Interview with Christopher Glück

European Elections, Brexit, Federalism, and more with JEF Europe’s President

, by Nenad Stekić

Interview with Christopher Glück

This year’s European politics will achieve its institutional peak as the EU Parliament elections are about to be held soon. Vast number of organisations and subjects are advocating for more integrated and consequently federal Union, inviting Europeans to cast their votes. What could resolve the bad electoral turnout to European elections? How does the youth perceive Brexit process? What will be the role of the European Union in the near future and what about European ideals? Why should one become the JEF activist? JEF Europe’s President, Christoper Glück, sat down with Newsletter for the European Union to answer these very questions.

We have witnessed very low electoral turnout to European elections in previous two electoral terms. Do you believe that the 2019 elections could increase the democratic legitimacy of the European Parliament in eyes of EU citizens?

Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that turnout will increase dramatically in the European elections of 2019 even as the challenges on the minds of citizens are more European than ever. European elections are in practice still very much 28, or soon 27, national elections held in the same week and therefore citizens do not fully understand the importance of casting their vote in these elections. This is, of course, a dramatic mistake as there are real decisions to be taken and it will matter greatly for many issues from digitalization, to economic affairs to migration to the future of EU institutional affairs what the possible majorities in the European Parliament will be. What would need to be done really to increase the turnout? The European elections suffer, first and foremost, of a lack of European debate. The chicken-and-egg problem of European elections is that, in order to have a European demos, one needs to start creating the structures that would allow it to thrive, and in turn, these structures will become more effective when the process is complete. Widely televised debates among lead candidates to the presidency of the Commission, a Europeanisation of the campaign through, for example, the inclusion of EU party logos alongside the national ones, a more open process of selection of the lead candidates, all of these tools, together, would certainly improve in the eyes of citizens the EU dimension of EU elections. Unfortunately, as of now, the level of commitment and resources invested into genuinely European elections and the lead candidates’ system, as in 2014, does not seem sufficient for them to be a truly transformative element in European democracy.

As a convinced federalist, we suppose you are strictly opposing the Brexit. However, Britain is about to leave the Union at the end of March. What is the official JEF Europe’s attitude towards this event?

Brexit has always been an ill-conceived and harmful idea, sold to British citizens in a campaign built on false promises, outright lies and disinformation, and fuelled on discontent that had little to do with the European Union. The EU-UK negotiations have demonstrated to what extent voters in the UK have been misled during the referendum and have proven that Brexit was never going to deliver on the false promises of the Leave campaign. The best option for the UK was always, and still is, to remain a full member of the European Union. Unfortunately, I fear you might be right and the process has gone too far and it will now be very difficult to reverse Brexit in the short run. There might also be a substantial backlash of civil unrest in the UK as the debate about the EU has become very emotional and polarised. As JEF Europe, we supported the original withdrawal agreement as a way to reduce the human and economic costs of Brexit, enable continued close cooperation between the European Union and the United Kingdom, which will be required in the face of current global challenges, and maintain stability and peace in Northern Ireland. As this deal was voted down in the British parliament, we are now coming dangerously close to a no-deal Brexit which would be a human tragedy and an economic disaster in both the UK and the EU. We can only hope that reason prevails in the last meters of the debate and a cooperative and sensible agreement can be found. I can only repeat what President Tusk said; “If there is no agreement that is acceptable and no-deal is not acceptable, the solution seems obvious. A British return to the EU, however, must include a firm agreement to the principle of sincere cooperation and the aspiration of ’ever closer Union’”.

It is indubitable that we have entered the era of economic multipolarity. Do you believe the EU’s has a capacity to preserve (and upgrade) its trade dominance or it will be assimilated into the global economic outlook?

In globally integrated markets the EU will always remain interdependent with other major economies and vulnerable to changes in the global economic outlook. What the EU can and should do is to increase internal resilience to resist the impact of sudden downturns in global economic developments. A lot can be done to improve the Eurozone’s capacity to resist economic shocks, such as for example the introduction of a sizeable Eurozone budget to finance programmes for coherence in economic cycles of Eurozone members. This, in turn, would also strengthen the position of the Euro as a global currency. In terms of trade and the setting of global standards, the EU as the largest single market in the world has a lot of leverage. It will be important to develop a consistent European approach to trade negotiations, not least for Europe to remain a reliable partner for open economies and trade. Such an approach that can count on the stable support of all pro-European party families in the European Parliament must certainly include very high standards on social and environmental matters but must also be unashamedly pro-trade. The provisions in CETA, the EU-Canadian trade deal, might to some degree be a model for future trade deals.

JEF Europe is actively engaged in everyday European affairs and politics, but it also gathers many young people all across the Continent. Do you see youth as politically active and involved actors at the institutionalised supranational level, or you perceive it as a sporadic occurrence?

The fact that the EU is today significantly more democratic, inclusive, and accessible than it has been ten or thirty years ago is not least the result of effective advocacy from youth organisations. One example is the Structured Dialogue of the European Commission to which JEF has been actively contributing during the past years. So, yes there is room for young people to get involved and, yes, we have an impact on EU policy. It is also part of the truth though that it is not easy to be influential on the European level. It requires good coordination, the ability to speak in the name of many members and sound, intellectually solid policy proposals.

As a youth inclusive organisation, JEF Europe along with its national sections has attracted many young people. Being the president of such a unique entity, what would you underline as the strongest arguments for being/becoming a federalist in an uncertain Europe?

The challenges we are facing in the 21stcentury cannot be solved by nation states alone any more. We are also seeing that the model of intergovernmental cooperation is reaching its limits. There is only one way to keep the European Union and that is by integrating it further. The next years will decide what direction Europe is taking. Whoever cares about democratic governance of European affairs, about keeping our continent together and finding European solutions, should become active now before it is too late. Also, it is a lot of fun to work with motivated and idealistic young people from across Europe towards a common cause.

JEF Europe will hold its next Federal Committee in March this year. What are the main challenges and issues to be discussed before the highest decision-making body of the organisation?

This year’s Federal Committee will be a special one as it will be in London and one week before the Brexit day. On the same day, probably the largest pro-European demonstration in history will take place on the streets of London to which we will also participate. For JEF Europe this will be the moment to focus our minds and get everything in place to run an effective and engaging campaign for the European elections. We will also discuss resolutions on Brexit and the future of EU-UK relations as well as on a European approach to digitalization.

Do you believe European unity and spirit will survive the test of uncertain political, economic (and even military) crises?

Every crisis is also a chance. It is clear that Europe needs to change to survive, but there is no reason to lose hope. Visiting one JEF event is enough to realise that there are convinced and talented Europeans all across our continent who will never give up on the European spirit. This still means that we need to start finding majorities again to address on the European level the crises mentioned. A first test will be the European Parliament elections where we need to convince those parties who are our traditional allies to adopt a common and radically pro-European programme that needs to be put into action as soon as possible after the elections.

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