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Jo Leinen on The Festival

By Boris Jarosch • Feb 27th, 2009 • Category: The Interviews, Top News

Since 2004 Jo Leinen, member of the Parliamentary Group of the Party of European Socialists, has held one of the more exposed postitions in the European Parliament; President of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Mr. Leinen is therefore co-author of one of the most exciting and promising chapters of our common European future… the European constitutional framework.

The enthusiasm of Jo Leinen for the European idea dates back to student days, when he was a pro-European activist at the University of Saarbr├╝cken, Germany. Since then he held numerous political top positions in the Social-democratic party in Germany and at the EU, most of the times with a direct European focus. Friends have ever since described him as “a good European”.

We had the chance to talk to Mr. Leinen and listen to his personal views on The Festival and how it might play an important role within the integration process in Europe.

The Festival // The tragedy of World War 2 and the destruction of much of Europe were a decisive impulse for the idea of a united Europe. In the 1950s the wounds were still too fresh. It was primarily the effect of economic-politically driven projects that paved the way to a greater union. A culturally-based European identity was not in anyone’s expectation then. What do you think about the situation today?

Jo Leinen // Today we can live and experience the positive effects of the decision for the European integration. We live in peace; debates are settled via discussions, not with weapons. Europe is a strong economic player in the world. We now can focus on news tasks, e.g. combating climate change, establishing energy security, also via renewable energies, promoting social standards for the economy in Europe and in the world.

A sense of commonality across national borders is necessary for working together and cooperating in order to solve common problems. This is what the EU has been trying to do since 50 years. We need new instruments to do better in the future, instruments that are provided by the Lisbon Treaty. Thus, an important objective is to have the Treaty come into force and then finding solutions to pending challenges.

The Festival // The member states of the European Union have realized that Europe does not only need free trade market conditions, but also a joint constitutional document. A constitution defines basic principles, which people agree to uphold. Without a constitution a union of 27 members seems unmanagable. The people of Europe, though, are quite skeptical. Why?

Jo Leinen // It seems that the idea of a European constitution raises concerns of a European ‘Super state’. Therefore, this idea is, at the moment, no longer pursued. However, in order to have a EU with 27 members functioning properly or satisfactory, we need better procedures and instruments than the Nice Treaty can provide for. Thus, we need the Lisbon Treaty, mind you - a Treaty not a Constitution, which improves decision making processes in the EU, is more democratic, takes better account of social issues and citizen’s positions and gives the EU better capabilities to act.

It is however quite difficult to fully convey the complex regulations and provisions of an international Treaty to the people. The complexity leaves room for propagandists to spread wrong information and fuel anxieties based on ignorance or uncertainty. The Lisbon Treaty certainly leaves some points to be desired, e.g. more competences of the EU on foreign affairs policies. But one must realize that the alternative to the Lisbon Treaty is the weaker Nice Treaty, not some “all inclusive, carefree super deal”. European integration has always been a step-by-step process. The Lisbon Treaty too, is such a step on the way to a better cooperation.

The Festival // As a supranational organization the EU is a collective of national states. But it was those same national states that have always initiated the bloody conflicts in European history. On our way to a common European identity, isn’t it more useful to promote our common cultural ties? The Festival seeks to emphasize commonality in Europe, to make the union visible and tangible. How do you see this approach?

Jo Leinen // I very much support this idea. Overcoming national prejudices and barriers is an important milestone. I myself grew up right on the German-French border, which has seen many violent conflicts. Now, this border is barely visible, people criss-cross over on a daily basis for shopping, visiting friends or working. This is what we want for Europe.

We need common projects on which we can work together, learn about each other, and develop a common identity. I am member of the initiative “A soul for Europe” that is working along these lines, promoting cultural policy, exchange and cooperation in Europe.

The Festival // The European unification process is a long-term process on an institutional level. The creation of a shared European identity among the people of Europe will require several more generations. This is why we see The Festival as a series, in which the event is reinvented every two years in another European capital. How do you see the future coalescing of Europeans?

Jo Leinen // The creation of a common identity is a long-term process. Opening the horizons for Europeans to get to know each other, providing a forum for exchange on a long-term basis is the right approach. The EU offers many possibilities especially for young people, e.g. via the ERASMUS or COMENIUS programmes. People-to-people contacts are the way to go. I can only support your initiative in this field.

The Festival // Finally: What are your personal expectations with respect to The Festival and what do you expect from us?

Jo Leinen // I believe that reaching people who had not yet the chance to explore the possibilities of an open Europe and giving them the opportunity to experience it would be an immense success for The Festival. The same applies to increasing the people-to-people contacts across Europe and creating a sense of ownership of the European project among Europeans by involving them in European activities.

My wish for The Festival would be that it helps making the European integration project and European values tangible.

The Festival // Mr. Leinen, thank you so much for sharing your views with The Festival community. We wish you all the best for your challenging project!

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Boris Jarosch is co-founder of The Festival and in charge of Institutional Relations
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