Interview With EU Parliamentarian Martin Schulz 'We're in God's Hands'

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, acting president of the European Union, lost a no-confidence vote in the Czech parliament. Martin Schulz, chairman of the Socialist group in European Parliament, argues that now the EU has to struggle not just for leadership, but for its very survival.


SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Schulz, does the EU currently lack leadership?

Schulz: No. Definitely not. President Topolanek is in office, even if its just in a caretaker role. He can continue his coordinating role as head of the European Council. The EU's ability to function hasn't been impaired. Topolanek himself of course has less room to maneuver. But, he hadn't exactly been the strongest council president to date anyway.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How do you mean?

Schulz: Just look how he blathered about the United States yesterday in Parliament.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: He said America's attempts at fiscal stimulus were leading it down the "road to hell."

Schulz: That's an ideology. Topolanek was one of George W. Bush's closest allies when it came to the missile-defense system in eastern Europe. Now he uses the platform of the European Parliament to campaign against Bush's successor. He can do that in Prague, but not in the EU.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is the Lisbon Treaty now in danger?

Schulz: We'll see. The fact is, the two legislators who caused the collapse of his government were opponents of the treaty. That's not an encouraging sign.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In April, the Czech Senate will vote on the Lisbon Treaty. What result do you expect?

Schulz: I hope it will pass. But, it's like being on the high seas. We're in God's hands.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: This fall, the Irish also plan to vote on the Lisbon Treaty. If the Czechs reject the treaty, would the Irish vote still be relevant?

Schulz: If the Czechs reject the treaty, we're going to be in a serious crisis. We might as well then bury the treaty. We'd then be thrown back to the Treaty of Nice, which was passed by 15 member states. But those same 15 governments, not to speak of the new member states, are unsatisfied with the old arrangements. That's why there was supposed to be a constitution. When that failed, we tried to include the essence of the reforms in the Lisbon Treaty. If that also fails, it would be a fiasco.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What would it mean politically for the EU?

Schulz: We would have to continue to live with a very old treaty. We would still remain an economic giant, but we would not have the instruments needed to do justice to our own power and to cope with international challenges.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Many view Czech President Vaclav Klaus, a decisive euroskeptic, as the person behind Topolanek's fall. Does he personally represent a danger to the future of the EU?

Schulz: When this man was in the European Parliament, he left no doubt that he would use every instrument to make sure the Lisbon Treaty failed. He rejects the EU in its current form. With the toppling of the Topolanek government, he will be decisively in charge of the next steps taken in the Czech Republic. He will certainly be a person, similar to Polish President Kaczynski, who tries to slow the unification process.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: When Slovenia held the EU presidency in 2008, it had to rely on French support. Now we have the Czech dilemma. Are new members of the European Union overstrained by the responsibility?

Schulz: No. The Slovenians did a good job. I worked very closely together with the prime minister. And what is happening now in the Czech Republic has nothing to do with the size of the country or its recent accession (to the EU, in 2004). It has to do exclusively with the idiosyncrasies of the government.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The next European Parliament elections are in June. Do you understand voters who are asking why they should even bother to vote in light of the uncertainty of EU issues?

Schulz: No.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why not?

Schulz: Because it deals with so many important issues in Europe. Take, for example, the question of whether we regulate financial markets and whether we drive ahead with our environmental policies so that we can stave off climate change. This is also about creating a better social safety net, more jobs, international controls and the closure of tax havens. Anyone who wants to contribute to those efforts must vote.

Interview conducted by Veit Medick

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