by Styliani Kampani. Originally published on 2013/06/26
Daniel Cohn-Bendit visited Athens last week on his rally for different Europe in times of crisis and uncertainty. During his two-day visit, apart from the typical press conferences and cultural happenings, he visited the main building of the public broadcaster – which has been shut down, in order to figure out the situation there. His message, crystal clear: “Let’s fight for a different Europe, starting from Greece”.
Getting to know him
Cohn-Bendit was born in Monatuban, France on April 4, 1945 but spent his school years in Germany before he returned to Paris to study at the university of Nanterre. He was a student leader during the unrest of May 1968 in Franceand he was also known during that time as “Dany le Rouge” in reference to both his politics and his hair color. After the riots, the French government expelled him from France, so he continued his activity in Frankfurt, where he worked in a bookshop and took part in the establishment of a group called “Revolutionärer Kampf” (revolutionary fight) together with Joschka Fischer. In 1984 he became member of the German Green party opposing to the determined opponents of the eco-socialist fundamentalism.
In 1994 he was elected to the European parliament and since January 2002 he has been a co-president of the Greens/European Free Alliance Group. He is a co-chair of the Spinelli Group, a European parliament intergroup that aims to re-launch the federalist project in Europe.
Having the chance to see him for second time this year, I reaffirmed his characteristics: communicative, lively and inspiring. Despite his heavy schedule, he agreed to give a small press conference to young bloggers and intellectuals at one the most unique bookstores in the heart of Athens called “Free Thinking Zone”.
The discussion opened with the recent decision of the Greek government to close the public broadcaster (ERT) and therefore cut public sector jobs in order to cover its “black holes”. Cohn-Bendit strongly criticized Samaras’ stance, saying that such a decision would be normal for the Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin or the former Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. These statements, though used to provoke, do carry a poisonous message to the Greek administration. As in his fierce speeches in the European Parliament Plenary sessions, he opposed the management of the ongoing financial crisis, underpinning that austerity is not the solution to the problem. So it came as no surprise that he characterized Troika as “invention of madness” and asked for its immediate dissolution.
European unification and enlargement
Earlier this month he and Guy Verhofstadt won the European Leader Award of 2013 for authoring together the book-manifesto “For Europe”, portraying their vision for the United States of Europe. Jumping into the EU affairs, the debate reminded me of Guy Verhofstadt, who also paid a visit to Athens in May. And although they come from different political families, their perspective for Europe is almost identical.
Cohn-Bendit called for the reuniting of Europe from every angle of the horizon, from East to West and from North to South with the adoption of a new strategy and a common vision. As he emphasizes in his book, the European countries cannot survive on their own in the globalized arena, arguing that in 30 years none of the EU states will be member of the G8 group, bringing the bloc under tough strains while it strives to cope with the emerging economies. Low growth rates and productivity put into question the glorious times of Europe and in search for trustworthy partners, the EU, together with the US, look to level up their relations. From his perspective France in 20 years will mean for the world what Luxembourg does to the EU today -meaning that its power will diminish dramatically with the passing of the years- if it continues to put forward its nationalistic approach. What he considers to be the first and foremost obstacle to Europe’s unification is the strong adherence to national interest.
Commenting on the protests in Turkey, he said that he felt disappointed by Erdogan’s manner of handling the protests, supporting the view that he has deviated from the democratic reform path that Turkey was stepping on. For him, the EU does not have the right to reprimand Turkey and tell Ankara how to behave. Instead, he blamed the EU for the stalemate in the accession process. The discussion went deeper into the enlargement and more specifically concerning the Balkans. His priority is to solve the Kosovo case which has become a modern protectorate and spiked unrest in the surrounding area. What he considers to be a general principle for the enlargement process is to give countries a European perspective and not promises for accession in a fixed timeframe.
On the Eurozone crisis, he highlighted that public debt is not the mere problem, mentioning the examples of the US and Japan, which carry a much bigger debt but can loan with ridiculously low rates. His solution: a EU federal budget following the pattern of the American Federal Reserve that will allow for all member states to loan with the same interest rate. Other than this, he expects the EU to be substantially different in five years from now. According to his predictions, the Eurobonds will be a reality even after the German elections in September. He also envisions the establishment of a common debt fund and bank supervision mechanism, which is already underway. Last but not least, he expects progress on the energy renewable and gradual disengagement from the oil and coal, the so called “Green new deal”.