Saturday

2nd Mar 2024

Interview

Q&A: EU regions' champions lay out vision

  • Raül Romeva, 52, and Maylis Roßberg, 23, the European Free Alliance's leading candidates for the 2024 EU elections (Photo: European Free Alliance)
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Over the weekend of 13-14 October, the European Free Alliance (EFA), the political party fighting for the right to self-determination, chose Raül Romeva, 52, and Maylis Roßberg, 23, as its leading candidates — the so-called 'Spitzenkandidaten' — for the 2024 EU elections.

Romeva is a Spanish economist and politician who was imprisoned for four years after the 2017 illegal referendum in Catalonia, while Roßberg is a political science and history student from the Danish minority living in Germany.

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EUobserver sat down with both to discuss the Europe "for all" they envision for the next mandate (2024-2029).

Why is the European Free Alliance choosing two lead candidates, and why you two in particular?

Maylis Rossberg (M): "I think the good thing about our candidacy is that we together bring a lot to the table. We very much represent the diversity of the European Free Alliance. Raül comes from Catalonia. I come from a national minority, the Danish minority [in Germany]. Of course, there are also the obvious things of gender and age. There is a difference between our age and our generation's realities, and I think that shows how diverse the European Free Alliance is. And that's one of our core strengths and one of our core values for this campaign."

Raül Romeva (R): "We very much understand that the message we can spread out is the message of diversity. Not only because the EFA itself is a diverse body, but because the Europe we want to build is a diverse Europe. And in that sense, we need to normalise diversity, and plurality, not to understand it as a problem, but rather the contrary. Diversity is something that enriches all communities."

Are you concerned that with talks on EU enlargement, the federalists voices, the war in Ukraine and the Israel-Palestine conflict, regional demands will take a back seat?

R: "So far, there is a perception that federalism in Europe is basically a federation of states. But we are forgetting that in Europe there are other actors that need to be heard as well and that need to be listened to, and they should be represented somehow. So when we talk about European federalism, we do not talk only about states as such, it is basically about citizens, populations, regions, and nations. So our challenge is basically to make Europe understand what its pillars and its roots are.

And we talk about Europe of diversity, Europe of democracy, Europe of fundamental rights. Well, all these, it's never outdated. It's more present and more actual than ever. So from that perspective, I think that we need to make everybody understand that there's one language. There's one project, which is Europe, and Europe is diverse, and plural. There are states, nations, regions, languages, people. And we need to find a place for everybody to be included in these. Otherwise, if Europe is only 27 voices representing 27 states, to me this is a weak Europe internally and externally. Both."

M : "I also want to underline that, of course, we will face a lot of changes. We are in a phase of transformation. But we believe that those crises and those challenges should not be solved in isolation, and also not just by listening to the capitals, or the national states. We believe that it's way more effective to actually include the people. That's what we stand for, a Europe of the people. We want them to be involved in the decision-making processes in the European Union of the future."

And how would you empower EU regions to play a stronger role in decision-making?

R: "Nowadays, we have the Committee of the Regions, but it seems that there is the Council, formed by the states, and the Committee of the Regions aside. Why? I mean, in fact, reality shows us that if you want to represent the plurality of Europe, regions should be part of the big discussion.

Many regions have specific competencies, but they are diluted when you go into the European debates. The problem with this is that Europe is not credible when you go everywhere saying, 'Oh, you should respect fundamental rights, you should respect democracy ', when you are not respecting that. When you have a region that has a competence for doing something and decides whatever, and you as a state say yes or no, but the voice in Europe is me, not you, then you are sending a very bad message to the people.

What's the purpose of this? I think that Europe needs to reinvent itself from that perspective. Nowadays, democracy is very, as Bauman said, liquid and this liquidity of democracy allows us formulas that would escape the technicalities of simply a club of states. And I think we could very easily find mechanisms to represent it."

How are you expecting to engage with a wider public for the next European elections?

M: "We are not only the voices of a few in these elections, even though we come from smaller communities. We fight for fundamental things that are very important for the existence of the European Union and democracy. And diversity is not only for stateless nations or minorities. It's for everyone, no matter what age or gender or what passport you have. So of course, we are giving people a voice that other parties forget about. Our campaign is for all, and we really mean that. It's for the small voices, and the big voices, and based on democracy and diversity."

"I believe it's important to work together as generation, and I hope that I can make European politics more approachable" (Photo: European Free Alliance)

R: "We are not defending our individual rights to speak in Catalan or to defend the Danish minority in Germany. We are defending universal values. In our cases, this is represented that way, in other places, this is represented differently. So my way of putting it on the table is we all have a common problem, which is called democracy. So how do we deal with this situation? That's why we raised the flag of not only diversity but of democratic principles.

Secondly, and this is very important to me, universal values have to do with sustainability, equal opportunities, climate change, water, energy, and what you do with revenues or job opportunities. All this requires one thing: strong institutions, credible institutions, reliable institutions, competencies, and resources.

The question is, who is deciding all this? Democracy. Nobody else. Democracy is not negotiable, so if we want a fairer, more sustainable, and more solidarity future, we need structures, and institutions that are credible, responsible, and democratic."

Is 'Social Europe' actually going in the right direction? How do you envision the European Union for the next mandate from this social perspective?

M: "I believe that the European Union is way more than a project of common markets. The EU is its people, diversity, and the open borders we have. And it's a project that also needs a social side to it. And I believe that we are not quite there yet. We can all do way better when it comes to providing a life you really want to live in the European Union.

Compared to other parts of the world, we are on a very high standard, but we are not using all the potential the European Union has in cooperation with the regions, for example. So, of course, I want to put the social aspect, especially in the context of the crisis we are going to face for example with climate change, on a higher priority."

R: "Europe is very much obsessed with growing economically and, definitely, economically speaking the European Union is a very relevant actor in the international arena. The problem is not this, only, the problem is how you distribute this revenue, this wealth, and that is where you find the problem. A problem between regions and peoples, basically.

In the end, the European Union needs to be very much aware of the fact that growing economically is not in itself an objective. The real question is how do you distribute this richness and wealth in order that everybody has the same opportunities? This has to do basically with overcoming the states' control, because again, states are very different, and they have their own interests. But states as such are not necessarily the best tool to warranty that everybody has access to this economic situation. So that is the message that we are keen to spread out: other actors can play a very different and very useful role."

Empowering youth is one of the key proposals of your strategy, but how are you planning to engage with them, as they were the age group with the lowest turnout in the last EU elections?

M: "For these elections I believe it's important to work together as generation. Personally, I hope that I can make European politics more approachable. I want to show that European politics are not only something that happens in Brussels and Strasbourg and something you don't really understand, something for diplomats. I want to show that to young people. And of course, I want to approach them. I want to listen to them.

I am already in the bubble, so I know what is important to young people. I also know what they think about the future because I have the same thoughts. In this way, I hope to encourage more young people to get involved in politics and dare to stand up for what they believe in.

On the other hand, I just hope that I can somehow be, maybe a small voice, but a voice for young people in the European election debate. We don't know who the other candidates will be, but I'm pretty sure that none of them will be under 23. So we'll probably have the youngest. And I think that's a strong signal from our party."

The process of making Catalan, Basque, and Galician official EU languages has reinforced one of your main demands, that of linguistic justice, but the process is still at an early stage and several members have expressed doubts over the costs and operational feasibility. Will you continue to press for the recognition of these and other minority languages in the future?

R: "Well, first, define minority language, because the problem that the Catalan has is the fact that it is not a state. I think that people should be very much aware of how important this is. I myself was not pro-independence. I defended the Spanish federalism for many years. But once I realised that this question of language was so important and at the same time so difficult to get, it showed me that in fact, the real problem is not the language. The real problem is the political will on one side, and then the weakness of the political institutions. Because in the end you have several languages that are less spoken than Catalan, and they have an official role in the Commission and the Council and in the Parliament. Why is that? Because they are states.

"Language is something that defines your identity. It's that simple. It's not something that I do in order to bother you" (Photo: European Free Alliance)

Why should you be a state to recognise languages as a normal, diverse reality? It's a very simple thing to solve. It is not solved because of the structural democratic deficit we have in the European institutions. So, again, the message is diversity yes, but only of those languages that have state behind them to defend it. This made a lot of people, like me, who were not necessarily pro-independence at the time, say, well, it doesn't make sense.

And if this is a fight, it shows that there is something that is not linked to the language. Language is simply the symptom. The problem is democracy. So we need a strong democracy."

M: "I think it's the perfect example of a European Union that does not really appreciate its diversity. We should be proud of that. The European Union, the institutions, the people that are working in Brussels and Strasbourg, residents, they should all be proud of all the languages, all the cultures. But instead, they make these differences. That's the big thing. I want a European Union that really is proud of its diversity."

R: "And let's be clear. Maybe 200 years ago, there was a kind of technical issue to solve that. Today, we all read Arabic or Chinese with Google Translate. You can do it in zero time. So it's absolutely feasible technically. The artificial intelligence is very advanced, and it will be very soon possible for her to speak in Danish and me to speak in Catalan, and we understand each other without even switching languages. That is technically going to be possible. So what is the purpose of simply fighting against something that on the other side represents so much? I mean, let's not forget language is something that defines your identity. It's that simple. It's not something that I do in order to bother you. I don't speak Catalan because I want to bother those who are not Catalan speakers. I speak in Catalan because it's my language. So the fact that some people perceive this as a threat makes me astonished. Why is it a threat to you that I speak my language? I truly don't understand."

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