We want to cut regulation and boost innovation
The centre-right European People’s Party has dominated the leadership of the EU’s institutions for a generation, with the current presidents of the commission, council and parliament all hailing from the EPP’s ranks. The group is hoping that its current leader, Manfred Weber, will follow Jean-Claude Juncker into the commission’s top job, although the EPP is forecast to lose a significant number of seats as a result of the populist shift. In the first of a series of conversations with Europe’s main political groups, we spoke to Dara Murphy, the EPP’s campaign director.
Q. What are your party’s top priorities going into the European Parliament elections?
A. We want a Europe that is stronger -- a Europe that is more secure and protects its citizens. We want a Europe that is smarter – we need to see how we can work together for better innovation. But we also need a Europe that is kinder, that considers how we can look after our citizens. We must also address the significant challenges to our planet and show strong European leadership around climate and environmental issues.
With regards to business, we have commitments to reduce regulation; we have commitments to further develop strong, fair trade deals globally; and we have commitments to really work to make Europe an innovation leader and to make sure that we as a continent are competitive in the global world.
Manfred has said that he wants a European Union that sticks its chin out a little further on the global stage.
Q. What big changes do you predict after these European Parliament elections?
A. There is no doubt that there will be challenges given the fact that there will be a very diverse group of people who amongst themselves have no common platform other than to be disruptive and to be populist and extremist. That will require a strong majority of pro-European politicians to work together.
Q. How concerned are you about the influence of nationalist and populist parties in the next parliament, and what can be done to counter this?
We cannot be complacent about the challenges that we are seeing across the world from an increase in extremism and populism. But let’s also remember that in all opinion polls there remains a very strong majority of politicians who believe in the European project. So everybody should take their responsibility.
There will of course be policy differences. But ultimately there are the parties who want to make their policy points of view – for example the differences between Liberals and Greens, and the differences between the Socialists and ourselves. Then there is a second tier of parties who are presenting nothing at all.
I think there will be responsibility among the pro-European forces to focus on where we agree, rather than to focus on the areas of disagreements.
Q. In what areas do you see opportunities for innovation and growth in the next five years?
We have a strong desire to show global leadership with respect to medical innovation, to see if we can use our collective research and medical knowledge to work towards a cure for cancer and to work on dementia-type illnesses. We also have to bring Europe into the digital age. The simple fact is we have not got a digital single market fully functioning. Now is the time to really bring this to fruition.
Q. What role do you think the European Parliament can have in helping European businesses flourish?
There is no doubt that there is an overly regulatory sense among many of our small and medium-sized enterprises, so we are going to look to continue to reduce the burden of regulation on our small and medium-sized enterprises and our businesses generally. With regards to competition, we must protect our businesses globally so that they are not being affected by protectionist competition policies in other jurisdictions.
Q. Is there still opportunity for the EU to forge new trade ties and global partnerships, given a growing protectionist sentiment in some parts of the world, including in the EU itself?
Europe’s global trading is absolutely in the interests of our continent. We are a dynamic, export-oriented continent, and we need to develop and to do far more with respect to trade deals which are fair, that maintain European standards, and set global leadership with regards to standards. Shrinking back into a nationalistic trade environment it is not in the interests of Europe, and we need to remember that the main beneficiaries of strong economic growth and good trade deals are our own indigenous small and medium-sized enterprises.