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EDP MEPs tell us why they chose to fight for Europe

"Languages, cultures, regional differences and local initiatives must be cherished because they are Europe’s strongest asset."

European Democratic Party Congress in Rome - Renewing Europe: A democratic path

Group photo - Rome Congress

Political leaders from throughout Europe convened on 14 October in Rome for its EDP Congress. The European political party’s biggest political event of the year, the Congress brought together hundreds of delegates and guests from all over Europe to address the pressing challenges now facing its citizens.

Held at the Auditorium della Conciliazione in central Rome, the event featured a ‘Leaders Debate’, followed by panel discussions by EDP member policymakers from European, national and regional levels and invited guests representing other like-minded political parties in Europe.

Leaders’ debate: an exchange of top party officials

The Leaders Debate featured Europe’s top centrist political party leaders to exchange on the theme: “Renewing Europe: A democratic path”.

EDP Leaders Debate highlights

Sandro Gozi, Secretary General, EDP, kicked off the debate by noting that the Azione/Italia Viva alliance was the real revelation of the last elections in Italy. He noted: “To them we owe our congratulations and gratitude for their engagement in creating Renew Italy, which – I am convinced – in 2024 will double the consensus achieved this year.”

 

 

Italy is at the heart of Europe, said Stéphane Séjourné, President of the Renew Europe political group in the European Parliament. He said that the country will have an important role in the upcoming election in 2024. He also noted the need “to build a political Europe, with local parties helping to push back extreme forces.”

 

 

“Europe is under threat,” warned Timmy Dooley, ALDE party Co-President. He noted how democracy is vulnerable and that changes must be done to protect Europe.

Carlo Calenda, leader of the Azione party in Italy observed that: “when the populists come to government, they begin to use a different language, but which hides an imprint that is not fully democratic while incompatible with EU values. For this we will engage with EDP to build a garrison of democracy that will stop this wave of populism.”

Speaking about the alliance between EDP and Renew Europe, Italia Viva party leader Matteo Renzi noted: "We are laying down the groundwork with the EDP and Renew Europe. The mission of EDP is to relaunch democracy.”

EDP President François Bayrou provided a well-developed response to leaders, saying "All citizens are responsible to their country" and that maximum confrontation with extremes proves fruitless.

"The EDP is central to European political life so that European political life can find its future and its path."

Panel debates tackle diverse issues

The afternoon panels tackled pressing issues facing Europeans, including the need to narrow the digital divide to make Europe’s tech transition more inclusive. Another panel delved into the need to cool off Europe’s energy crisis while showing support for Ukraine. The final panel looked at Europe as a global power, fighting for human rights and democratic values.

Panel discussion 1: Digital divide

The first panel, themed “Narrowing the digital divide: making Europe’s tech transition more inclusive”, featured members of parliaments at European, country, and regional level. The panel kicked off with a deep dive into issues facing people in a digital world with moderator Gerrit Jan van Otterloo from the 50PLUS party in The Netherlands.

Van Otterloo looked at demographic differences in digital skills, showing that as generations get older, its less evident that they master the skills.

He said: “Lower levels of education are correlated with lower digital skills.”

 

 

EDP presidency members and MEPs also participated, with Sylvie Brunet (France) and Izaskun Bilbao Barandica (Basque Country) giving insight into EU policy. MEP Brunet explained that addressing the digital skills challenge takes place at EU level, member state level and at local level. She added: “Digital access and literacy have been addressed in EU legislation.”

MEP Bilbao stressed the need to work towards narrowing the digital divide at regional level. Doing so can help farmers, fisheries, and remote medicine at sea or in the countryside. She urged: “Use our knowledge as best we can. Leave no one behind.”

Bilbao identified the need for people to develop critical awareness to identify risks presented by digital technology such as artificial intelligence. Society and policymakers must ask the question whether digital access and digital literacy are basic human rights.

She said: “We need a clear definition of the term ‘digital divide’.” Bilbao added: Functional literacy – being able to read and write – is a driving factor for people becoming digitally literate.”

Narvay Quintero, MRP in the Canary Islands from EDP member party Coalicion Canaria, gave a regionally driven, tech-focused talk. He stressed the need for ongoing training throughout one’s lifetime, adding that some people have not had access when they were young.

“We cannot exclude them from services,” he concluded. “We need to train people to know how to access the best information and channel it. Educated city dwellers have access to digital tools and use them. People in rural areas have less access.”

Adding to his comments, he opined: “Families sometimes don’t have access to digital tools. But having access is important in places like the Canary Islands: digitalisation gets you closer Europe.”

Linas Kukuraitis, MP in the Seimas – the Lithuanian parliament – and former Social affairs Minister, shared experiences on digitalisation through a Lithuanian lens. She shared a specific programme in the Baltic country that reached out to 10 percent its population through government efforts with actors: NGOs focusing on the elderly, 60 municipalities, the national employment agency, scouts, young leaders and more. He also talked about people coping with both physical vs digital relationships, whereby people stay in digital and face-to-face worlds.

He added: "Governments need to do everything we could through young people to teach older people to digital skills.”

Panel discussion 2: Cooling of the energy crisis

The second Congress panel, titled “Hot and cold: cooling off Europe’s energy crisis while backing Ukraine”, included a high-octane debate on how Europe can prevent such an event from happening again.

Moderator Nicola Danti, MEP (Italy), who recently helped drive efforts that lead to the parliament backing in September to recast the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), provided an in-depth look into the crises and how recent efforts by the European Parliament can help address the need for more renewable sources of energy.

He observed: “The best energy savings is the energy you don't use. Europe must remove its energy dependency problem.”

 

 

The EDP’s Christophe Grudler, an MEP (France) and an EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED) shadow rapporteur, gave his take on energy policy in the European Union.

Having helped shepherd the RED recast in September during the European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg, Grudler said: “We absolutely need to heed the lesson from the crisis. We need energy independent. We need to develop our own energy sources in Europe. Remove dependency from Russia and even shale gas from the United States.”

On specific forms of energy sources, he commented: “Geothermal energy is highly interesting. Hydrogen has been funded in Europe and produced in Europe.”

 

 

Marie-Christine Marghem, an MP in the Belgian Federal Parliament, former Energy Minister and President of MCC (BE), noted that short-, medium- and long-term energy production is needed now. She explained that some forms of energy are more flexible than others.

She said: “We need an increase of nuclear generation, while we increase renewables."

Marghem, an EDP member, added: “We need to boost nuclear generation while we build up renewables. We need to allay public fears. Gas prices must push down. Solidarity between small and large countries will be important.

She added: “In the long term, promoting research and development must happen.”

Michał Kobosko from Polska 2050 (PL) shared lessons from Poland, where the country went from high dependence on Russia to none.

He explained: “In Europe, we must remove our dependence, which requires thinking clearly about what types of energy sources and technologies are needed. Right now, it is about a common future and our joint security.”

On the war in Ukraine, Kobosko commented: “War is about freedom. The battles are intense. Each country has different energy mix. The real trick is to combine our forces and think about future common supplies, common purchases in gas, common grids, and connectors.

On the wave of technological advancements hindered by the energy crisis, he concluded: “There will be no digitisation without secure and ample supplies or energy.”

Lukáš Kostínek, Vice President of Senator21 (Czechia), an EDP member party, opened with a stark message: “When there is an energy crisis, it can lead to extremism.”

He stressed the need for greater public outreach on the energy challenge: “Public perception and communication is important, immediate measures by governments must also occur, followed by long-term measures.”

Kostínek offered a sober assessment of Russian President Vladimir Putin, calling him out for waging war on EU member states and other countries. “Far right and far left parties are on the payroll of the Kremlin,” he warned. “They can influence public debate in the West. It would undermine on energy security and democratic values.”

He also gave a realistic view of the energy crisis: “There are no immediate measures to remove the EU dependency on Russian energy. Governments must provide subsidies to help households to pay their energy bills.

“Immediate measures: The energy exchange in European Union is not working. Getting liquified gas is not possible due to needed infrastructure build out.”

Kostínek did offer up solutions that work: “EU funds are helping Poland and Czechia address changes needed to create new energy infrastructure.

On dealing with Middle Eastern states, he opined: “Do not encourage them, but right now we need their resources for at least a few years.”

Panel discussion 3: Europe as a global power: fighting for human rights and democratic values

The final panel kicked off with Pavlos Mylonas, Cyprus MP and journalist, who gave a critical eye to how the EU addresses human rights, noting that Europe just looks at the rest of the world and cannot act.

He said: “The attack on Ukraine made us think about autocratic regimes. Human rights are not just a term: access to health, educate their children.”

He also called out the EDP, noting its duty to “see that these rights are respected and abided by in Europe.”

Andrzej Potocki, an EDP Vice President from the SD party (Poland), gave global view of the situation facing Europe.

“We are facing multiple threats: a reviving authoritarian rule in China, unstable Middle East, uncertainty in the United States. Europe must be ‘giants’ to deal with this.”

He explored how Europe become a superpower, noting “We have to secure Europe’s ability to exercise power. It must exercise diplomatic services, which is lacking. The European External Action Service is just a beginning.”

He added: “Europe misses leaders, unable to respond to Ukraine in an effective way. We must learn from our mistakes. We must start thinking about China, the Middle East, and Russia: those who do not go by the same rules.”

 

 

Jean-Louis Bourlanges, President of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the French national assembly, noted: “The question of subsidiarity is a question of sharing responsibility when it comes to issues like human rights and democratic values.

“We must be vigilant that raw materials are not lacking and not used by foreign powers against us.”

 

 

Juan Carlos Piñeiro Docampo, leader of Compromiso por Galicia, an EDP party, urged commitment to take an assessment of the situation in Europe, and examine human rights being under threat due to extreme regimes.

He concluded: “We need to respond to this from a clear democratic position on human rights, and the resolution.

“In Galicia, textile was ravaged by globalisation – shifted to China. Now we are trying to get textiles back to Europe. Trade, human rights matter.”

On Russia and China, EDP MEP Engin Eroglu (Germany) took a hawkish view, noting that the Russian regime has decided to totally upset the world order whilst observing that the West did not start it.

He added: “We concentrate on Russia; we are rather weary. But there is a dictatorship in China that wields a lot more power.”

Eroglu explained that Europe is fighting to protect our democratic system. Echoing Piñeiro Docampo, Eroglu called for commercial interests to take into account human rights as well.

He also expressed the need to address supply chains, saying: "In China, it takes very little to be arrested. We need address this fact. It’s clear that we need a law on supply chains which also defines human rights.”

At EU level, he concluded: “It is highly important to look for reform from inside Europe. At political level, we need a law on supply chains that defines human rights.”