Alongside with the Greens, the EPP and the S&D, the European liberal party ALDE lost several seats in the May 2014 European Elections. While in countries such as UK liberal losses were substantial, the now fourth-largest party in the plenary (behind the EPP, S&D and ECR) managed to gain seats in member states like the Netherlands or Belgium. In Austria, the new liberal party NEOS succeeded in gaining a seat by obtaining 8,14 percent of the votes. After years of political inexistence in the Austrian party spectrum, the NEOS managed to bring back a liberal group on the political agenda in the Central European member state.
It is Angelika Mlinar (44) who will be representing the NEOS party in the ALDE group. Mlinar, who has worked as a jurist and entrepreneur, has been deputy in the Austrian parliament and has represented the Slovene minority of the southern Austrian province Carinthia in her career.
In an interview with “Au café de l’Europe”, Mlinar talks about her goals as MEP for the coming term, which direction Europe should take after the May 2014 elections, the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as commission president and what the key priorities of the next commission should be.
You have been elected as MEP for the Austrian party NEOS, which is part of ALDE, into the European Parliament. What are your goals as MEP for the coming five years?
Mlinar: The reelected president of this house, Mr Martin Schulz, said in a speech that 396 new MEPs have come into the parliament. For me it was surprising that more than half of the members of this house are new. I have set myself high expectations towards our voters, this mandate and my party NEOS, which is a clearly pro-european party. We are the most pro-european party in Austria and we are in favor of further steps of integration in the Union. During our electoral campaign we have demonstrated this with our slogan “We love Europe – and it is a relationship we have to work on”. Our strong affirmation for a strong Europe is rooted in several components. First of all, we perceive European politics as domestic politics, because 80 percent of Austrian legislation originates from Strasbourg and Brussels. This self-conception doesn’t exist yet in Austria, and it is also not transmitted by the media. Secondly, because we perceive European politics as domestic politics, we want to introduce a right to speak for Austrian MEPs in the Austrian parliament, in order to make them more visible. Now we have the situation that politicians “disappear” into the European Parliament and only resurface a couple of weeks before the next elections.
As we are a liberal party, data protection is a vital issue for us. I myself am going to work in the LIBE (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) committee. We need a strong, clear European data protection law, and it is important that the data retention directive will not resurface again. We have always opposed this directive, because it was an unjustified intrusion into citizens’ rights. We also want a clear statement from the next president of the Commission that this directive will not be put on the table again.
Overall ALDE has lost a couple of seats compared to the previous European parliament, especially in Great Britain and Germany. On the other hand, the party has performed well in states such as the Netherlands. As ALDE is a clear pro-european party: how do you evaluate the results of the elections in terms of the direction the EU should take – do citizens want less Europe or is it possible to go further in European integration?
This is a justified question, and I think that we have to discuss this issue thoroughly, especially in light of some speeches we have heard from far-right politicians such as Marine Le Pen or Nigel Farage. We at ALDE are fervent supporters of a strong, integrated Union, but at the same time we strongly support the principle of subsidiarity, meaning that an issue doesn’t need to be regulated by the EU when it can be regulated on national or regional level. What we want for example is a common foreign and security policy, a common migration and asylum policy, a common energy policy or a common data protection law. This can be dealt with on a European level. What some people are fed up with are things like the lightbulb or vacuum cleaner regulations, and the media exploit these issues. This is currently a problem that the EU doesn’t solve large problems, but regulates too many small details. We can’t say that the EU should regulate everything, this would be plain stupid. One must first carefully analyze where regulation could be effective before implementing it.
The European Parliament is known as a place where many compromises are made to pass laws – with which parties do you plan to cooperate during your term?
The coalition between S&D, EPP and ALDE is being put forward and has been active for the re-election of Martin Schulz as president of the parliament. Together with the S&D and EPP we form a strong pro-european coalition and want to make sure that the EU stays capable of acting in the coming term.
Why are the pro-european Greens not part of this coalition? They have strongly criticized the coalition which has re-elected Martin Schulz.
Yes they criticized it, but on the other hand they sought our alliance for the election of Ulrike Lunacek as one of the vice-presidents of the parliament. The Greens were included in the negotiation for the coalition, but their issue is that they are not homogenous enough as a group in contrast to the groups that form this coalition.
Many people fear that because the Eurosceptics have gained such a substantial number of seats, they might hinder effectively the work of the parliament. How do you perceive this situation? Do you see this is a possibility or will it be paradoxically the contrary, that we will have more Europe because of the coalition you have mentioned already?
Well we will see what is going to happen. This new parliament is going to be a really political one, and it will be subject to a totally new situation. We at ALDE work towards a reformed Union with a European parliament that in the long run gains the same substantial competences as national parliaments.
Jean-Claude Juncker has been elected by the Parliament as next president of the Commission. How do you assess the fact that it is really one of the Spitzenkandidaten that is going to be leading the next Commission? How will this change the interinstitutional structure in the EU?
This is a really exciting situation. I see it as a real positive development, but in the end we also have to breathe life into this development. It will not only depend on Juncker, but also on parliament’s president Schulz, on the next High representative and the next president of the European Council. With a little bit of fortune, this group can become an engine for European integration. I also think that parliament can gain more confidence in its work from this development, and it should prove itself through its actions in the coming term.
What should be the priorities of the next Commission?
A key priority should be the fight against youth unemployment – we as the European Union have to provide a perspective for young people and all other people who have been hit by the crisis. Many people are currently without prospects, and this is a dangerous development that we have to tackle. We as liberals want to implement a new strong European optimism, as only with fervent optimism it is possible to face the challenges that lie ahead of us.
Interview by David Donnerer