Siegfried Muresan: The number of EPP MEPs could increase to 200 after the elections / Iohannis' assets for a European position INTERVIEW

Siegfried Mureșan, PNL MEP and vice-president of the EPP, spoke in an interview for “Adevărul” about the targets of the popular Europeans, the relevance of the EPP Congress and the chances of Klaus Iohannis for obtaining an important European position after the end of the president's terms.

Siegfried Mureșan, PPE vice-president PHOTO Archive The truth

Siegfried Mureșan, former rapporteur of the European Parliament for the EU budget for 2024, has already been announced as being on the list of PNL candidates for a new mandate, announced by the head of the EPP, Manfred Weber. Mureșan spoke to the “Adevărul” newspaper in the context of the most important political event held in Bucharest in the run-up to the electoral campaign

These days is the PPE Congress in Bucharest. For the PNL, we know that it is an important event, because it has additional political capital. What does the ordinary, non-politicized citizen gain?

Siegfried Muresan: The most important leaders from the European Union come to Romania. They show that they care about Romania and come to discuss the European Union. It's a great chance for each of us to find out how the EU helped, from the beginning of the pandemic, then the war in Ukraine, but also lesser-known things. We will also find out the plan for the next five years at the European level, what are the priorities and for every Romanian it can be an occasion of pride. The governance program of the European Commission for the next five years will remain linked to Bucharest. Because here, in Bucharest, we choose the candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. And we will win the European Parliament elections. And with the winning of the European Parliament, the governing program of the EPP will be implemented. It's a chance for many people from Europe to learn about Bucharest and I'm convinced that the many thousands of politicians who come, for colleagues, journalists, will mean that they will go home and tell what they saw in Bucharest.

What does it mean for the EPP to win the European elections? And now it's the first political family, the same thing happened after the 2014 elections?

The EPP was in first place in the last elections, and to win the elections again means to be there all the time. Victory at the European level means remaining in first place and the largest political family at the European level. So our objective is to have, first of all, more MEPs than the socialist group, than the extremist group or any other anti-European group. At the level of the Council of the European Union, where the presidents and prime ministers are, the EPP is by far the strongest party: we have 12 of the 27 prime ministers. The Socialist group has five and Renew, President Emmanuel Macron's group, has four heads of state and government.

Will he take more than 175 mandates?

I'm sure it does. The EPP now has around 175 MEPs and will increase the number of MEPs on the current structure of the parties that are part of the EPP, without the accession of other new formations. I want to say very clearly, and this is a first: I do not rule out that immediately after the European Parliament elections, new, pro-European, center-right political parties, newly established in the EU, will join our political family. Then it is possible that our number of MEPs will increase, even in the area of ​​200. But even on the current structure, without new accessions, we will certainly have more than 175 MEPs.

How do the EPP objectives reconcile with what is happening in Romania, given that Romania will have a common list with those from the PSD?

There are 27 member states in the EU. The situation in the 27 states is not and will never be identical. The situation is not identical in all Romanian counties either. The situation from state to state may also have particularities in the EU, this year, at the European level, but also in Romania, the main fight is between pro-European and anti-European forces. Why are anti-Europeans so dangerous? The Russian Federation understands that it can no longer create a pro-Russian trend at the European level. No one in the EU is attracted to the Russian model, based on violence, hatred, poverty, blackmail. That is precisely why the Russian Federation is trying to create an anti-European current, to weaken and discredit the EU institutions, which manage to defend European values. And to affect our European way of life, which is based on freedom, to choose who he wants, to go where he wants, to criticize who he wants. The Russian Federation invests in extremist, anti-European politicians. It is well known that Marine Le Pen was supported politically and financially by the Kremlin. The former foreign minister of Austria had Vladimir Putin as a guest at her wedding and moved to the Russian Federation. I remember the extremist Salvini posing in front of the Kremlin, in Red Square, with a T-shirt with Vladimir Putin's face on the chest.

So the battle is between these anti-Europeans who want to weaken the EU and the pro-European forces. Therefore, for the European Parliament, there is no separation or divergence between the EPP objective at the European level and that at the national level in terms of political collaboration (no – with PSD).

Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu said that he had discussed with his political family and those from the Coalition and that Romania should request at the European level a position of vice-president of the European Commission and one of vice-president of the European Parliament. How is this objective seen from the PPE point of view? Are there any nuances coming from the EPP, because we know that the populists also want a new position at the European level, that of defense commissioner?

The position of vice-president of the European Parliament is a good thing for Romania. It has happened in the past. Obviously, good candidates are needed. But this position is not one of great influence, because decisions are made at the level of political groups, but it is a prestigious position and I support it as well. A position of vice-president of the European Commission, I think, is for Romania and it is time to seriously discuss this. Romania had serious, consistent mandates in three mandates of the European Commission: Agriculture (2009-2014), Regional Policy (2014-2019) and Transport (from 2019). Therefore, I consider that a position of vice-president corresponds to the status, the size of Romania (no – in terms of the number of MEPs) and the European character in which Romania was led and how we manifested ourselves in all the great debates at the European level.

In terms of new positions, there will certainly be a strong European Commissioner for Defence. Because it is clear that increasing citizen safety and increasing defense capabilities will be main themes in the EU in the next five years. Why is a European Defense Commissioner needed? Not to order a European army that does not exist, but to ensure that the armies of the EU member states are equipped with the most modern equipment, purchased at the lowest price, in the shortest time. At the moment, the 27 EU states purchase, invest and research separately in the field of defence. It now has an inefficient use of money for the defense industry, especially on research and innovation. We then have purchases at expensive prices and we have little interoperability capability. Having a European Commissioner for Defense to ensure that we research once, invest once, in the latest technologies, buy as much as possible for as little as possible.

And the creation of a single defense market will allow us to equip the armies of EU and NATO member states faster and better.

Every 5 years a theme becomes very important. 10-15 years ago it was the economic theme, after the crisis. Then there was the topic of migration, followed by the transition to a green economy. And obviously, now, security is the main theme. And that's why I think this Defense Commissioner will have broad support.

Can Romania get this position? Von der Leyen said that this function should return to Eastern Europe?

Romania certainly has a number of assets, because we have proven within NATO and the EU that we are a serious, stable partner, even in difficult, crisis situations, in recent years. The second asset is that we have always made efforts in recent years to endow the army. We are an EU state that respects its commitment to allocate 2% of GDP to defense. And very important, the fact that we need a better understanding of the threats coming from the east of the EU, and the states in this area are well equipped in terms of understanding the threats. The proof is the fact that everything we said in recent years at the EU level has come true, and I'm glad that now the EU understands that we can be safe in the Union if we are surrounded by strong and stable states. The experience and knowledge of the Central and Eastern European states is essential.

Can including Klaus Iohannis be an asset? Is he qualified for a key position or for that of defense commissioner?

Klaus Iohannis is first and foremost a president with a lot of experience. And being head of state for 9 years, he has superior experience to other potential candidates for European positions who have not been at the head of state. The second important asset is that, despite all the existing difficulties in the region, it has kept Romania on the pro-European direction for the last ten years, without attacks on the EU, as we saw from Viktor Orban or the former anti-European government in Poland. Experience and credibility are two very important arguments

Ciolacu said that by the end of 2024, Romania will enter Schengen. It's a pretty firm commitment for an election year. How does the EPP view the Schengen issue, especially since Karl Nehammer will also come to Bucharest?

First of all, the president of Romania clearly said, at the beginning of February, in the European Parliament, that the accession with the air and sea border represents a first success and that we want full accession as soon as possible. In the manifesto of the European People's Party, which will be adopted in Bucharest, we managed to introduce a commitment of the EPP. More precisely, the EPP undertakes to support the full integration of Romania and Bulgaria as soon as possible, exactly as requested by the President of Romania. This is important because this manifesto will become the cornerstone of the EU's governance program for the next five years.

Secondly, one useful thing that Prime Minister Ciolacu can do is to talk to his partners in Austria, the Austrian Socialist Party. There are three major parties in Austria: the anti-European party, the Austrian Socialist Party and Chancellor Nehammer's party. So there was an Austrian problem, it was not a political left or right. I have not seen any statement by the Austrian Socialist Party in support of the accession of Romania and Bulgaria to Schengen. What we achieved after a year of negotiations was what we agreed with the current Government. If Prime Minister Ciolacu's statement is realistic, we will see at the end of the year