Terry Reintke is an MEP for Die Grünen, the German Green Party. She sits on the committee for Women’s rights Equality, Social Affairs and Regional Development. On Wednesday 29th, she came to the University of Liverpool to give the first of her Terry Talks; a series of talks on what Brexit means and to find out what young people want from it. After an insightful talk, we sat down and I asked her some questions about the future of the EU and British politics.
Do you think Brexit will galvanise the EU to become more united?
I certainly think there is a danger it will create more division. Not so much between the governments of the different member states, as it is actually creating more unity at the moment; but the problems that we saw during the Brexit referendum such as the very hateful rhetoric, is something that is spreading all over Europe. So yes, there could be further division among the public. Something that we need to be very clear about is that we do not want to have a sense of division across the EU; we need to condemn this way of having a political debate. We need to provide political alternatives to the answers that the so-called populists are giving, to give people a sense of hope again so that they know that together we can be stronger and we can change things for the better.
Okay, that leads me onto my next question: how can the Greens or other left-of-centre parties frame their rhetoric to win votes from the so-called left-behind?
The problem with the EU is that when it was shaping societies, it was on a very technocratic level. So for example, when we look at how the EU is supporting people, it is happening through investment policies, and through structural funds, these are very technical means and as a result, people did not really feel the changes in their everyday lives. We need to take an approach of starting from the fundamental level. We should make people aware of their individual rights and their social rights. We should use that to make the EU a champion in the fight against inequality, to make sure that a worker who lost their job knows their rights, and that the EU will stand up for them. Even if it is against big lobbyists and big corporations, we are still going to stand up for your rights because they are safe-guarded by the EU.
Aside from Brexit, what do you think are the biggest challenges the EU faces?
We need to find a humanitarian, common European solution for refugees coming to the EU seeking safety and protection. This is not a problem that lies in the EU Parliament, but it lies with the EU heads of state. So, they need to find a solution on how the different EU institutions can work together to deal with this challenge that we are facing. Unless this happens, I think we are going have difficulty re-building trust, not just in the EU as a whole, but also the member states, also their governments.
The second thing I think the EU is neglecting – although it is not just the EU, it is also the member states and the media – is the question of climate change. Because if we really want to tackle climate change, and reach these aims we set out in the Paris Agreement, we need to be even more ambitious with our goals. And now, with the whole debate around Brexit and right-wing populism on the rise, this has really put climate change to the side even though this is the biggest challenge we are facing. If we do not tackle climate change, there will soon not be a planet that we can live on; and to tackle this, we need the EU.
The EU needs to be bold in solving these problems, and if we can manage to do this, then we will hopefully be able to re-build the trust that people might have lost in this project
So, with regards to the challenges the EU faces, who do you think will be better equipped to deal with them: [Emmanuel] Macron and [Martin] Schulz, or Macron and [Angela] Merkel
If there was going to be a Green President in France and a Green Chancellor in Germany, then we would be really well equipped to build an EU that serves the people much more!
However, in the French election, it is absolutely essential that Marine Le Pen is not elected. Because, if there was to be a referendum on EU membership like she has called for – even if they did not win – it would be counter-productive to have another very spiteful and hateful campaign and it would be damaging to the EU project. For Germany, of course, Schulz has a much more of a European character so to speak, he has a story with the EU, and he is a committed European. However, I would wish for much stronger and more positive rhetoric on the EU from candidate Schulz. He has become noticeably silent in this regard.
With regards to Corbyn’s poor performance today on Article 50 at PMQs, do you think there is hope for the Labour Party?
Well, I still have hope that Labour will wake up and realise that they are the biggest opposition party, and they need to take that role as it will be necessary for the Brexit process. Despite Article 50 already being triggered, there are still lots of questions that have been raised and we need a strong voice to hold May to account. If Labour is not going to do it, then the Greens, the Lib Dems and the SNP will have to team up and say that the hard-Brexit that the Tories want to deliver is not what a lot of people voted for, even among the people who voted for leave. Otherwise, Theresa May is going to get what she is claiming, that she is the voice of every British citizen, which of course is nonsense. But if she is not facing an opposition, she will be able to continue to make that claim, and this is why I hope that there will be a strong oppositional voice – not only by politicians but by British citizens and the press, also.
Do think that it is fair for Scotland or Northern Ireland to remain in the EU – as they voted heavily in favour for remain – and if so, is this even practical?
Both Scotland and Northern Ireland should be given a choice. I’m not saying exactly what they should do, but I think the way the British government has treated Scotland’s proposal for staying in the single market has been absolutely appalling. Theresa May has said that she wants to include the devolved administrations in this entire process – as there are certain aspects that will heavily impact on devolved government – and the Scottish government was making suggestions and she completely dismissed them. So, I think this way of handling it is the exact opposite of what I would like to see. However, the question of whether Scotland should become independent or not is for the Scottish people to decide. But one thing is clear to me: if Scotland was to become an independent state, we should do everything to make the transition from being within the UK to being in the EU as easy as possible.
Thank you, Terry, this has been very insightful.