Interview with MEP Nicola Procaccini –

Interview with MEP Nicola Procaccini

Apr 30, 2024
Roma, 30 apr. – Welcome to a new episode of the Ask@news EU Verified Series. Today’s guest is MEP Nicola Procaccini Co-President of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group and member of the ENVI Commission since 2022.

Good morning Honorable Procaccini and thank you for being here with us today.

Q. Let’s start with the first question about the current legislature, now coming to an end. Looking back at these five years, what are the most significant goals, or the ones you are most proud of, that you have achieved?

A. Let’s say it’s perhaps just at the end, because the truth is that this legislature can be divided into two parts: the first four years and nine months, which were more or less disastrous, and the last three months, which were somewhat more dignified. Why four years and nine months, and why only three months, let’s say, in the right direction? I think it’s because of the upcoming European elections. It seems that it was finally realized that all the policies from the first four years and nine months had generated such discontent among the public that, in the last three months, there was an attempt to change course to win over public opinion, with the elections just around the corner. It’s a rather obvious choice—better late than never.

For example, we see a slowdown in the Green Deal’s intensity, especially the violent attacks on farmers, livestock breeders, fishermen, and all those who have lived and worked in nature for centuries. There’s a shift in PAC, admitting that mistakes were made and that they need to be fixed. Similarly, there’s a turnaround on immigration: for years, dialogue was impossible due to the extreme prejudice against our positions, to the point where we weren’t even allowed to speak. During those years, Carola Rackete was celebrated with standing ovations, and Luca Casarini was even awarded on May 9th, Europe Day, as if he were a new founding father. However, in the last three months, there’s been a sudden shift. The new migration pact includes many of the things we have always asked for, stated, and supported. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that it is now recognized that more firmness is needed to combat illegal immigration, that a clearer approach is required to manage legal immigration, and that NGOs are not the solution to the problem, but rather part of the problem. This new immigration pact may not entirely satisfy us, but it is certainly a step in the right direction compared to much of what we’ve seen during this legislature.

Q. Looking more specifically at the Green Deal, given the “change in direction” you mentioned, what are the opportunities for modifying other areas besides agriculture? For example, in terms of car emissions, and in general, moving towards a less ideological and more pragmatic approach to environmental issues.

A. Clearly, at this end of the legislature, we only have one plenary session left in Strasbourg next week (Wednesday 4/17/2024). Incidentally, it will be a plenary session where one of the most ideologically extreme and damaging files will be addressed. I’m referring to the Packaging Regulation Directive, which would have basically destroyed the circular economy as we envisioned, defended, and developed it, undermining the entire recycling industry and waste differentiation. This is one of the recent course corrections because, for years, it was steeped in this fanaticism. In recent months, we’ve managed to put it on a track that is certainly more sensible. But other than this packaging directive, everything else is deferred to the next legislature. I’m fairly convinced that there will be a bit more balance in considering, on one hand, as it should be, environmental protection, but on the other hand, also economic, social, and geopolitical sustainability—all elements that must be combined. I was shocked that even at the European Greens Congress, the German Greens complained that there was excessive green in European legislation and that the imposed targets were harmful and unrealistic. If even the Greens are saying this, there’s something unsettling, even dystopian, about it. This makes me optimistic that, in the next legislature, while not everything can be reviewed, at least the most glaring absurdities might be addressed.

Q. Another topic on which you were also a Shadow Rapporteur is the “Green Homes” directive. Italy voted against this regulation in the Council. What is your opinion on the regulation, and how do you generally view the European Commission’s intention to regulate aspects that have a significant impact on Italian citizens and our economy in this way?

A. The “Green Homes” directive is emblematic of a centralized approach that has characterized the European Commission. It’s a top-down approach, which I would even say has a somewhat retro socialist flavor. It imposes requirements on nations, which in turn means imposing costs and burdens on citizens that are unsustainable, especially considering that much of Italy’s building stock dates to before the 1970s or 1980s and was constructed with standards that don’t match those of recent years. The idea of renovating over 5 million private buildings and over half a million public buildings to improve their energy efficiency is unrealistic. We’ve seen this with the Superbonus: to renovate less than 10% of the homes targeted by the “Green Homes” directive, we’ve spent something like 200 billion euros, which will weigh heavily on future generations of Italians for years to come. So, again, it’s right to set ambitious goals in terms of environmental sustainability, but they need to be reasonable goals.

Q. Another topic we’d like to address is health, which has become central, especially after the Covid pandemic. Generally, we’ve seen in the Cancer Plan and the Farm to Fork strategy an aversion toward certain products like red meat, alcohol, wine, tobacco, and new-generation alternatives to tobacco, which are subjects of great debate. However, in the Ncd Report, there was acknowledgment of the central role of risk and harm reduction policies. Fratelli d’Italia has fought to protect the right of consumer choice. Do you believe that during the next legislature, you will maintain this position, seeking regulatory solutions that can mitigate choices that may seem, in some cases, purely ideological?

A. I really hope so, because in the end, the ideological framework is the same. It’s a top-down approach, vaguely socialist, where no one is free to choose; instead, it’s the party or, in this case, the state institution that imposes choices on you. Choices that are also unrefined, in the sense that, especially when it comes to food, we Italians don’t have much to learn. We’ve learned through millennia of experience that nutrition is a crucial part of health, and we’ve understood that food must be varied and that nutrients must be diverse. The mandates coming from Brussels are based on a different assumption, one that’s algorithmic, in which a thesis with ideological roots leads to a solution that risks being harmful to health. A typical example is the Nutri-Score, a labeling system that, by relying on an algorithm for sugars, carbohydrates, etc., might determine, for instance, that the healthiest option is french fries, while olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and cheese are to be avoided. It’s a drift that we’ve opposed during this legislature and will continue to oppose in the next. It’s a path that also leads to other questionable solutions, like the issue of synthetic meat. I think the fundamental problem remains the same: The European Union shouldn’t, in our view, be dealing with this. From our perspective, the European Union should focus on a few significant and serious tasks and not interfere in every aspect of European citizens’ lives, attempting to influence every choice, habit, and activity. We believe the European Union makes sense if it leaves health, nutrition, and even beach regulations to the member states—as is already the case—and instead focuses on foreign policy, common defense, and the protection of European borders. This is our model for the European Union, and it certainly hasn’t been the prevailing model in recent years.

Q. Another aspect that seems to be given little consideration is public opinion and that of consumers. Returning to the topic of tobacco, there was a public consultation on the Tobacco Directive that received as many as 18,000 valid subscriptions. Analyses revealed most respondents support the role that new categories can play in reducing risk and helping smokers to quit. However, Commission statements go into the other direction. Who will be able to give a voice to consumers in Europe and ensure that their opinions are taken into consideration?

A. Parliamentarians should naturally do that. I agree with this statement. I fear that there might be the influence of certain lobbies that, in some way, compromise consumer freedom of choice. For example, in the case of non-combustible tobacco products, these are gaining traction in the market because people believe, with good reason, that they could be an alternative to cigarettes with reduced health risks. As for us, speaking as European Conservatives as well as Fratelli d’Italia, our goal remains freedom of choice, but of course, properly informed choice, because it’s essential to be correctly informed. Yet, freedom of choice and appropriate information are the pathways on which future European legislation should be based.

Q. The fact that the European Commission has taken on a somewhat centralized role in these matters, rather than allowing individual states to play their part based on the principle of subsidiarity, what impact has this had, and what opportunities are there to intervene?

A. As I mentioned earlier, the principle of subsidiarity has been trampled on in recent years, paradoxically turned upside down. The European Union should intervene only where individual nations are unable to act on their own. Instead, the situation has been reversed, and there is an attempt to strip nations of their competencies and centralize them in the European Union’s portfolio. This distorts the original idea of the European Union, often described as the United States of Europe, which is nothing but a federalist model that reduces nations to mere territorial or administrative entities. We believe that the European Union was founded as a confederal system, as an alliance of free and sovereign nations that do a few things together—those that they cannot achieve as effectively on their own.

Q. Returning to the topic of the Green Deal, one of the most contentious issues is emissions reduction and the planned ban on internal combustion engines by 2035. In this case, the European Commission and the European Union have chosen not to listen, or have listened only partially, to the requests from the entire automotive industry to adopt a technologically neutral approach, introducing other power sources that can contribute to reducing emissions. Do you think there will be room to review some of these measures? In 2026, there should be an update to the targets for emission reductions. Do you think something will be achieved?

A. We will definitely try. This is because it touches on a principle that, for us, should be a cornerstone of European legislation: technological neutrality. It means agreeing on the objective but allowing each state to pursue it through the technological solution most suitable for its own specificity. The classic example is biofuels. Biofuels are a sustainable energy source, environmentally friendly, and do not prejudice the internal combustion engine. Yet, incredibly, they are rejected, and the focus is solely on abolishing thermal combustion in favor of electric power, disregarding the profoundly damaging environmental impact of the electric vehicle race. The rush towards electric vehicles requires batteries, and the environmental devastation caused by extracting the necessary raw materials for electric transition is oddly ignored, especially by those who claim to be environmentalists. Thus, there’s an environmental issue, but also an economic and social sustainability issue, because citizens must have the ability—like with Green Homes—to choose the best solution for their domestic economy. There’s also a geopolitical issue of energy source sovereignty. We’ve suddenly realized, to our detriment, that owning our energy sources 100% is utopian. But achieving a reasonable percentage should be the goal for the entire European Union.

Q. This is the position that in principle unites ECR and EPP. Moreover, these are two parties that govern together in Italy. Do you think that in the next legislature there could be a closer relationship between ECR and EPP, and could they form a common majority?

A. Let’s start by saying that majorities in the European Parliament are different from those in national parliaments because they are highly variable. Essentially, there’s a different majority for every vote. Of course, there’s the vote on the ratification of the President of the Commission, which is probably the most politically significant vote of the legislature, where we’ll see how the combinations play out, knowing that the President of the Commission is also appointed by the national governments, that is, by the European Council. So it’s something that is outside the normal dynamics of the European parliamentary system.

I am almost certain that the balance in the next legislature will shift further to the right. Therefore, I am quite sure that there will be more frequent opportunities to form right-leaning majorities than there have been in recent years. ECR and PPE will certainly play a decisive role in this. I also believe that several delegations, both from the Identity and Democracy Group, which includes the Lega party, and from Renew Europe, where Renzi and Calenda’s groups are located, will find common ground on many issues. This majority, which has already shown itself in the recent criticism of the green transition and the new migration pact, will likely be more frequent and effective than in the current legislature, especially in the final months.

Q. Last question. What is one goal you have for the next parliamentary term that you intend to pursue and that you care about?

A. But paradoxically, it’s about defending the European treaties. There is an ongoing attempt to strip nations of their competences to hand them over to the European Union, which betrays the reason the European Union was established. It betrays the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Community. We are staunchly defending the confederal model, and that will be not only the indication we are asking from Italian and European citizens during this electoral campaign, but it will also be our number one goal in the next legislature: to defend the original idea of the European Union, to defend the idea of an alliance of free and sovereign nations that do a few important things together, and to counter the notion of a ‘United States of Europe,’ which sounds very Hollywood but essentially erases nations. Italy, France, Spain, and Greece are not like Iowa or Alabama, nor are they like Ticino or Bavaria. They are nations, not regions. And we want them to remain as such, defending the concept of a nation within a European alliance.

The interview is over. We thank the Honorable Procaccini for the time he dedicated to us and for the numerous topics covered.

See you for the next Ask@news EU Verified Series interview.