MADRID – The President of the European Parliament said on Saturday that he believed austerity measures that did not promote growth were a mistake and lamented that Europe had left all work and influence in Latin America in China’s hands.
In an interview with EFE during his first official visit to Spain, Italian Antonio Tajani assured that he believed that reducing public debt was fundamental for getting past the economic crisis, but more was needed.
“I do not believe in austerity on its own. I think focusing solely on austerity is an error, but I do believe we need to reduce public debt,” said Tajani, who was elected president of the EP on Jan. 17 as a candidate for the center-right European People’s Party.
“We cannot win the match against the crisis without reducing public debt, and in many countries without making reforms, but at the same time cannot win this party if there is no policy in favor of growth, an industrial policy, a policy in favor of SMEs, professionals, agriculture, trade and also tourism,” said the President.
“They are the two pillars,” he insisted, adding: “I don’t believe in a war between austerity and growth, but rather a marriage of the two.”
Asked what he thought should be European governments’ response to the reappearance of difficulties in the Greek bailout, Tajani said it was important to support Greece.
“We are going to talk about Greece in Strasbourg next week. The Parliament will discuss the problem from different sides, but I think Greece is an important country. We have to defend Greece as a member of the Eurogroup and the European Union,” he said.
Greece, added the president, “is a part of the EU’s history – there is no Europe without Greece.”
However, he warned that “it is important to work well from Brussels, but it is also important that Greeks work well to win against the crisis.”
On his visit to Spain, during which he was received Friday by King Felipe VI, President Mariano Rajoy and other officials, Tajani defended his goal of a Europe that is more open, in the face of those who would raise defensive walls, and more active in the foreign sphere, especially with regards to Africa and Latin America.
“For me, Latin America is a priority,” he assured EFE.
“Leaving China all the work and influence in Latin America, as in Africa, to me seems to be a mistake,” he added.
In his opinion, a good way to strengthen ties would be economic diplomacy, which he said he already practiced, first as Vice President of the European Commission, then as Commissioner for Transport and later for Industry and Entrepreneurship (2008-2014).
Tajani said that it is possible to “work better at a Parliamentary level,” by defending and explaining lawmakers’ collaboration on each side of the Atlantic in the Eurolat Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
He announced his intention to invite over the next few months the Presidents of Mexico and Argentina, Enrique Peña Nieto and Mauricio Macri respectively, and the next President of Brazil to speak at the EP in Strasbourg, explain the situations in their countries and “send positive messages from Brussels to Latin America about our cooperation.”
“This would be good because we share languages, we share values, we share religion with these countries and we can cooperate very well,” he said.
About the controversy surrounding United States President Donald Trump’s intention to build a wall on the border with Mexico, Tajani did not want to opine (“this is a bilateral problem between the US and Mexico,” he said) but insisted that “Mexico is a very important country for us.”
“We are going to work together with Mexico, because it is an important partner like Argentina and Brazil,” he said.
Likewise, he said he “hoped the situation in Venezuela changes because there is a lack of democracy in that country.”
The head of the EP assured that in two-and-a-half years, when his mandate – which was met with little support from center-left groups – is over, he wants to be remembered as the President who worked “with all lawmakers to cut the distance between Brussels and European citizens.”
“This is the most important job we are going to do,” said Tajani.