The European Union appeared split and weak during the visit of its two presidents to Ankara, according to the chairman of the parliamentary group of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber.
In this exclusive interview with Kathimerini, Weber, who will be among the speakers at the Delphi Economic Forum in mid-May, notes that Turkey “is walking away” from European values and that there are no grounds at the moment for initiating a positive agenda.
Concerning the Digital Green Certificate, he says it is urgent that it be activated as soon as possible, that it should only recognize vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, and that its holders should be exempt from any quarantine requirements.
Should the visit of the two presidents to Ankara have taken place? Have the conditions for a positive agenda with Turkey been met?
The trip was meant to send a signal of strength to Ankara in the aftermath of the conclusions of the [March] European Council. Instead, we sent a signal of being split, of inability to stand on the global stage. And it was particularly negative that Ursula von der Leyen was treated as she was after Turkey had withdrawn from the Istanbul Convention. We are far away from the promise of a “geopolitical Europe.” Our demand to the Council and the Commission is to coordinate in future so that this never happens again.
Is there a better understanding in Europe today, compared to the beginning of 2020, of the values gap that divides it from Turkey and of the diverging pursuits of the two sides on foreign policy?
It is obvious that Turkey is walking away from Europe and its values – rule of law, media freedom, the independence of the judiciary. The prime minister of Italy was the most outspoken about it, but everyone recognizes it. That is the substance – and that is why, for me, it is clear that we cannot open a new chapter with Turkey, we cannot talk about visa liberalization or modernizing the Customs Union. The first step is to restore trust, to see an end to the provocations. The next few weeks will make clear if it makes sense to proceed with such talks [relating to the positive agenda].
Regarding the Digital Green Certificate, what are the main disagreements between the European Parliament and the Council?
The most important thing is that we must deliver. We have already lost so much valuable time – [Greek Prime Minister] Kyriakos Mitsotakis had presented this idea back in January and the Commission took too long to present its proposal. The idea behind it is to avoid fragmentation in the European Union.
On the issues, for us it is clear that we have to strengthen our regulators – and that means that we should accept only EMA-approved vaccines for the certificate. Sputnik V has not been approved by the EMA – at least not yet – so it cannot be recognized as a true shield against the pandemic. Secondly, it is crucial that when Europeans ask what the certificate will do for them in their daily lives, that we can give them an answer. That is why we insist that the certificate restores the freedom of movement in the EU. Rights must be fully restored when the reasons for their curtailment no longer hold. We hope that the Council will give in on these two points and we can vote on the final form of the certificate in the May plenary.
What about travel from third countries – a front on which Greece has been making some unilateral moves? Will there be a coordinated approach? And will it be in place in time?
We are currently moving from an approach based on regions and the epidemiological picture to a personalized approach, similar to the one that is being adopted within the EU. It is, however, crucial to have reciprocity – for example if it is decided that Americans who have been vaccinated can travel to Europe, vaccinated Europeans should also be able to visit the US. Also, the condition of EMA-approved vaccines should also hold for visitors from third countries.
What was the biggest mistake the EU made in procuring vaccines? Do you see the narrative changing as the vaccination campaign ramps up?
Europe did make mistakes, and we must recognize that. Probably the biggest one was that we were somewhat naive in our trust in agreements signed and in the rules-based approach of the countries of the Western world. The US and Britain did not follow the approach of international supply chains and open markets. They acted nationalistically, in an egoistic manner, while Europe kept exporting. Britain’s vaccine success story would not have been possible without deliveries from Europe.
But we learned our lessons. We have established the principle of reciprocity – we don’t deliver to Britain if they don’t deliver to us. We have prepared the ground for a major increase in production in the autumn, when new mutant variants of the virus may arise. The new contract with Pfizer and BioNTech is a very positive development. At the same time, it is important that we now have the tools to block exports of vaccines if the exporting company or the destination country do not behave properly towards Europe.