Interview: Frans Timmermans on Slovene-Croatian Border, Revisionism, Taxes on Tech Giants

By , 26 Feb 2019, 16:30 PM Politics
Frans Timmermans in 2012 Frans Timmermans in 2012 Partij van de Arbeid CC-by-2.0

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STA, 26 February 2019 - Frans Timmermans, the lead candidate of the Party of European Socialists (PES) for president of the European Commission, argued in an interview with the STA that the European Commission had been "crystal clear" in its reaction to the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute. He also warned against the instrumentalisation of history by politicians.

The first vice-president of the European Commission, who is to visit Slovenia on Thursday as part of the EU election campaign, does not share the view that the European Commission allowed politics to get in the way of law in the case of Croatia's refusal to implement the border arbitration award.

"Thank you for this open and very unbiased question... First of all, this is a bilateral matter. Second, we've been very clear the award needs to be implemented," the Dutch politicians said, arguing that Slovenia and Croatia could "not discharge responsibility and say the Commission should resolve this".

"This is not our role," he added, also dismissing claims about the Commission completely ignoring the opinion of its legal service that confirmed a link between the arbitration award and EU law.

"This is an oversimplification. The link is that if you don't have clarity on the border, you have problems with EU policies, such as fisheries and other policies. This is the link with EU law. These are the consequences of the award not being implemented and the parties should start implementing the award."

"The Commission has been crystal clear about that and I really don't understand why our position is not understood."

Commenting on the state of social democracy in Europe, Timmermans said he does not "believe this doom and gloom about social democracy".

"There's a more general point that the traditional popular parties on the centre left and centre right are both no longer the huge parties they used to be. It's not just a problem of social democracy but of the European People's Party (EPP) as well. So we are not alone in that.

"I want to warn about the temptation in both, centre left and centre right, to think that you can regain your position by going to the extremes. I don't agree with that analysis because if you want to go to the extremes there's already somebody there and they are the original.

"Or you stay true to your own soul and you stay centre left and that's what we are. Looking at Europe today, the central left is staying more in the course of the lines we believe in than the central right which is courting to the extreme right everywhere," Timmermans said, adding he was constantly warning the EPP against getting its soul changed by extremes.

Tajani wrong to rewrite history

Asked in this context about the statements by European Parliament President Antonio Tajani that were understood as Italy's territorial claims against Slovenia and Croatia, Timmermans said he hates it when politicians start instrumentalising history or rewriting history.

"And this is what Tajani did. I disagree with him fundamentally. I'm not asking for his resignation but I want to make it clear that I strongly disagree with him.

"As Churchill put it, the history of Europe is written by rivers of blood and we overcame rivers of blood after the Second World War...Please, please leave history to the historians, they deserve to be writing history not the politicians."

Timmermans, who said he was aiming for the post of European Commission president and had, contrary to rumours in Brussels, "no interest whatsoever in being the EU's high representatives for foreign affairs", also elaborated on his call for a new social contract for Europe.

Tech firms must be taxed

"We're in the fourth industrial revolution, everything is changing, which means the relationship between people and states also needs to change and adopt to this new reality," he said.

People across Europe feel "that our society is not fair for many reasons", he said, listing fairer taxation as the first step towards changing this.

"It's completely inadmissible that the biggest corporations in the world would make profits here but don't pay a single euro of tax. You don't allow your local café to live like that, so why would you let Google, Facebook or Amazon do it?"

Other necessary steps listed by Timmermans include fair minimum wages in all members state, EU legislation that would secure fair job contracts for the young, and affordable housing.

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