— “We, at PLUS, do not accept all the pro-European values of Emmanuel Macron, nor all of his pro-European ideas.” (Dacian Cioloș with Emmanuel Macron)
When Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) hosted a party of centrist politicians in Strasbourg last Saturday (11 May 2019), launching Macron’s “Renaissance” platform, an important potential member of his future new grouping in the European Parliament was missing: the Romanian Alliance 2020.
Centrist parties such as Spain’s Ciudadanos, the Dutch VVD and D66, and Belgium’s Open VLD and the Reformist Movement gathered there. Guy Verhostadt’s Open VLD is particularly important. Verhofstadt currently heads the ALDE group, the fourth largest in parliament in the last legislature. He will seek re-election and is also a member of ALDE’s so called “Team Europe,” a list of potential candidates for the European Commission presidency.
Apart from Italy’s Democratic Party and Portugal’s Socialist Party — headed by prime minister António Costa — which are members of the Socialist bloc in the Parliament, almost all the participants, with the exception of Macron’s LREM, were members of the liberal ALDE group.
In Romania, Macron is seen by the intellectuals and urban youth as too much of a European, as a federalist and a supporter of a further integrated EU. The ALDE boss, the Belgian Guy Verhofstadt himself is suspect for his “leftist” leanings and incomprehensible (for some) appetite for a federalist Europe. Verhofstadt is openly in favour of the pooling of debt and has published a “manifesto for a post-national and federal Europe”, together with that colourful figure, the Green Daniel Cohn-Bendit.
I asked Dacian Cioloș, leader of the Romanian +PLUS party, that fusioned with USR (Union Save Romania), pooling together the potential votes of the educated urban younger generations and forming the Alliance 2020, what was the stage of the PLUS/USR negotiations with Emmanuel Macron and Guy Verhofstadt to form a parliamentary group by joining the “Renaissance” platform:
Dacian Cioloş: We are leading negotiations not just with Macron and Verhofstadt, but we are having discussions with many other forces that want to build a new political group in the European Parliament. I insist on this: it will be a new political group that will include a large part of the parties now in ALDE. But other new parties will come to us, that have not been before in the European Parliament, and probably (we will see this in the coming days) some parties will join us coming from other political families. We are living a period of remodelling, of redesigning the political groups in the European Parliament. The current political context is also shifting. We see that the big battle in the future European Parliament will be between the political forces that want an evolution of the EU capitalizing on the crises that the EU has gone through, and other political forces that take advantage of those crises to weaken the decision-making process at the European level and bring it back to the national level, through a populist approach.
Dan Alexe: To what extent do you think your Romanian electorate identifies itself with Macro’s pro-European values, and also with Verhofstadt’s liberal values?
Dacian Cioloş: We, at PLUS, do not accept all the pro-European values of Emmanuel Macron, nor all of his pro-European ideas. It’s something that I told him, when talking about his idea of a Europe made of “concentric circles”, structured on a hierarchical way of functioning. That is not, from our point of view, a good idea. We can, of course, have a concerted action of a group of member states, but only as a temporary action, to initiate new political processes at European level. At the same time, we insist on a unitary way of organizing and operating the European Union, offering the same chances and opportunities to all member states. Especially, in order to avoid creating or deepening the rifts between East and West by suggesting that in certain cases some countries in Western Europe would be more advanced than those in the East, thus justifying a separate action. I told Emmanuel Macron that it’s in everyone’s interest to build this future Europe by overcoming the discrepancies that were maintained by the Berlin Wall and the Cold War and that have remained there after the EU enlargement to the east.
Dan Alexe: I mentioned the liberal dimension. Verhofstadt and his ALDE group with whom you want to negotiate are liberals. Do you think Liberalism as a doctrine is well understood in Romania?
Dacian Cioloş: We at PLUS promote an ethical liberalism that opens up an important dimension for the social side, by respecting private initiative and individual rights and freedoms. We thus see the liberalism of the future not as an exclusivist ideological approach, but as one that puts the individual in the centre. Our action is operating inside the society, and not in an isolated way. The efficiency of the individual action increases when we act collectively or inside the community we live in. We do not believe in an excessive and unilateral liberalism.
Dan Alexe: In Romania some would charge you with being a leftist, which is anathema in Romania nowadays. Do you consider yourself to be a leftist? Do you think that right-and-left labels still make any sense in Romania today?
Dacian Cioloş: No, not at all. As I said, I do not think these ideologies based on a functioning of the society and the economy from a few centuries ago are adapted today.
Dan Alexe: The latest forecast made by the European Parliament before the 26 May elections gives you almost 18% of the vote intentions and 6 seats out of 32 for Romania. What is the most optimistic score you expect the Alliance 2020 to achieve?
Dacian Cioloş: Very realistically, we expect to gain 6 to 8 seats out of 32. The final outcome will depend very much on the mobilization capacity of those who follow our ideas. If there is a very good mobilization to vote, I do not think we could get less than 6 seats.
Dan Alexe: The EU summit in Sibiu on 09 May was a purely informal gathering, which ended without any real conclusion and without any impact. What is the use of the presidency of the EU Council, if even Romania, given the unpreparedness of its current leadership, can exercise it?
Dacian Cioloş: The European Council acts regardless of who assumes the presidency, because it is part of a decision-making process, together with the European Parliament and the European Commission. Depending on the member state holding the Presidency, more or less important decisions are taken, that can be finalised or not. That was the case with Romania. Unfortunately, important political dossiers have not been finalized, precisely because the government, during its presidency, has had little credibility at European level. This government was not prepared, had no clear vision of what it wanted from those dossiers, and it did not prepare them with other Member States, so the decisions were slow or postponed for the following presidencies.