EPP boss spurns a right coalition, ‘welcomes’ socialists back to reality
The EU centre-right top leaders last week put an end to “dangerous” accusations suggesting that the European People’s Party (EPP) is a “climate-denier” or eyes a post-election coalition with the far right, the party’s Secretary-General Thanasis Bakolas told Euractiv in an exclusive interview, adding that pro-EU forces such as socialists should get back to reality and work on an agenda for Europe’s people.
Referring to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s SOTEU last week, Bakolas commented:
“From my seat in Strasbourg, after President von der Leyen and [EPP chief] Manfred Weber spoke, all that could be heard was a big thump. That was the sound of the failed Socialist, Green and Liberal agenda of unfair accusations towards the EPP. The sound was its last and final gasp after those two speeches”.
Following a recent controversial vote on the EU Nature Restoration Law, Socialists, Liberals, and the Greens accused the EPP of undermining the EU Green Deal and siding with the far right.
Bakolas lashed out against these parties, saying their “ill-thought” accusations were unnecessary considering that the EPP has been walking the European line for many years on the cordon sanitaire in the European Parliament and across the member states.
“I found it so upsetting that this culture politics attitude came from them. EPP has a past, and we also have a future. In the future, the EPP will once again be the first party, and we will have top jobs; I know that upsets people, but it is the reality”, the Greek EPP official said.
We are not sexy but pragmatic
Regarding the Green Deal, Bakolas said the EPP’s commitment is unquestionable but pragmatic for a “good” Deal for all.
“We want a Green Deal, one that goes hand in hand with competitiveness and protects any group that may be adversely impacted […] I mean both citizens and industry”, he said, adding that politicians are obliged to take note of farmers’ claims.
“My good friend, secretary general of the Socialists, in a recent interview, said we must ensure that no one is left behind. My message is ‘Welcome to real politics […] I am glad that they have received the message”, Bakolas said.
“Now we can continue with our good friends in the socialists, the liberals and the greens, and be the champions of a Green Deal that is green and simultaneously a good deal for everyone, that enhances our competitive package. The EPP is a centre-right party which may not always be sexy but is very pragmatic”, he added.
Eyeing a pro-EU coalition
Asked about the post-election coalitions, Bakolas stressed that it was too early to start talks, however, he made it clear that pro-EU forces should shape the EU policy agenda.
“I think the EPP, the Socialists, ALDE [liberals], and the Greens are political elements within the EU that have guaranteed our Union is moving forward in the right direction,” Bakolas said.
Bakolas did not mention the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), although there are growing rumours in Brussels suggesting that the EPP would positively eye a right-wing coalition with them.
For the EPP boss, von der Leyen and Weber’s speeches ended “divisive rhetoric around flirting with the extreme right, looking towards them or imagining these fanciful scenarios of a right-wing coalition”.
Bakolas also expressed his fear that Europe slowly slips slide into the American paradigm.
“I have been very tough with my political opponents and very vocal against their use of culture politics because I do not want to see what is happening in the US happen in Europe. You cannot be reckless just to gain political points”, he said.
“For anybody to suggest that the EPP is looking to the far right and courting them is, in my opinion, factually wrong, and secondly, this is politically dangerous for everyone”, he added.
Bakolas cited as an example Greece’s New Democracy which was at the forefront of the fight against neo-Nazi Golden Dawn as well as Spain’s Partido Popular [PP], which in the last elections, according to him, managed to halt far-right Vox’s rise.
“[PP leader] Alberto Nunez Feijoo waged an honourable and decent campaign in the elections in Spain. He clearly said that I am running this campaign as Partido Popular, I want to win on the merits of my policies and those alone. The result of this, even though he does not have the numbers to form a government, is that Vox got half the expected seats. Whose actions in Spain created this result? It was Alberto Nunez Feijoo, not the Socialists”, Bakolas said.
Meloni and the EPP
Asked whether Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who comes from ECR and is allegedly growing ties with the EPP, could be seen as a future EPP member in Italy, Bakolas replied:
“I think we should not confuse our responsibility to talk with people on the issues we can talk about, I think that is a fundamental political responsibility. Europe’s leaders are talking to Meloni. Why should Brussels not talk with her if we have issues we can and must talk about [such as migration]?” Bakolas wondered.
He said Forza Italia, EPP’s member in Italy and part of the coalition government, has guaranteed the European perspective of the Italian government.
“I am very thankful to Antonio Tajani for all the work he is doing on this. Pro-Europe, pro-rule of law, pro-NATO and pro-Ukraine – you can call these red lines or whatever you want, but I think that is essentially what unites the majority and what separates others from it”.
Commenting on Euractiv’s senior editor Sarantis Michalopoulos’s note that all these are also characteristics of Meloni after she was elected, Bakolas said, “Well, as you say, [we saw these] characteristics after being elected.”
EPP leaders back Von der Leyen
Regarding the EU elections, a big question in Brussels is whether von der Leyen will seek a re-election in the EU Commission presidency.
Bakolas expressed his wish for the EU Commission’s top job to remain in the EPP’s hands.
“In my role, I work for all our member parties across Europe, and I can tell you that our leaders look at the von der Leyen presidency very positively and proudly, especially given the immense challenges her Commission has faced – COVID, vaccines, recovery fund, Ukraine”.
“I understand that our leaders would welcome a second von der Leyen term, but that is up to the president of the European Commission to decide”, he said.
“It is in our statutes, and for me, given this fact, we have a congress to agree on our common manifesto ahead of the European elections. The statutes of my party call for a congress that will nominate a lead candidate, and we have an obligation to respect the statutes. However, it is a bit too early to discuss that”, he said.
Poland’s Tusk is a ‘real hero’
Asked about the upcoming Polish elections, Bakolas described main opposition Civic Platform (EPP) leader Donald Tusk as a “real hero” considering ruling PiS party methods.
“Donald Tusk is a real hero. We know what kind of politics PiS is all about, we know the methods they use. I am in awe of the fight that Donald Tusk is waging in Poland every day – very honourable and very gutsy,” Bakolas said, adding that all pro-EU political forces should back Tusk.
“These elections are about defending the fundamental rights of people and Polish democracy”, he added.
Referring to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki from PiS, he said, “It is very easy to be a populist” and drew parallels with the Greek example.
“Greece had a financial crisis that upended the social contract and gave space to ruthless populists that took advantage of the situation to gain power and maintain it at all costs. All populists follow the same playbook. Sooner or later, just like in Greece, people send a very clear message about the politics they want […] and democracy will prevail”, he concluded.
(Sarantis Michalopoulos | Euractiv.com)