Bengt Beier is a Co-Founder of the European Federalist Party and a candidate MEP in Austria. He has lived, studied and worked in eight European countries and speaks English, German, French and Polish - the languages of more than half of all Europeans.
He helped realize the innovative "European Citizens' Initiative" and was a founding member of several pro-democracy organizations, including Democracy International and the European Federalist Party. As coordinator for Europeans for Fair Roaming he enforced lower roaming charges in Europe and a new market for roaming. As a researcher at the Austrian Institute for European Law and Politics, he has gained detailed insight into the legislation of the EU and organizes high profile scientific and political conferences.
OneEurope: You are one of the youngest candidates at the European Parliament elections. What has been your involvement in EU public affairs so far?
Even though I am still quite young for a candidate in the European elections, I have been involved in European politics for nearly 10 years, actually. I became active with the Young European Federalists when I was still in school in Augsburg in Bavaria. In 2007, I joined Europe United, which had the goal to build a pan-European and pro-European political party and subsequently became President of Europe United from 2009 to 2011. In this function, I was able to make this idea of a European party a reality: together with the French Parti Fédéraliste, we launched the European Federalist Party (www.federalistparty.eu) in November 2011.
I have also been involved in some of the best-known European laws of the last years. Together with the Austrian Institute for European Law and Policy, I shaped the European Citizens’ Initiative. With the campaign Europeans for Fair Roaming (www.fairroaming.org), I managed to massively reduce the cost of using your mobile phone abroad – until next year, roaming charges will most likely disappear completely. And I helped with the campaigns Fraternité2020 and #SaveErasmus, where we saved the Erasmus programme from cuts and shaped the new Erasmus+ programme.
With this background, it was an obvious choice for me to run on the list of NEOS in Austria, because they share the federalist ideas on European politics.
OE: As a founding member of the European Federalist Party, what is your vision for a Federal Europe?
BB: I am a European federalist, because I believe Europe needs more democracy – and not because it needs more powers. Federalism does not necessarily mean more powers for Europe. What it means is a different way of doing things: Making sure that every decision taken on every level of government has democratic legitimacy. Making sure that all key positions on all levels are elected by the people. Making sure that power ultimately lies in the hands of citizens – and not of governments and bureaucrats. It is about taking power from governments and giving it to citizens.
In concrete terms, a federal Europe should have a constitution written by an elected convention instead of complex treaties, an elected government instead of an unelected commission, and a true Parliament with two chambers instead of governments meeting behind closed doors. The regions should be strengthened (Germany or Switzerland could be good examples for this) and we should make sure that decisions are taken on the right level. Should the federal Europe have a stronger role in foreign policy? Definitely. Should the federal Europe decide on agricultural and fishing policy everywhere in Europe? I would say no.
OE: What will be your top five policy priorities if elected to the European Parliament?
BB: Making Europe a beacon of democracy. I want to work towards a fully democratic Europe.
When it comes to democracy and involvement of citizens, we should not accept anything but the best! We should learn from states and regions around the world about best practices in citizen involvement and apply them to Europe. We can learn from Switzerland concerning direct democracy. We can learn from the Polish example of citizens’ budgets, where citizens can vote directly on parts of the budget. We can learn from the Scandinavian model of integrating citizens into public life. And concretely, I like the idea of having a directly elected European president to have a real division and control of powers.
To this end, I will campaign for a European Convention to draft a new European constitution. I am already working with Democracy International on a project to make this a reality (www.democraticeuropenow.eu) – and I hope that after the elections, we will have a majority in the European Parliament for this.
Europe needs much better co-ordination of financial and economic policies. We have a common currency in most of Europe – and a common currency can not work without co-ordination in these areas. We have seen this in the financial crisis of the last years.
Concretely, this means a leading role of the EU in financial policy, minimum social standards that apply throughout Europe to prevent dumping and improve living standards. And investing into more cross-border projects and into research and training.
And I believe that we must do a lot more for the young people in Europe. Today, Europe is governed by middle-aged or old people, most of them men. And they make policies for middle-aged or old men. And the youth of Europe has to pay for them. This is not acceptable.
Europe will be successful if it can create jobs and opportunities for young people. And it will fail if it can’t. I want to support young people who search for jobs everywhere in Europe. I want to make sure they get full social coverage when going abroad. I want to make European exchange programmes more accessible so that everyone in Europe can go abroad of they want to. I want to support companies who hire young workers – and stop companies from hiring-and-firing unpaid “interns” who do real work.
OE: You have a great deal of experience in campaigning, most notably as coordinator of the ‘Europeans for Fair Roaming’ campaign. How easy is it for young people to shape the EU policy agenda?
BB: Well, let’s say… it is possible. But you need a lot of knowledge about European politics, a lot of information, a lot of perseverance – and to find the right people. The first step is to search for information on the issue you want to change and on how European politics works. And to search for others with similar ideas. I often come across people who have important issues and great ideas but who are not successful because they try to fight on their own. If someone else has a similar issue, contact them and work with them.
Even on the issue of roaming, I made this experience: just the day after the campaign Europeans for Fair Roaming successfully pushed through the vote in the European Parliament, another campaign with a similar name and goal appeared. And they had never heard about Fair Roaming, our work and our successes. They had not even bothered to Google for similar campaigns. Had we done this together, it would have been a lot more efficient.
For everyone who wants to change European politics, my tip is: before you start, search for others with similar ideas, build a strong network and contact people who have experience in European politics (like me ;-) ). They you can help you and point you to the right people.
OE: The Eurocrisis has hit the youth harder than anyone else, and many young people are profoundly disenchanted with EU politics. Can Generation Erasmus shape the future of Europe?
BB: From my experience, the young generation are the best informed – and often the most pro-European – voters. They have grown up with open borders and the Euro. They learn English at a young age and often speak several further languages. For them, moving to Barcelona or Copenhagen is no different than moving from Vienna to Salzburg.
But due to the job situation in Southern Europe, the EU is rapidly losing their trust. Europe can not just go on with the same political recipes. We have to offer them a real alternative.
And I believe that giving young people a voice in European politics is the key to getting back their trust – and making sure European politics listens to their issues!
Generation Erasmus can not only change Europe- it must! This is why the EFP is running with many young candidates across Europe: we want to give a voice to young people, who are pro-European but want a Europe that works better for them. We are the voice of the Erasmus generation!
OE: Why vote in the upcoming European Parliament elections? Do the European Parliament elections really matter?
BB: The first and most obvious answer is: you should always use your right to vote. Our ancestors fought and often died because they wanted to have a say in politics. All over the world, people in crisis regions risk their lives to vote. And we in Europe just don’t bother? This is simply not understandable.
And for the first time ever, we can say that the European elections are as important and as influential as national elections! In the last years, the European Parliament has become as powerful as the Bundestag, the Assemblée nationale or any other national parliament. The majority of all laws need a vote in the European Parliament. And for the first time, you will not only decide about the majorities in the European Parliament – but you will also indirectly elect the most powerful position in the EU, the Commission President.
After these elections, the European Parliament will for the first time form a government coalition and elect the European Commission President. This will turn the Commission President into an elected head of government – a sort of European prime minister. If you want to influence who will fill this influential position, vote!
If you don’t vote, you basically give your vote to someone who will vote for candidates you would never vote for. Would you want that?