”Neoliberal policies gave us weaker solutions” says Andreas Schieder

Member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the Urban Intergroup, Andreas Schieder talks about the management of COVID-19 mesures taken by the European institutions, the topic of Sustainable Development, as well as diversity and the representation of minorities within Europe.

Watch the video interview below:

Fiorela Imerai: What I would like to first address is EU policies towards covid-19. Many have stated that the EU countries did not manage the health crisis as a unity, because many were left to cope with the virus on their own. How true do you think this is? Were really EU countries on their own during this global threat?

Andreas Schieder: I think with the arrival of the COVID-19 crisis to in Europe, the member states began to react immediately in a quite egoistic
way in the sense that every member state tried to do its own thing. What we learnt is that if everybody is acting on their own and introducing measures like travel bans, transport bans; and related measures, at in the end, everybody is losing. As we learn that this regards not only transport of people who are carrying the virus but it also has an impact on important medical processes, doctors, supply chains and other issues. Therefore, I think the lesson learnt was during summer when member states decided that the EU should start the negotiations with the pharmaceutical industry.

Now, what I think should also be noted in discussions in general, is how covid-19 has fully exposed why neoliberal economies are unfit to deal with a pandemic. We have noticed that the EU countries now have fewer hospital beds and more exhausted, underpaid healthcare workers. Do you see neoliberal policies and the austerity that comes with it that they will lose their credibility in the future after witnessing its disastrous effects, or do you think that we will continue having these neoliberal policies even after we have seen how tragic they can be?

A.S.: First, I want to agree with what you said, that we saw that neoliberal policies also gave us weaker solutions to the crisis than other ones.

Especially on the field of social and health infrastructure, we saw that public owned, public-run systems are superior to the neoliberal private ones, because there is a higher supply and for a pandemic, it’s always important that everybody can have access to medical treatment when it’s needed.

This is also in the interest of not only the one who receives medical treatment, but of the whole society. So, this stands, let’s say, against the egoistical approach.

If you ask me if there is a long lasting defeat of neoliberal attitude, I always have my doubts. Because we also learnt now that of course when you have a systemic choc, economically, like with COVID-19 crisis, it is also necessary to counter this choc by investing money and not looking at the budget, because in the end, we need supplies and other things. But I have the feeling that at the end of this egoistic approach of neoliberal policy, the stronger one is the fitter one is and so on, we’ll also step by step be re-established.

Thank you. Also, on the covid-19 topic, the EU has announced plans for a pandemic recovery plan for a budget of 750 billion, in order to update technology infrastructure and work on climate projects. Do you believe that this so-called recovery plan will actually be the way to lead a greener future and a more digital EU?

A.S.: It is an important step towards a more digital and especially a greener and a fairer European Union. In this Recovery Plan, we see for the first a Europeanised Investment Plan of 750 billion euros.

The Recovery Plan is foreseeing that approximately 40% should go to clean investments, 20% also to digitalisation. So, if initially states which are responsible for putting this on the field, are really choosing projects that have a green and a digital footprint, then I think it can be a major step.

On a more general note, regarding covd-19, it has without a doubt influenced the way we conduct business and international trade in general. So how do you assess the future of globalisation regarding EU countries? How do you think it will be 6 months from now, after hopefully covid-19 slowly disappears from our lives?

A.S.: We all expected it to already end one year ago, now we learnt that with the changes of the virus it might be longer. On the trade issue, I think there are two important things. One is that every economy learnt that it is necessary for specific protection issues in the economy to have the possibility. A global supply chain is not the only thing, but you need also regional supply chains. Secondly, we see also see now even more clearly the failures of global trade. The failures are in human protection chains and the ecological ones. We are destroying human beings, there’s slavery work, we are destroying the environment globally in order to have cheaper goods.

What we have learnt now is that we have to look on the supply chain, human rights, ecological rights but also in the sense of regionalising, because not everything needs to be embedded into a global supply chain.

Regarding the EU countries, do you think there will be a stronger collaboration? Do you think that countries now are used to dealing with the crisis on their own, so maybe they will not be so willing to conduct business and be involved in this whole trade process?

A.S.: I think that in the end we understood that we need to engage strongly at an European level. We saw that the serious development of vaccines is only possible if Europe is investing. A serious negotiation with the pharmaceutical companies is only possible for the Europeans, and the Recovery Plan is the biggest example also to show in the end that it is understood that there must be engagement on an a European level. It must be more efficient, more democratic, more transparent, more functioning. This, I think, is the next step, which has to be done. Even before the crisis, I had the opinion that we have arrived at a crossroad, we either renationalise, or we Europeanise. With the pandemic, the picture became even more clear, we have to choose which way we are taking. I am confident it will be the European one.

Now, you’re also the vice president of the Urban Intergroup. We know that the 70% of the European population is located in cities and the main purpose of Urban Intergroup is to enhance the sustainable development. What do you see as the biggest and as the recent accomplishment of Urban intergroup? I assume that this past year every project might have been undermined by the pandemic, but have there been developments?

A.S.: As you mentioned, there is a high percentage of people living in the cities. 70% are living in urban areas, but also at the same time 70% of the EU budget is invested in rural areas. So, we have to work on this contradiction and put more focus on the urban areas. Especially, when we speak about life quality of the human population and when we speak about future problems, I think that urban areas play a key role.

They can be an answer to a green economy; they can be an answer for the modern shared economy, which is less oriented on ownership but more on usership. Fulfilling basic needs of the people in a communitarian way, which also shows that not everybody has to own everything in order to have a certain life standard, but that we can distribute among each other. And for the Recovery Plan, it is clear we that the more we invest in smart cities, let’s say it this way, they can be the solution for both. A better quality of life, but without destroying the environment, and at the same time creating also green solutions. I am hopeful that Urban areas play a more and more interest bigger role in the policies of the European Ccommission policy.

Therefore, I was also demanding that the Commission for Regional Affairs, must be a Commission for urban affairs too.

And the last question for you, because I don’t want to take much of your time, it is about the hashtag that was created on social platforms a while ago about Brussels being too white, the EU being too white. There were people tweeting and many articles on very-well known online newspapers saying and addressing the issue of Brussels not including diversity on its institutions. Now, you have been in the European Parliament since 2019.How much of an ethnocultural diversity have you witnessed inside the EU and how would you respond to these accusations?

A.S.: Our societies generally get more diverse and also people identify themselves in more diverse ways. You can always have several identities, but you want to be treated equally, fairly and openly. For this of course, Europe, has to acknowledge that there’s a lot of problems still, there’s structural racism sometimes, there’s structural hatred against gender, mainly towards women, there’s structural racism against sexual orientation, against gays, lesbians, trans persons and other ones.

There are European minorities which are still not consuming the same rights like the majority groups, there’s also a social impact on being a minority, meaning being socially excluded. Therefore, we have a debate now, – #BlackLivesMonth, which I posted on Facebook to support Black Lives Month, especially for the Austrian activity. People were commenting on how there are not many black people in Austria and this can’t be a problem still. This of course opens a lot of questions, for example, how many you must be to be allowed to be a minority having problems, because the most radical form for a minority is being one in the first place. This was seen as a symbol against structural and everyday racism, among not only black people but also other kind of people which can be distinguished by how they look, how they behave, where they come from, which name they carry and so on, and so far. So, all these comments really taught me that there is a lot of work to do still and a lot of awareness to raise. It’s not only about awareness, but also about politics.

F.I.: I think these two go together. I think the more people come forward and address these issues, the more politics maybe listens to them and then regulates the law or creates policies, it’s vice versa. So, hopefully the more people are speaking up, the more these laws will change and they will be better representing minorities in Europe, but also in global institutions in general. Let’s all look at covid-19, as an opportunity to change some of our ways and see that there are no barriers and if something like this happens, like a global threat, everyone is susceptible, everyone is vulnerable so fingers crossed we will be fine.

A.S.: Maybe this is a good lesson, that the virus could affect everybody, if you’re rich, if you’re poor, which gets the rich maybe to realize that they need a fairer society too.

F.I.: I think it will take more than a pandemic for them to realise this but it’s a big step.

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