Pöttering’s new approach
2018-05-15 13:44:57 -

A former European Parliament president is leading the struggle to retain peace and democracy in Europe, writes Michael McGowan.


Populist, isolationist and far-right politics have created a real crisis in the EU which needs to be challenged and countered by a leadership in Europe which is aware of the history and achievements of the EU and is determined to save the European project.


That leadership is emerging in the shape of Hans-Gert Pöttering, former German president of the European Parliament, and a committed European federalist and ally of Angela Merkel, who recently launched his brainchild, the iconic European House of History, in Brussels.


The European Union is in desperate need of a relaunch to counter the populism, isolationism and extreme nationalism that is poisoning both European and world politics. It’s a crisis in the EU that needs to be seen as a real opportunity for counter action.


Pöttering, who was recently elected president of an influential association of former MEPs, is well placed to seize that opportunity. He is dedicated to the development of the European Union as a free, peaceful union based on solidarity, and is determined to seek ways of building more effectively on what the EU has achieved.


Hans-Gert Pöttering served as an MEP continuously since the first direct elections in 1979 to 2014. He was chair of the European People’s Party of MEPs from 1999 to 2007, and from January that year to July 2009 was president of the European Parliament itself.


“The European Parliament has no equivalent anywhere in the world,” Pöttering has said. “It is elected by the citizens of the EU states, is an important legislator and stands for reconciliation, peaceful coexistence, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”


In Brussels, Pöttering recently paid tribute to Simone Veil, in 1979 elected as the first president of the directly elected European Parliament, who died last year. She has been honoured by the parliament in response to her call to remember the past by creating the House of European History, and naming the square outside its buildings in Brussels after her.


Pöttering has described Veil as “a symbol of the new Europe who had gone through the hell of Auschwitz, and yet still chose the path of hope and a better future for everyone.”


Today, there is more questioning of the very existence of the EU from within its member states, including in the European Parliament itself, than we have experienced throughout its history. We have allowed populist politics, nationalism and a warped sense of sovereignty to dominate the political agenda, while liberal democracy has been pushed into a corner.


We too often talk about institutions rather than human values. There is a need for less top-down action; we need to mobilise the human and collective intelligence of our European citizens from the ground up.


Hans-Gert Pöttering, who has promoted the project the House of European History to document the work of MEPs over the years, emphasises how the European Parliament has become a key player in shaping a democratic Europe, and wants to explore new approaches which will help to raise parliament’s profile. He is determined to work with all who are committed to building on the achievements of the greatest peace process in history – and perhaps this new approach can come from the grassroots.


Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.

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