Ilhan Kyuchyuk: Johnson walked into a vicious institutional trap

We all are witnessing the severe crisis that the world's most stable democracy is going through

Photo: EP Ilhan Kyuchyuk

What is most concerning is that the Brexit date is looming once again and we still do not know if the rights of EU citizens will be guaranteed. Against this backdrop, France has come out and said it would veto another Brexit delay if the UK government did not provide a sound reason for it, thus pouring kerosene on the already blazing fire, said Ilhan Kyuchyuk, MEP (MRF/RE) and ALDE Party Vice-President, in an interview to Europost.

Mr Kyuchyuk, with the Brexit date just around the corner, it seems that the situation in the UK surrounding the divorce procedure is spiralling out of control? What is your assessment of the latest developments?

It is hard to analyse such a fluid situation with any sort of accuracy. We all are witnessing the severe crisis that the world's most stable democracy is going through. When several months ago the European leaders and the UK's then-Prime Minister Theresa May agreed on pushing back the Brexit date by six months, we all were hoping that the extension would give her enough time to gather support for the proposed deal or at least find a sensible solution to the political crisis. The exact opposite has transpired instead, and now the situation is on the verge of spiralling out of control. What is most concerning about this is that the Brexit date is looming once again and we still do not know if the rights of EU citizens will be guaranteed. Against this backdrop, France has come out and said it would veto another Brexit delay if the UK government did not provide a sound reason for it, thus pouring kerosene on the already blazing fire.

You are travelling to the UK in the coming days. What is the goal of your visit?

I am heading to the UK with two primary goals. The first is to take part in the ALDE meeting to be held there in my capacity as vice-president of the party. The second one is to participate in the 2019 Autumn Conference of the Liberal Democrats. The event will take place in Bournemouth, and I am confident that it will provide a strong UK voice in defence of European values and liberalism. I will support our liberal partners in their #StopBrexit campaign and our shared vision about the future of the UK and the EU.

To what extent does the latest plan to give EU nationals three years' temporary leave to remain in the UK after a potential no-deal Brexit signals a softening in the UK government's stance?

At this stage, Britain's government has abandoned plans to end freedom of movement for EU citizens immediately after a possible no-deal Brexit. But this intention cannot be described as softening in London's position. I call the aforementioned decision “intention” because it is yet to be made legally binding with an exit deal signed by both parties, which means there is a risk that it can be scrapped by PM Boris Johnson at any point.

As a lawmaker, what is your take on PM Johnson's decision to prorogue the UK parliament?

The temporary suspension of parliament and its longer-than-normal duration are an unprecedented act that has sent shockwaves across the entire political spectrum and the British society. Many have described it as a coup. As an eastern European politician, I have seen the opposition boycott parliament numerous times. I do not support that political method because the place of lawmakers is in parliament, representing the citizens. But when their voice is silenced in the way it was by Johnson, we are talking about discrediting parliament as an institution and parliamentary democracy as a whole. In the case of the UK, this act takes on a particularly symbolic meaning considering that the country serves as an example for many young democracies around the world. No matter how this ordeal ends - Brexit or no, snap elections or no - this unprecedented five-week prorogation of parliament will destroy confidence in the UK democracy for a long time to come.

How do you view Johnson's moves to provoke general elections before the European Council in October?     

Johnson set for himself and walked into a vicious institutional trap, severely limiting his options after stating that he has no intention of seeking another Brexit extension from Brussels and saying he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit. Nevertheless, British lawmakers, including the ones Johnson expelled from his Conservative Party, are preparing legal action in case the premier refuses to seek a delay to Brexit. The only way out of the Brexit cul-de-sac that Johnson sees is to hold general elections on 15 October so he can win another term in office and proceed with Brexit in time. However, parliament has rejected his proposal for snap elections multiple times and in the meantime the law against no-deal Brexit has come into force, obligating the premier to ask for another extension of the date in the event that a deal regulating relations with the EU is not reached before 31 October. We will wait and see what Johnson's next moves are, but as of today the British side has not presented any concrete new proposals to Brussels.

What is the most important lesson that European politicians can take away from Brexit?

Eighty years since the start of WWII, which devastated our continent, we once again allowed the obscurantist forces of populism and extreme nationalism to return to our societies. Hate crimes have increased more than 200 times in the UK following the Brexit referendum. How quickly we forgot the post-war state of Europe and what the European Union has given us. Brexit is the sweet triumph of those who want to demolish our shared home but also an illustration of the need to fight every day for democracy and freedom in Europe.      

Let us focus on the next leadership of the Commission. Don't you think that Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the new College of Commissioners too soon, having in mind the usual tempo of Brussels?

The future European Commission is getting an increasingly clear outline. The European Council faces a series of important issues to be resolved and, with this in mind, I don't think that the ongoing transition from the Juncker Commission to the Von der Leyen Commission is too hasty. The MEPs had enough time to get familiarised with the priorities set by Ms von der Leyen who will take office on 1 November and we shouldn't forget that until then the European Parliament will have to approve of the nominations after hearing out all the candidates. The Parliament will play the crucial role in the selection of Commissioners.

Von der Leyen pledged a change in the EU. In the course of debates, prior to voting on her candidacy, many MEPs made an accent on the deep divide between East and West. How does your group Renew Europe see it?  

Renew Europe is more than just the third largest group in the European Parliament. It gives a flash of hope to Europe and all Europeans. The citizens do like the EU but they do not approve of it in its present form. They would like to see it reformed, efficient and working for their benefit. However, if we want to reform it, we have first of all to stop dividing Europe into East and West and avoid double standards. Our group is working towards making Europe innovative and competitive on a global scale, a Union that will protect its citizens and their human rights. We will focus on being closer to our citizens and on meeting their legal expectations, starting from social protection and entrepreneurship to climate and energy security to competitiveness and digital transformation.  

Your group proposed to the newly elected Commission President to hold a biennial Conference dedicated to the future of Europe and she agreed. What will this particular format include?

We all know that one of the most acute problems of today's European Union is the lack of a strong bond between the citizens and the institutions within the Union. To the liberals this is the No.1 priority and it is not coincidental that our political platform at the European elections included organising in different regions of Europe expert forums aimed at collecting outside ideas and directions. We opted for giving the floor to the European citizens and letting them take an active part in the compilation of the Manifesto, sharing their views on the development of Europe with us. The approval on the part of Ms von der Leyen for holding the Conference on the future of Europe is a natural follow-up to this idea. Now we will understand how this Conference will function and what results it will yield, but, in our opinion, first and foremost we have to make an assessment of the state of the European democracy and to propose a new system which will replace the apparently ineffective   Spitzenkandidat system with a new one which may be approved after the Europe-wide vote. Of course, the Conference on Europe will have to look into a wide range of issues and to enable the citizens to propose reforms aimed at the improvement of the EU.

In your opinion, how will the controversial Mobility Package I battle unfold? As a result of this package, thousands of companies in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and other countries will be expelled from the road haulage market.

The debates on the Mobility Package I entered a new phase after the elections for the European Parliament. It has become clear to all that Mobility Package I as it was initially proposed runs counter to the basic European values and the concept of the common market. In no way does the proposed approach to the issue helps to build a common market, on the contrary - it undermines it. The EU Transport and Tourism Commission of the previous EP has rejected two out of three files, which was a clear signal for lack of consensus. Regrettably, however, under strong pressure and without any impact assessment, it was pushed through and voted virtually in the last minutes of the previous mandate. Things went so far that while the EU was claiming to be a climate champion it was at the same time adopting texts which obliged the trucks to return to the country of origin for no good reason every four weeks. All of these hasty steps will have a destructive effect on the local economies in a number of EU countries. We have to restart the process from scratch and put an end to the double standards policy within the EU. The file has to be sent back to the newly formed Transport and Tourism Commission. First of all, the impact on the transport sector and the European economy must be accurately assessed.

In your work, you make a special accent on the Western Balkans. To what extent the delay in the negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania will nip the hopes of the other counties aspiring for EU membership?

Ultimately, the European Union has to overcome its fears and start to negotiate membership with North Macedonia and Albania. This was the argument set forth by most of the foreign ministers of the bloc during the informal meeting in Gymnich, Helsinki, at the end of August. The apprehensions concerning the developmental lag in certain spheres will persist, but we no longer can afford playing with the destiny of the millions of people who live in the Western Balkans. The EU must show interest in the region and demonstrate that it is a reliable partner. This is the only way to stave off the growing influence of forces incompatible with our scale of values. Moreover that the outgoing Commission did not show enough political leadership as regards the Western Balkans, especially when it comes to the improvement of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. To a great extent, we have demotivated the region and steered it to the other direction. Now it's time to correct this mistake and the best way to do it is to start the negotiations on membership with North Macedonia and Albania.

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Ilhan Kyuchyuk is a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament from the Group of Renew Europe/Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Having served as Vice-President of the ALDE Party since 2015, he was re-elected to the position on 3 December 2017. Mr Kyuchyuk is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, as well as a substitute member of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, and of the Delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula. Since November 2014, Mr Kyuchyuk has been a member of the Human Rights Committee of the Liberal International, and since May 2015 he has been ambassador of the European Entrepreneurship Education Network. He has been a member of the Youth Movement for Rights and Freedoms since 2005 and in November 2012 he became its president. He is fluent in English, Russian and Turkish.

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