Maria Koleva, Brussels28 January, 2012 Close-up:
Andrey Kovatchev is a Member of the European Parliament, head of the Bulgarian delegation in EPP, member of GERB. Since one week, Vice-chair of the Committee on foreign affairs. Member of the Subcommittee on security and defence, and the EP Delegation for relations with the United States. Since March 2011, Vice-president of the Union of European Federalists. Degree in Biology from the University of Saarland, Germany, Doctor of Natural Sciences from the same university. Area commercial manager for CIS for US company John Deere International. Fluent in English, German, French, Russian and Spanish.
What is important is that Europe as a continent be going towards a more united policy and a single voice in the world, from economic and fiscal to foreign policy.The speed at which member states will go depends largely on themselves. In a globalizing world it will be hard for small and medium-sized European states to survive, it will be hard even for the big ones, unless European integration is deepened.
- Mr. Kovatchev, is Europe adequately meeting the challenge of the crisis with the fiscal pact in preparation?
- We can not say yet, because we have not seen the final version of the pact, but evidently this is the way. The aim is to guarantee, on the one hand, that the Member States shall not ignore essential rules such as the rule of not spending more than you earn. And also let some political parties, which won the elections, not be deluded and undertake more commitments than the state budget can afford. For instance, the external government debt of any Member State should not exceed 60% of GDP. It has all been said many times. It's nothing new or groundbreaking that will be laid down in this intergovernmental fiscal pact. But as we see, it is very hard to find consensus among all members of the pact, excluding Great Britain. The devil is in the details. Of course, it is critically important whether with this step the EU will restore the confidence of the markets, as well as the European citizens and the citizens of the great world powers, who would recognize the EU as a major player on the global scene that is trustworthy. They should be confident that Europe is a continent with a future, rather than an marginalizing continent - from a demographic point of view, from the impossibility to take decisions because it is hard for it to find common policy. We, on the contrary, want to prove that we are united and can unite around common policies. Now this is a common fiscal and budget policy, subordinated to basic rules. These rules should not just be talked about but be observed too. For those states, which do not comply, should be provided sanctions. The citizens of Bulgaria, being a country which observes these rules, are deprived in the short-term from the opportunity to receive more social benefits, so that in the log-term we could recover our economy and register growth. With the belt-tightening at the moment we are investing in our future and in the future of the coming generations. I think this will repay soon, but of course we insist there must be a mechanism of incentives for the states that strictly observe these financial and budget rules, and conversely, sanctions for the states that do not. This I hope will be laid down in the new fiscal pact and gain the confidence of the two major groups - markets and citizens. Whether Europe has a response to the crisis depends on how convincing are the European leaders, who take the decisions, and how well they will communicate this decision to the markets and citizens, so they can trust this step. In world economy, success and failure are mainly built on psychology and trust.
- What would be the advantages from taking part in the pact for countries outside the Eurozone?
- I am sure that we must by no means divide Europe into two or three speeds, into federal core and periphery, into the diverse ideas and scenarios that came in circulation last year. On the contrary, we must stay united, so that countries in or outside the Eurozone, should all take part in this fiscal pact. What is vital is to finalize the pact, as it is designed, and all EU member states, except Great Britain, to be part of this pact. The countries outside the Eurozone should at the table, participate in all formats, where decisions are made and be informed, of course initially as observers, until they join the Eurozone. They should undertake the commitments to observe the rules. Europe in two, three speeds should be overcome. The speed at which member states will go depends largely on themselves too. If they want to be slower, no one can make them go faster. If Great Britain does not wish to go along now, we have Europe at two speeds. But it is Britain's own decision. These are sovereign states, which decide what to do. Whether there will be more political, fiscal, economic integration and later on, why not social too, it is up to the states. Of course, I think there is no other alternative. In a globalizing world I don't know how small and medium-sized European states will survive, it will be hard even for the big ones, unless European integration is deepened. What is important is that Europe as a continent be going towards a more united policy and a single voice in the world, from economic and fiscal to foreign policy.
- Isn't the European Parliament left a bit aside from taking important decisions on the pact?
- This is the concern of many of my colleagues and we oppose strongly the European Parliament to be circumvented and the member states by the so-called intergovernmental approach, to take decisions outside the common institutions, outside the EP. We insist Parliament to take active part in taking the decision and also to be at the table when all further policies are discussed. When this common economic governance of EU is discussed we want the EP President to be invited as a permanent part of this government. Our stand is that we need strong community institutions. For us, the community method has to be leading in the EU. The European visions and idea, ever since the declaration of Schuman and Monnet, is a qualitatively different phase of integration which is not intergovernmental or interstate, but supranational, with strong community institutions as the European Commission and the European Parliament.
- There is much talk about the role of foreign credit rating agencies. Do you think they are the principal cause for the distrust of financial markets?
- We could go into lengthy speculations and philosophizing whether it was their fault and if they were the only ones to blames. I don't think only US rating agencies are to be blamed for the crisis, although there is a conspiracy trend who believe that in the US or the US-based rating agencies, want to weaken the EU so that the United States would pick up greater momentum. The procedure for establishment of a European credit agency has been launched. It comes down to trust, will anyone trust this agency. Such agencies take years to get well established. But these rating agencies should go out of anonymity. We know their names but we don't know who are the people behind them, who pays for these ratings and by what methodology they are done. The public is the dark about it. The EU wants clear rules for these agencies and for them to go out of anonymity. I think in the long-term it would be good for Europe to have a European rating agency based in the EU.
- In your capacity of a newly elected Vice-chair of the Committee on Foreign Policy what will, in your opinion, dominate EU foreign-policy activities in 2012?
- EU is further seeking to have a strong voice across the world. Yesterday Bill Gates asked in EP whether Europe would remain just a big development and humanitarian aid donor or would evolve to become a major global player with a common foreign and security policy, which to be respected by the rest of the great world powers and the smaller ones involved in different conflicts. Unfortunately, it is not the case for the time being. Often it is more important what the stand of an individual country is - of Germany or France or Spain or the UK - rather than that of, say, Catherine Ashton. This is so because there is no common stand or confidence in European common policy. What remains a major target of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the EU is to further develop a strong European foreign policy. Particularly, it means EU enlargement in the Western Balkans. In this respect a debate with the European citizens is in store for us to try to persuade them that the enlargement must go on. You are aware of the fact that many EU citizens, especially of the old Member States experience an 'enlargement fatigue', reluctance towards further EU enlargement. Still, we have made a commitment to the Western-Balkan countries that sooner or later they will join the EU. Such an accession would be beneficial for all the European nations, as we cannot have a blind spot in the Balkans generating just insecurity and conflicts. The Eastern Partnership is yet another particular area. We have to go on with the new Association Agreements with these countries, which are currently being prepared. I am the EPP rapporteur on the EU's Association Agreement with Ukraine, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. The third particular area is that of North Africa and the changes in the Arab world. EU ought to carefully try to motivate and support the democratic processes - which should be, of course, in accordance with the aspirations of the citizens of these countries - and ensure respect for the basic human rights. We hope very much that what started last year, as an Arab Spring would not end up as a mere Islamic-oriented society. They will have to go a long way. We are aware that the European democratic model could not be exactly replicated to function in the same mode elsewhere. On the other hand, we can allow of no compromise with the basic human rights.
- Is the idea of creating common EU military capability developed further?
- The idea of Europe unifying its military capacities in the area of defence becomes ever more popular and is developed positively, especially when it comes to a period of financial and economic crisis, when national governments and their finance ministers exert pressure on ministers of defence to curtail military expenditure. It would be only logical and efficient for us in Europe to unite these capacities of ours in the area of defence and security and to build single military structures. The latest developments, of a few days ago, include a draft resolution on establishing of provisional EU operational military headquarters. Hopefully, it could later become permanent EU HQ, which would in no way duplicate NATO structures. NATO and US are expecting of Europe more commitments. For the US government finds it hard to explain to its citizens as to why their solders have to take care of Europe's security, as has been the case in the wake of WWII. The US commitment remains firm; still it expects Europe to take active part in its own defence, as well as in peacekeeping missions such as those of the recent years in Africa, Middle East and the Balkans. There is anther project, Pooling and Sharing. Some 300 projects have been submitted to the European Defence Agency being now considered for financing. Some of these projects deal with, for example, acquisition of military equipment: several countries cooperate to acquire helicopters and use these jointly. There is also a proposal for amendments in the financial mechanism of the EU battle groups and military missions expenditures as a whole. Europe has several battle groups with two of them 1,500-strong on standby rotating every 6 months. They are ready to go on missions in any hot spot of the world. These groups have never been used, mostly for financial reasons. Until now these were supported by the respective countries on standby. Catherine Ashton proposed they to be financed jointly by all the Member States and the budget of the CFSP, to increase the opportunities to use them if need be.
Maria Koleva, Brussels28 January, 2012 Close-up: