MEP Claude Moraes (48) is considered to be one of the key figures of the British Labour party and the S&D in the European parliament. Moraes, who is of Indian origin and who has worked as a lawyer for several NGOs before going into politics, has been member of the plenary since 1999 and was recently elected as chair of parliament’s LIBE (Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs) committee.
In the past term, he was rapporteur for the inquiry of the LIBE committee on the NSA mass surveillance. This report with the name “US NSA surveillance programmes, surveillance bodies in various Member States and their impact on EU citizens’ fundamental rights and on transatlantic cooperation in Justice and Home Affairs” was granted a large majority by the EP in March 2014 and is referred to as parliament’s “European Digital Bill of Rights”. It tackles key issues such as data protection, cybercrime, whistleblowing and the governance of the internet.
In an interview with “Au café de l’Europe”, Moraes talks about how the results of the May 2014 European elections could change the work of the EP in the coming legislature, the youth unemployment crisis in Europe, Juncker’s election as commission president, the future of parliament’s inquiry into the NSA affair and the possible referendum on UK’s EU membership in 2017.
You have been elected for the fourth time as a MEP in the European Parliament, making you one of the longest-serving members of this house. What are your plans for the coming term?
Well I’m one of the longer-serving members. I arrived here quite young, in my twenties, and now I’m in my forties and I am going to serve a fourth term. I have a lot of experience, which I think is a good thing, because this parliament is no longer an advisory parliament, as it has become a legislative parliament. This was spectacularly shown in the last mandate, when we were dealing with big pieces of legislation like the data regulation, which really meant something. Issues that mattered to people, such as for instance the information age, mass surveillance and how personal data is processed were tackled by the European Parliament.
The more experienced MEPs are, the better they can look into legislation and work on important issues. As the newly-elected chair of the LIBE committee, I want to continue the good work this committee has done in the past term, as for instance with the data regulation package.
So the composition of the parliament has quite changed after the elections in May. What can we expect from this new parliament where right- and left-wing Eurosceptics have gained a substantial number of seats?
Two big dramatic changes happened in the elections: one is certainly the increase in more extreme, I would even say racist or fascist parties. I call them what they are and don’t pretend something else. But then there are also parties which are more difficult to describe, which are more Tea-party style populist parties. These parties are anti-European and populist in nature, but not openly racist. They have also increased their numbers, on both sides of the political spectrum. On the other side, the European people’s party and the Liberals were massively reduced, and also the Greens lost seats. The S&D party was slightly reduced as well. This means that the centre-parties’ ability to legislate without cooperating is reduced. There has to be a lot more cooperation in the centre to get things done. The reality is that the MEPs from extreme parties, as evidence from the last parliament shows, don’t do any work. They don’t come to the committees and they don’t write reports. They just make a lot of noise, but don’t do anything. They talk a lot, but don’t really represent their constituency. If you see their voting records and their committee records in particular, it’s pretty dreadful in some cases. This is the problem with them – it’s all talk, but no action. My worry is that they may be disruptive. There is a lot of important legislation coming up, in areas such as the economy, jobs, growth, environment, justice and home affairs, etc., and we have too many of these people doing nothing, then this worries me. It’s the worry about the composition of the new parliament. But I think in time that the centre-parties will do their best to keep legislation on track.
A lot of people are currently frustrated by the EU and EU politics, among them also many young people. What should the EU do in your opinion to regain the trust of citizens?
I think that a lot of frustration is not just directed at the EU, it’s directed at austerity. First of all, youth unemployment has never been higher as it is now, especially in southern European countries such as Spain or Greece. Young people are really in a bad situation if unemployment is so high. It’s not just a problem for the EU, it’s a problem for national governments as well. People are reacting in every kind of election, and some of them are electing fascists in national and European elections. It’s very naive to think that it’s just Europe, to think that Europe is the cause of all the problems and that it’s the solution to all the problems. In my point of view, the policy of the EU should be directed towards jobs and growth, especially for young people. We need more of that and less of other things.
It’s evident that in times of austerity, people are more likely to vote for populist parties, and this is going to continue. The question is if these parties are going to be the solution? I don’t think so. I’ve seen these parties in the parliament: they don’t even turn up to their own jobs, how are they going to help young people get a job? They don’t even vote in the budget line for the youth guarantee to help young people.
Jean-Claude Juncker is going to be president of the next commission – what do you expect from his commission in the coming term?
We as the S&D will hold him to account on a program that is based on jobs and growth, that is our commitment. Our contribution to this program is very economic-focused, as it’s focusing on jobs and growth, from the social as well as from the value side. We hope that the future commission understands that the EU is a fragile place at the moment, and that we need to have very convincing, just and fair policies. Jobs and growth are the most important issues we have to tackle, and my group will hold him to account on that.
Certainly we (Note: reference to UK S&D members) would have preferred a more reform-focused candidate than Juncker, but our prime minister David Cameron, in trying to get a more reform-focused candidate, made a mess of it. He had moved his MEPs from the European People’s Party, a mainstream group, to the more extreme ECR group. By doing this, he moved away from the centre ground and isolated himself in the European Council. We from the UK felt there was a real possibility of getting a more reform-focused candidate than Juncker. However, the commission is not the sole important actor in the EU, since they need the Parliament and the Council to adopt legislation.
Now there is a consensus around Juncker, but initially we would have preferred a better candidate.
How do you perceive the development that it’s actually one of the Spitzenkandidaten who was elected as president of the commission? How will this change the interinstitutional balance in the EU?
I think that’s quite important. The fact that the parliament was involved was very important, and I think we have to pay some respect to that. The parliament has made a vital and real effort in this case to speak to citizens. It’s always going to be a difficult thing to do because the structure of the parliament makes it difficult to appeal to a wider audience. But I think that efforts are genuinely made to have this communication with the citizens. Juncker is a member of the EPP, and I certainly don’t agree with everything he did in ECONFIN (Economic and Financial Affairs Council of the Council of the European Union), so he isn’t my choice, but I respect that he took part in the Spitzenkandidaten process. I respect him and Martin Schulz for the big efforts they made to go through this process, and it was an important thing to do.
In the last term you were rapporteur for the Parliament’s inquiry into the NSA affair. How do you think parliament is going to proceed in this issue in the coming term?
The hope is that we continue the report. We built the digital bill of rights that is included in the report into something that would have continuity. We ensured that there would be continuity, and I hope as LIBE chairman that I will have the chance to continue the report. By continuing it, we would make important progress on the digital bill of rights. We want to look more closely into areas that are not just of interest to the technology audience, but to a big audience. The future of the cloud, encryption, mass surveillance and privacy, of key agreements like Safe Harbour or SWIFT (Note: SWIFT refers to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication and has established common standards for financial transactions, while Safe Harbour is an EU-US-agreement that demands US companies to comply with the norms of the EU’s data protection directive) are areas where we need to make progress. We need to go into more detail there, but keep in the ambit of the digital bill of rights.
UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a referendum on the question of the British EU exit for 2017. In light of the recent overrule of Cameron in the Juncker decision and the UKIP winning the European elections, how would you assess the likelihood of Britain leaving the EU?
I think that at the moment Euroscepticism and the Eurosceptic debate is really strong, and how these tendencies develop will play a role in 2017. Also the Juncker debate will have an effect on how the referendum will go. It is a concern, and we have to be aware of that. I think the debate in the UK is different from other countries in the sense that it would be the first time a big country would be considering potentially leaving the EU. There are big sensitivities there.
For me, I will be absolutely making a pro-European case if it comes to this referendum as the government has promised. I hope that other countries will engage with us if they want us to stay. It’s not true that if Britain leaves, everything would stay the same. I think it would have political and economic implications in the EU, although I don’t know at the moment what they would exactly be. It’s important to be aware that there may be a referendum in 2017, and for my party it’s important to make a strong pro-European case in case that happens.
Interview by David Donnerer