily control the behavior of the capital and will oblige the capital to obey to social justice mechanisms and values.

That is why the capital is trying to oppose, by all means, the consolidation of the EU. It is doing that through a tremendous intermediate power, which is indeed attacking and denying any credibility to the European Union process, and it is doing that also through the creation and the financing of political parties and instruments which indeed are putting into question the EU as such.

The European Union is the big danger for the capital power which has been enormously growing in Europe and in the world, and they know very well that it is not in their interest – a European Union that consolidates. That’s as clear as that.

SS:But does that capital have anything with austerity measures that are being implemented over and over again in the EU countries? Because, overwhelming majority of economists are saying that these measures aren’t working.

MM: You see, the governments in the European Union are saying that the measures that have been induced in their economies are making progress. So far, we do not see such progresses, and in any case, whenever they say – and this is case in Spain, or in Greece, or in Portugal – that there is a certain progress this progress is paid with tremendous social crisis and with enormous growth in inequality, because there are those who are becoming richer with every day and those who not only are becoming poorer, but are unemployed and have even lost hope to get a job and therefore are leaving our respective countries, which had not happened for decades.

SS: You’ve got elections coming up pretty soon, right? And the latest ballot polls are actually saying that young people – and young people have always been the main supporters of EU idea – are losing faith in the EU leadership. Do you see it as a problem for the future?

MM: I would not say that young people are against and older people are in favor. I think there is a general wave - which is a transversal, which applies to younger people, which applies to older people – there is an obvious reaction of disappointment about the EU as not being able to solve a number of social problems.

Now, you see, the question is that this disappointment does not go only against the EU, this disappointment goes against the political system in each one of our countries, this disappointment goes against the democratic system, which is not solving the problems, and this disappointment goes against politics at large, because politics are not resolving the problems of the citizens. And here is what I said before: the power of capital trying to poison the society with these ideas. They say politics is a bad scene, politics is corruption, democracy does not work, the parliament does not solve the questions…

That is what is happening, and the EU comes as one more in this list of disappointments, and comes as one more of the bodies which are less and less appealing for the citizens, younger citizens and older citizens.