The EU's dilemma: Confederation or Federation?

We are in Strasbourg, one of the European Union's two capital cities, in the EU Parliament building. Joseph Daul, the current leader of both the Christian Democratic tradition that founded the EU and the European People's Party, the largest group represented in the European Parliament, welcomes us in a modest room.
At first glance, of medium height and with a smiling face, he gives us an impression contrary to the realities in his head; although we will get to the bare truth of the mat
ter in our talk that is to take place imminently. Embodying the manner of a soft power proponent fully, he made very daring and well-grounded statements, emphasizing that the EU must be restructured and become more united during the crisis process. The division highlighted by Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu in his observations on the EU, that of "federation versus confederation,” appears to be on the agendas of both Daul and the Christian Democrats he represents. Daul provides a comparison with the US as another federal state as follows: "The USA has been a union for 260 years, while we have been a union for 60. There is much more that
we have to do.” Joseph Daul provided his assessments on many subjects, ranging from Franco-Turkish relations to the future of the EU and from Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Nicolas Sarkozy, for The Turkish Perspective.

In an interview you had, you said that Turkey is not ready for membership in the EU. Do you still insist on this view?

I am a person who openly says what he believes. In my opinion, the negotiations are not progressing right now; they aren't working. We have been dealing with a status quo for two years. When we think of such events as the global economic crisis and what is happening in the Mediterranean—in Lebanon and Egypt, that is to say— we can better understand why these processes are not moving on.

How does Turkey appear from the EU and France?

I believe Turkey will become a much greater country. They will also continue their greatness in the Arab world if they manage their relations with the Arab countries well; and I believe that they will. It is already strengthening economic and commercial relations with these countries. Relations with France are moving along nicely.
For instance, each month, I export two semitrailer loads of cattle. We must strengthen the relationship between both countries in the economic sense. We must increase trade. In this situation, we could progress faster politically. The economic crisis put Greece, Portugal, and Ireland into a state of difficulty. Spain—or perhaps, in the days to come, even France—could have trouble. The matter of the crisis works very effectively in debates on the entry of Croatia into the EU. Because of the crisis, we are having difficulties with Croatia entering the Union. We are having a hard time explaining the difficulties that have been created to the citizens of the EU.

When you look at it in terms of the economic difficulties being undergone by Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Ireland, how do you see the future of the union?

As in the Schengen debates, if EU countries complied with union criteria, these difficulties would not have occurred. For instance, if the 3% criterion for the budget deficit were followed, these situations would not have happened. This shows that the EU must work in a
more unified fashion. These criteria must also be applied in the Eurozone. The fundamental problem is that the criteria are not fulfilled completely. For instance, there is a common unit of currency, but every country has its own fiscal policy. This isn't right; this is contradictory. The tax and fiscal policies of countries within the euro must
be compatible. There are six reports being prepared on these subjects. I believe that these studies will be done
by June. I hope that these studies will incite countries on the matter of applying the existing rules. The EU's biggest problem is budget deficits. We must now solve this problem. Budget deficits must be reduced. This requirement is a prime issue for America too. Normally,
a company in this situation would have gone bankrupt. We are spending money
we do not have. This is not possible. Unfortunately,
EU countries defended this practice. I still have not been able to understand the matter completely. Think about it—we couldn't even talk about this subject before. Talking about budget deficits was not regarded kindly. For instance, Ireland doesn't have a taxation system. If it establishes such a system, it will solve its problems. Portugal is a small country but it will overcome this difficulty. The biggest problem is in Greece, because Greece has no industry. If you try to do it all though public revenues, it's not possible. Everyone knows this. This is where European solidarity will form.
France also has a big budget deficit; however, France has industry, and this could save it. By 2013, France will reduce its budget deficit to 3% as suited to EU criteria. Later,
we will pay our debt that has accumulated as well. I'm sure that people were unaware of this situation until the crisis. The crisis informed people deeply. I couldn't have said what I just said a year ago. The EU and euro will pull through and remain standing, because there is also political resolve. The Germans understood that they couldn't return to the mark. Similarly, France has understood this same matter; they too know that they cannot return to the franc. Only groups with extreme ideas do not believe in this. For now, the EU has to be stricter in economic administration. All decisions must be EU-wide. For instance, if one retires at 67 in Germany, it shouldn't be possible to retire at 62 in France. Even this matter must be brought in line. This can't go on. Countries that are EU members but not party to the euro are also preparing their infrastructures to conform to EU criteria. They have no alternatives anyway; they must conform. If there is no joint economic policy, there cannot be a joint monetary unit. This has been understood by all administrations.

Budget deficits and the economic crisis do not only threaten Europe economically; they also foster the development of the extreme right. Are you worried about this situation?

We have no choice in the matter. For example, reactionary votes in France after World War II went to the communists,
as there also was an economic crisis at that time. The communists' votes went up to the region of 20% in those times. By making the communists
a party to power, Mitterrand solved this extremism. Look at Austria for instance; a coalition government was formed there too. Extreme rightists became party to the coalition. We, including myself, criticized this situation. Some of my friends voted for the far right. When I asked them about it, they said, "They aren't going to come to power anyway; that's why we're voting.” These are partly votes of reaction.

You are a veteran politician and you know the Chirac era well. What differences do you think there are between Franco-Turkish relations then, a time in which they improved, and now, having regressed in the Sarkozy era?

We are undergoing a crisis right now. France must close its budget deficit. If there were no Sarkozy, the savings deposit system could crash. The period undergone was so dire that uncertainty formed in the deposits system. Sarkozy has been wrestling with the crisis since he came to power. He had no luck in this area. Chirac experienced no such difficulties.

Now, Turkey has an alluring economy that draws investors. Wouldn't investments by French businesses improve some relations?

As far as I know, Sarkozy has no bones to pick with Turkey in the economic sense. If one must seek honesty, Sarkozy is this honest person. As head of state, the French complain of him too, as his honest approach to the French in
his presidency can become a subject of complaint. He has never stood in the way of negotiations concerning Turkey.

But there are restrictions he placed in five headings ...

Yes, but there isn't progress in the others either. Let's talk about these five headings. I'm a friend of Turkey. I think the negotiations should continue. However, for two years, there has been no progress. I would like to tell my Turkish friends that the rules of the EU go for everyone. From what I heard from my Turkish friends, the thought that negotiations would be applied according to Turkey's standards was prevalent. But this is not possible. I said the same to the Croats. For example, the Croats said they wouldn't fulfill the conditions relating to justice. And we said that although we understood them, they couldn't be members if they didn't comply with the rules. I understand Turkey; fulfilling certain conditions can be difficult. If time is needed in this area, we'll set more time aside. However, I can comfortably say that when we place the political and economic criteria side by side, the economic criteria are getting better every day. Political criteria are shaped according to crises. However, the economic criteria are going very well. And this, in my opinion, is a very nice and important development. If you ask why, then I can say that when economic criteria improve, political criteria cannot stay behind.

I think that France's expectations of Turkey and Sarkozy's expectations of Turkey are very different. What do you think about this?

Chirac was never clear about Turkey. He wasn't as clear and open as Sarkozy. I would prefer Sarkozy's honesty on the matter of Turkey. This honesty caused the loss of many votes for Sarkozy. Time will prove my point. Rather than one who says "yes” and wastes my time, I would prefer one who says "no” and doesn't.

What do you think about Mr. Erdoğan, Turkey's Prime Minister?

He is doing a good job at pulling through. He is doing good work in spite of a difficult time. Extreme factions are active in Turkey too, and Erdoğan handles this matter nicely. My desire is for him to hold on and for his efforts to continue. Sometimes he can slide toward the extreme, but I understand him well. The same goes for us too, and Erdoğan is doing as best as he can.

Some countries in the EU, namely France, Germany, the UK, and Denmark, are more prominent. They also provide for a large part of the EU's budget. Do these countries set the rules of the Union?

That is the case for many of them, yes. But now, another partner is joining these main countries, and that is Poland. Currently, we want the EU's own resources to develop and for it to have a budget. We want to accomplish this even if it is against the interests of these countries.

Merkel represents a country that emerged profitably from the crisis. Why is Sarkozy following a policy parallel to that of Germany, meaning that of Merkel?

Schröder had previously taken some precautions and put some measures into prac
tice. Germany had very big investments in Greece. This is no loss. The Germans made Athens's airport.

Greece owes 420 million euros to Germany. What do you think about this?

That's right, but this is an investment. And they did get the return on it. It is not a loss. Merkel is a smart woman. She doesn't want to bring extreme rightists to power. One must give Merkel time. One must give her time to explain this situation to her own public. Merkel has made good use
of this time on the matter of Greece. For instance, the issue of selling the islands was one aimed at the domestic public. But if only these supports were there at the very start,
we would be overcoming the crisis much more comfortably.

Along with Greece, it emerged that Portugal and Ireland had serious problems about debt transparency too. What is the union thinking of doing about this transparency issue?

EU members are now required to present their joint yearly budgets to the EU Commission for auditing. This is a very important first.

What do you think about the corruption that has formed within the EU bureaucracy?

Now there are rules. Currently, there is no corruption that I know of. Barosso is very strict on this matter. However, if subventions are being taken from the EU for no return, then there is a problem. For instance, if any country in 2011 does not fulfill the subvention it received in the previous year, it will be dropped from the 2011 budget. Gifts are now given to countries, not to individuals or organizations. Thus, I sometimes turn down those who come to me to ask for subventions and direct them to charity organizations.

There is a sinking view of the EU globally, caused especially by the events in the Mediterranean and developments in the Middle East. Is the union considering a way to restore its image?

It is said that the EU's foreign relations have a bad image; this is correct. However, its unified foreign relations were established very recently. This is a difficult time for the institution and it is normal for you to criticize it. Germany, the UK, and France criticize it, and that is normal too. However bad it appears, the structure does evolve. People have now started to understand that the EU has gained power; this especially occurred following the Lisbon agreement.

So, can you see Turkey becoming a member?

We definitely will. However, we will decide on this with Turkey. Speaking openly, what is happening in the Arab world and the Mediterranean shows that Turkey will play a great role in the future. I am sincere about this. I don't know whether this will happen from within, but we absolutely will be together.