Ilhan Kyuchyuk: The chance of having the most divided EP ever is big

We have to prove that Europe is capable of acting in favour of its citizens and taking decisions vital for its future

Photo: EP Ilhan Kyuchyuk

We have been warning from the very start that Mobility Package 1 runs counter to the basic European values and the concept of the Single Market. In no way does the proposed approach to the issue resolution help in boosting the Single Market, on the contrary - it only undermines it. More than that, the EU is not getting any stronger when the states of the EU periphery are pitted against those of the centre, says Ilhan Kyuchyuk, MEP from MRF, Vice President of ALDE, in an interview to Europost.

Mr Kyuchyuk, the last session of the EP within this mandate is over. In your opinion, what was the key achievement of MEPs within the last five years?

From the environment and combating climate change to a common security and defence policy, the last five years have been really packed in terms of legislative activity. You know that this mandate started in the year when Europe was coming out of the severe international financial crisis and all of a sudden, completely offhand, the continent was hit by an unprecedented migrant wave of war refugees from the brutal civil wars in Syria and the Middle East. The influx of five million refugees and asylum seekers in 2015 alone has provoked a new surge of populism and radical nationalism in all parts of Europe, which to a great extent has set the political trends for years to come. Brexit was definitely a process which, riding the wave of populism, has turned into a real political nightmare.  

What do you consider as your greatest personal achievement during this tenure and for what didn't you have time?

- I always avoid giving personal assessments, especially for myself, because politics is a team race rather than an individual sport. Time is always too short to achieve all goals we set to ourselves, but nevertheless, during this tenure I have been working at full steam for the benefit of the Bulgarian and European citizens.

Some of your colleagues in the EP qualified the Mobility Package 1 adopted at first reading two weeks ago as “a present for the populist”. Didn't this vote show how the decisions in the EU should not be taken, and what will be the fate of this package, in your estimation?

We have been warning from the very start that Mobility Package 1 runs counter to the basic European values and the concept of the Single Market. In no way does the proposed approach to the issue resolution help in boosting the Single Market, on the contrary - it only undermines it. More than that, the EU is not getting any stronger when the states of the EU periphery are pitted against those of the centre. This not what the citizens of Europe expect. The scrapping of two out of the three files in the EP Committee on Transport and Tourism was a clear signal of a lack of consensus on the package, nevertheless, it was irresponsibly adopted in the plenary hall to make the split even deeper and wider. Its final adoption will have destructive social and economic effect over millions of EU citizens working in this sector. However, this report poses another issue of great importance for the EU, namely about the politics of double standards in the Union, and it is exactly the issue which creates favourable environment for the populists, helping them to garner more votes. One of the drawbacks of this legislature was the fact that many of the important files were submitted to the EP at the last moment. And that created certain tension and raised doubts about unbalanced legislation. The stance of the EP would have been much more solid if the Committee had moved the key legislative initiatives to an earlier stage of its tenure.   

The situation with Brexit is still very complicated. Do you think that a six-month delay would be sufficient to make the divorce of EU and UK less detrimental to all parties involved?

The deal which the EU and Great Britain struck, namely the six-month delay of Brexit, in theory gives enough time to British PM Theresa May to garner support for her deal or at least to find a rational resolution for the political crisis which London is experiencing. Nevertheless, we don't have to nurture illusions that this is the only possible scenario. This delay once again puts all the options of the British people on the table: from snap general election, to full revocation of Article 50, to second referendum. In a highly polarised political environment, these options have not gained support so far. The persistent political discord between the two key parties and the political strife within the ruling Conservative Party do not help to find a compromise solution but rather signal a deepening of the political crisis. I really hope that in this complicated situation the UK will hold a positive campaign for the European vote and will elect its MEPs. In the coming six months, they ought to not twist the arms of the remaining 27 Member States but to work guided by the interests of all 500 millions of European citizens. 

Still, wouldn't it be a paradox if Great Britain took part in this vote, since it would be leaving the EU?

It is already apparent that Theresa May will not manage to push through her Brexit deal till 22 May, and until the moment when the UK leaves the EU officially, it is a full-fledged Union member, so we cannot treat the EP election procedure as a paradox. What is a real paradox, however, is the conduct of the British politicians who do not send a clear message about their actual intensions, and I'm greatly concerned that they might use this campaign for boosting the anti-European rhetoric in the country. PM May is under serious pressure from Brexit's staunch supporters who demand her resignation, and the EP vote may serve a good opportunity for achieving this goal. 

What are by now the results of your project You and Brexit?

We are receiving inquiries on our interactive platform on a regular basis. There are over 250,000 Bulgarian citizens currently staying in Great Britain, including seasonal workers. Each of these people has his or her own story, families and plans for the future. It is only natural that they show interest and look for all kinds of information sources in order to be best prepared for Brexit. Moreover, the citizens of Bulgaria and Romania are under disadvantageous legal conditions now, as many of them do not meet the five-year residency requirement, owing to the fact that Bulgaria and Romania joined the common market later. And under these circumstances, the role of is to provide legal consultations for the Bulgarian citizens residing in the UK. Regrettably, the lack of compromise among the political elite concerning the exit of Great Britain from the EU keeps in suspense all Bulgarian and European citizens living in the United Kingdom.

There is less than a month left before the European vote. In your opinion, how ferocious will be the battle for the seats in the new European parliament with a view to the upsurge of Euroscepticism?

The truth is painful - if we want to beat populism and Euroscepticism, we have to admit to it. Millions of people in Europe are discontent today and defy the system which the political class forced them to accept. They are deeply split up and do not believe that the EU is capable of solving their problems. We must show to all these people that Europe can work to the benefit of its citizens and take decisions vital for its future. Otherwise, freedom and solidarity, which we so readily took for granted, will still be in jeopardy. 

If I had to wrap it up, I would say that the pending European vote will be a battle between the champions of more integration and those who want Europe to reinstate national borders. The second battle will be waged between the progressive forces and the painfully familiar status quo.

The debate about the future of Europe is very intense in many countries as it does not boil down to the election of MEPs only. It is not by chance that exactly on the eve of the European elections, 56 years after Charles de Gaulle and Conrad Adenauer signed the Treaty of Elysee, France and Germany have again formalised the Franco-German partnership and outlined new track for European integration.   

In contrast to all other political families, which nominated only one or at the most two Spitzenkandidaten, ALDE at the end of March got in the ring with its Team Europe consisting of seven established leaders? What is the aim of this move?

We in ALDE have opposed the current procedure for the election of the President of the EP. We insist that the president should by elected by direct vote of the EU citizens via transnational election ticket instead of being nominated by the biggest European political party. This would strengthen the political legitimacy of the European institutions. That is why we decided to enter this race for the EP and instead of having one “Spitzenkandidat”, to have a team of liberal leaders for our campaign. We are convinced that we have strong leaders and this team of ours will present the liberal vision for free, democratic, united and prosperous Europe in the best way.  

According to the forecasts, the Liberals are expected to be the third most influential political group in the new EP. How would you explain this upsurge?

The European vote promises serious concussions within the European parliament. The research shows that for the first time in 40 years during the direct vote, the Grand Coalition of the centre-right and centre-left, which governs the institution, will lose their majority. The chance of having the most divided European Parliament in the Union's history remains big, while the number of far-right and far-left politicians in it could be substantial. In the long run, a set of issues and important topics will define the EP composition, and in any event, a more extensive cooperation would have to be sought, including with ALDE. I hope that this time the EU citizens will take an active part in the election, demonstrate responsibility and cast their votes for the wellbeing and prosperity of the Union

Will ALDE become part of the broad coalition, and what are the chances that Macron's party will join the group?

This is yet to be seen, but at this juncture it is not the most crucial issue. The priority task we have to accomplish is far more complicated: we have to prove to the EU citizens that united Europe has future and we can go ahead together. I strongly believe that liberal democracy doesn't have an alternative, and it is our duty to oppose the insidious populism and extreme nationalism in all their forms and manifestations. Otherwise, we can easily and without noticing it cross the red line which will throw us back into the dark times that Europe has lived through in the past.    

For many years, the post of the EP president has been the bargain item between the EPP and the Socialists. Do you think that time has come to put an end to this practice?

Until now, these two factions had a majority in the parliament and to a great extent set its agenda and the trends in policy development. If we stick to this formula, we can well expect elections in May. I expect that the pro-European major parties will outline the set of topics important for the future of the EU, unite around them and find an answer to the question how to make progress towards their solution.   

As MEP, during your tenure you have allotted much of your time to working with the young people and you yourself are the leader of a youth organisation. How would you describe the Europe that young people are dreaming about?

As a chairman of the largest liberal youth organisation in Europe, every day I have a chance to talk with many young people and to hear out what they think about Europe. Very often they feel isolated and socially excluded from the political processes. I believe that the EU has to focus more attention on adaptive policies in order to cope with the challenges which the young generation is facing, because the limited perspectives of the young lead to social apathy and make them easy prey to all kinds of populist movements, as was the case with the street protests across France. The young people should be the key target group for the EU policy focused on the future.


Ilhan Kyuchyuk is a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament from the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe/ Movement for Rights and Freedoms. Having served as Vice President of ALDE Party since 2015, he was re-elected on the position on 3 December 2017. Mr Kyuchyuk is a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and of the Delegation for relations with the Maghreb countries and the Arab Maghreb Union, as well as a substitute member of the Committee on Culture and Education, and of the Delegation for relations with the US. 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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