Bernd Koelmel: Solidarity is the most misused word

It doesn't need a transfer system which gives intense control over the Member States

We have to bring the illegal migrants back to the neighbour countries outside the EU where they entered from. That is very important in order to secure and to control migration, as every other area of the politics. It must be allowed for the EU Member States to bring back the coming migrants to the countries of their origin or countries surrounding the EU. This is what Italy needs, and not only arrangement with Germany and Austria, a German MEP from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group says in an interview to Europost.

Mr Koelmel, the issue of migration in Germany has created turbulent tensions over the past few weeks, which has even threatened to destroy the government. Do you think that, with the reached compromise, the crisis has already passed?

I am absolutely sure that this is not the case. We see that this “compromise” is not really a compromise. It is only one small step in the right direction. It is obvious that the government and the politicians in this government are very, very weak. For the people in Germany this is a disaster, because we don't see a clear masterplan, as it was promised. So, in the end this is not going to strengthen the government, and I am sure this cabinet will collapse in a few months. My biggest concern is that it is not clear what levels of coming migrants Germany is willing to accept. We have to decide this in a clear way, and we have to secure our borders, so illegal migrants no longer can easily reach Germany. We have to bring the illegal migrants back to the neighbour countries outside the EU where they entered from. That is very important in order to secure and to control migration, as every other area of the politics. This “compromise” doesn't contain such, though in the end there are some words sounding well, but we will take only a few steps.

Can eventual deal between Germany, Austria and Italy really close the southern migrant route into Europe?

In theory it is possible, but in practice I think we need for this a solution at an EU level. And this is what I say - we have no clear position for this. For Germany it will be very comfortable if Italy especially will promise and do what is needed to secure the borders. But Italy needs help for this and needs a clear legal system to reach this. It must be allowed for the EU Member States to bring back the coming migrants to the countries of their origin or countries surrounding the EU. This is what Italy needs, and not only arrangement with Germany and Austria.

At the latest European Council, leaders agreed to explore the concept of regional disembarkation platforms outside the EU and creation of the agreed controlled centres, within the EU. As spokesman in your party on migration problems, what is your stance on it?

I agree on this concept, but as I said it is only a part of the whole mosaic. This is absolutely necessary, but we need also a new legal system to control migration into the EU. This is very important. And as we have seen, not all of the country leaders are willing to accept more migrants, especially Hungary and Poland. They didn't agree to have solutions with the content that these states have to accept new migrants. They don't want to do this. We need a clarification about these problems, otherwise the EU will collapse.

But what about the EU solidarity, for which many of the other political families in the EP insist?

I think the word 'solidarity' is the most misused word I ever heard in the last decade. Solidarity is absolutely needed, but solidarity doesn't need a transfer system which gives intense control over the Member States. It is not to use the word solidarity and then you have to accept whatever you are told to do. This is not the idea of the EU. We need voluntary solutions, but it is not a question about solidarity. Solidarity is needed for our front states, especially Italy and Greece, in the way that they need financial help, perhaps support with staff from the EU. And I am very happy to support these states and give them help. That is solidarity, but it is not a way of solidarity to say every Member State has to accept what Brussels decide.

What is your opinion about the Commission's forthcoming proposal for border management and the goal of deploying 10,000 European Border Patrol Police by 2027, announced by Jean-Claude Juncker?

I absolutely agree in this case with Jean-Claude Juncker. But I think we should do this much earlier than he proposed and reach this goal in three years at the latest. It can't be really a problem to employ further 10,000 staff members for border control.

You and four of your colleagues, MEPs from the Liberal-Conservative Reformists Party, lodged a complaint with the ECJ challenging the legality of ECB bond purchases. What is at stake with the bank's behaviour, according to you?

The ECB goes in a way that we, the LKR party, say is illegal. Every month, they buy on the market Member States bonds for €30bn to €60bn. This is in an indirect way financing the states and to be honest, without this measure, countries like Greece and Italy would be insolvent. But it can't be a task of the ECB to save insolvent states in a way that other states have to guarantee for these bonds, and in fact we have reached this status, when ECB buy bonds and the stakeholders of the bank guarantee them. By the way, Germany is a 27% stakeholder of the ECB, so the country guarantees for 27% of state bonds the ECB has bought up to now. This is an amount of over €2tn. I calculated that this amount is the same as every person in Germany, from the babies up to very old men and women, giving €25,000. This is an amount created from nothing. The ECB is acting in a way to destroy the value of our currency.

What happened at the court hearing on 10 July?

We heard a lot of well-known arguments that the mandate of the ECB would allow measures that the bank took, but we heard also from the German government and the Deutsche Bundesbank that they want to have a clear and close frame in which ECB is allowed to act. This is a new message - that German institutions don't want to allow the ECB to widen its mandate in a way that in the end we won't be having any transparency. As a next step, the court will declare when they can tell us their judgement, and this can take a few months because of the problems which are in the background.

What do you think of the plans of British PM Theresa May to negotiate a soft Brexit deal and free trade area with the EU, and is it realistic to expect such deal till March 2019?

It is very important that Theresa May negotiates such a way that we can reach a soft Brexit. Our party, and especially our colleague Hans-Olaf Henkel, very strongly support the idea for having an exit from the Brexit. The best way would be to have a new deal for Britain. And the first step to this could be a soft Brexit. This would create on both sides winners, otherwise a hard Brexit is a lose-lose situation. But I think it is unrealistic to reach such an agreement in the spring time of 2019, with the hypothesis that on the playing field of the EU a lot of our politicians, like Jean-Claude Juncker, they don't want to have a good agreement with Great Britain, they want to blame Brits as losers in their Brexit decision and don't want to show that there is an alternative to the membership of the EU.

You are ECR's spokesman in EP on budgetary affairs. Why now, against the backdrop of Brexit, you are so insistent on reduction in the next seven-year EU budget?

We all must always be aware that this is not money laying on the table from somewhere. This is taxpayers' money, earned by our citizens, and we have to respect this and spend this money in the most efficient and economical way. And I think it is very natural, when one country leaves the EU, we have to reduce the budget by the amount of the share of the leaving country. The other issue is that the EU spends a lot of money in a way to having a 'Transfer Union'. Brussels collects a lot of money and then decides from time to time who will get subsidies for what. But this is not a way to strengthen economy. This is a way to weaken economy. Economy needs competition and it needs to strengthen itself. I'm fighting for less bureaucracy, and that needs a smaller budget, not a bigger budget.

You are rather critical of the CAP, for example, but where in your view should the EU money be better used instead?

The CAP is an area where the EU is absolutely inefficient. With it, we not only destroy the competitiveness within the EU, we destroy with these subsidies also the external market, as in Africa. This is a disaster for the farmers there, as they are not able to be competitive to the EU farmers. This is one of the reasons why we have a migration problem. That is why it is not clever to spend such a huge amount in the CAP.

What are your concerns about the threshold proposed in the reform of the electoral law, adopted at the last EP session?

I think the threshold for the elections for the EP is a wrong way. It is to exclude a lot of voters. Without a threshold every vote will reach a goal, and this is the real democracy. We are not in a need to have a threshold at EU level, because we don't have to decide about the government and so on. The work goes in the same way with or without a threshold, and it is only a burden for democracy if we have it. And for our party, the Liberal-Conservative Reformists, as for every newly founded party, it would be very hard to reach the threshold. It will simply give new parties no chance.

Could you please say something more about your party?

We, LKR, are supporting the idea of a peaceful and stable EU, based on the principle of subsidiarity. Member States and their regions should have more say than today. Only issues which are useful to be debated on EU level should be debated - and if necessary, financed at EU level. We are against a further centralisation or even a European Super State. Our party is in opposition of the actual German government, as we have completely different positions, especially regarding the migration crisis, the euro currency and the energy transition.

Furthermore, in Brussels and Strasbourg, our five MEPs have a completely different approach than most of the other German MEPs. We are standing for proximity to the citizens, transparency, direct democracy, liberty, and thus a lean, effective EU, whereas most of the other German MEPs, including most opposition parties in Berlin, are standing for more bureaucracy, more burdens for the taxpayers, more regulation, more state paternalism and even socialism in Brussels style, and at the end, for the undemocratic United States of Europe as a long-term objective.

Why did you voice discontent about the European Defence Industrial Development Programme that EP backed?

I think it is dangerous for the EU to strengthen this programme because this shows to our partners over the Atlantic, especially the US, that we are thinking in a parallel way. The core should always be NATO, and we should strengthen NATO and NATO relations, and not going away from these ties. We had a really good past with NATO, seven decades with freedom and security, and we shouldn't go into the risk that our partners would be not in line with our ideas. We should decide these questions together with our NATO partners.

 

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Bernd Koelmel is a German Member of the European Parliament from the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group. He is president of the Liberal-Conservative Reformists Party (LKR). Mr Koelmel is chair of the Delegation for relations with Canada and member of the EP Committee on Budgets (BUDG) and of the Conference of Delegation Chairs. He is the ECR spokesman in the European Parliament on budgetary affairs, and in his party on migration problems. Prior to his election in the EP in 2014, he served at Baden-Wurttemberg Court of Auditors and was temporarily head of Karlsruhe State Audit Office. Mr Koelmel started his professional career as police officer in Heidelberg and Baden-Baden.

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