Interview conducted by Michelle Wiesner from the “Becoming Bruxellois from Afar” project
This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by a group of Groningen students as part of their Eurocompetence II project. The interviewees all work in Brussels institutions and were asked questions related to the Euroculture’s 2020 IP topic: “A sustainability Europe? Society, politics and culture in the anthropocene”. Here, Michelle Wiesner asked Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Daniel Freund about his personal experience in Brussels and sustainability in politics, especially regarding corruption.
Michelle Wiesner: Could you please give us a short introduction about your work at the European Parliament, for example in which Committees you are working in?
Daniel Freund: The two committees I focus on are the Committee on Budgetary Control (CONT) and the Committee on Constitutional Affairs (AFCO). In the CONT committee, I fight corruption and fraud of EU money. In February, we went on a fact-finding mission to Prague, as Prime Minister Babis is suspected of having altered regulations on agricultural subsidies for his private profit. Corruption and fraud are deeply linked with the rule of law. Cronyism reinforces misappropriation of public money and autocratic structures might even be strengthened through EU money. Therefore, I advocate for a rule of law mechanism that conditions subsidies to democratic values.
As part of the AFCO committee, I was involved in the assessment of the new commissioners’ integrity. In the end, we were able to prevent three candidates, which had severe conflicts of interest. In the long run; however, I fight for the creation of an independent EU ethics body whose purpose would be ensure the integrity of the EU institutions. Another topic that I continue to push in the AFCO committee is the improvement of the lobby register tool in order to make decision making more transparent. I am also in the TRAN committee where our goal is to make transport more sustainable. My favourite project is the expansion of the European night train grid.
MW: Why did you decide to run as a member of the European Parliament?
DF: Before running for a seat in the European Parliament, I worked at the Brussel’s office of Transparency International where I led the work on anti-corruption in the EU institutions. After a while, I realised that my fight against corruption would be even more efficient if I could change the rules from within. Having worked as assistant in the European Parliament I already had experience with the EU institutions, I thought I could do it and it worked out! As MEP I continue to have close contact with civil society organisations and we cooperate to make EU politics more democratic.
MW: At the beginning of April, you held a webinar on lobbyism in Europe. Indeed, the EU is often criticised to be too intransparent in terms of lobbyism. Is the European Parliament planning any initiatives in this regard and how could they look like?
DF: Actually, it is a bit ironic that Brussels is always blamed to be intransparent. Compared to many national politics, the EU has already good tools in place like the Transparency Register. Employees of the Commission are requested to only meet registered organisations and members of the European Parliament must publish all lobby meetings if they are rapporteur or shadow for that topic. But indeed: there is much to improve! Why not make it obligatory to publish ALL meetings, even if you are not rapporteur or shadow? Also, the Council still made no official commitment to use the Transparency Register as well. From a more technical perspective, the usage of the register should be more accessible. It should be easy to see which lobby meetings have led to which laws. Regarding this project, I am confident that there will be improvements soon. Together with a cross-party contact group, we are committed to improve lobby transparency.
MW: Looking at the current developments in Hungary and Poland, what is in your opinion the biggest challenge the EU faces in terms of democratic sustainability?
DF: In Poland, the independence of the judiciary is under attack and Hungary has huge issues with corruption and state interference with the media. To fight these undemocratic developments we need a rule of law mechanism linking EU money to the compliance with democratic values – like the division of powers or free media. However, it will be a challenge to translate this into a law as the support of the national governments and of the more conservative groups like the EPP is needed. However, in the Council there are obviously two countries that have no interest in changing the rules and the EPP already showed its reluctance to fully exclude Orban’s Fidesz from their group.
MW: And the last question, can you please tell us where do you see Europe in five years?
DF: In my vision, in five years, Europe has come out of this crisis by acting in solidarity. Particularly, the economic consequences of the Corona pandemic will be challenging but I believe that together we can get through this. By then, more people will have realised that the solutions do not lay in de-globalisation but in strengthening cross-border initiatives and co-operation. Maybe the first talks about the Federal Republic of Europe will start in 2025.
Picture credits: Personal file