Interview with MEP De Meo –

Interview with MEP De Meo

Mag 15, 2024
Roma, 15 mag. – Good morning and welcome to the new episode of Askanews EU Verified Series. Today’s guest is MEP Salvatore De Meo of the EPP group, president of the AFCO Commission and member of the AGRI Commission.

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

Good morning everyone and thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts with you. I would like to express my thanks and applause for initiatives like yours which allow those who listen to get to the heart of the next European elections.

Q. The first question is about the legislature now coming to an end: what do you think are the most significant results achieved during these five years?

A. I believe that during these five years, Parliament has been trying to make people understand the importance of having more competence and a greater capacity to interact in the decision-making process. It’s no coincidence that Parliament, despite considerable challenges, has approved a proposal for Treaty reform where, among many new elements, we ask the Commission and the Council to convene, according to Article 48 of the Treaty, a convention to open a constituent phase in which to assert greater power. Parliament, during this mandate, has played a crucial role in many legislative actions, and in some cases, we were able to correct texts that, in my opinion, would have further distanced the European Union from citizens’ perception, which increasingly considers it something distant and abstract. This is why I believe we must continue to insist, because we are the only democratically elected institution. We are the ones who can best interpret the needs of the regions, more than other officials or commissioners. If we want Europe to truly regain credibility on the international stage, we must first earn internal credibility, reaching out to the regions, to the citizens, who must feel like integral parts of this project.

It has certainly been a challenging mandate due to the pandemic, the first war in Ukraine, and the Middle Eastern scenario, which I believe highlighted our weaknesses. But in response to these challenges, Europe has shown resilience with the Next Generation EU fund, known as PNRR in Italy, with resources allocated to vaccines, and with other measures that, in my opinion, need further improvement and strengthening, but above all, must be made practical and implementable.

Q. Considering your role as Chair of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, how do you think the role of the European Parliament should evolve in the future, and do you think there will be room to modify European treaties?

A. I believe that Parliament has the right to be among the three most considered institutions because we cannot deny that among the three – the Commission, the Council, and Parliament – we have more difficulty interacting, and we often have to use negotiation to improve texts originating from the Commission, due to the rule that grants only the Commission the legislative initiative. Consequently, these texts often do not meet the needs of the regions, citizens, and individual states. In fact, Parliament, through its representatives, operates with a model that is not entirely similar to national parliaments, where, in my view, it wouldn’t be possible for each individual MP to present a bill, as this would lead to an abuse of a prerogative that should be regulated. However, it should be designed in such a way that the citizens who have chosen their representatives can also be represented by them in the legislative process, which should be initiated by Parliament. The Parliament must have a different configuration, and I hope there will also be uniformity in electoral laws. You know that Italy is the only country among European nations where candidates’ preference must be written, unlike the closed lists. I’m equally convinced that Parliament should have a role that ensures true representativeness of European institutions. Unfortunately, I cannot hide that reform will have a very complex path.

Q. During this legislature, the European Commission has exercised its powers extensively, sometimes starting from emergency and exceptional situations, especially on issues with a significant impact on citizens’ lives, such as sustainability and the environment. Do you think the principle of subsidiarity and the delegation of powers is adequately safeguarded?

A. I believe that the Commission started from entirely valid premises and set goals that no one can deny are ambitious. However, in my opinion, it did not sufficiently consider the different realities from state to state, including variations in identity and production systems, which must be taken into account to achieve these ambitious goals. Unfortunately, I think this Commission, especially in its early stages, was heavily characterized by an ideological approach. This can be seen in all the environmental strategies that were exclusively addressed from an environmental perspective, without considering their social, economic, and productive sustainability. I believe this is a mistake to avoid because sustainability concerns everyone. We even made the error of splitting Parliament over some important strategies, when in fact these issues shouldn’t be divisive but should be common ground for everyone. To do this, we need credible measures, ones that aren’t exaggerated, as we unfortunately had to acknowledge towards the end of this mandate, when farmers legitimately demanded a different stance from a Commission that had accused an entire sector without considering the efforts already made and without acknowledging that farmers can and should be key players in the fight against climate change.

Therefore, this Commission, in my view, made the mistake of sometimes giving too much weight to an ideological approach without considering the pragmatism that Europe needs to regain credibility and to ensure that some ambitious challenges—which I believe should remain and should not be questioned—can be made feasible. To achieve this, we need to create an alliance with citizens and with the production system, which must remain competitive. Otherwise, we risk weakening it and won’t achieve any kind of result.

Q. A few months ago, you sent a letter to the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, to highlight a risk of imbalance in European institutions, criticizing the lack of involvement of Parliament as a co-legislator. This was particularly about the Conference of the Parties, COP10 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, where the European Commission had changed the decision-making process from unanimous voting in the Council to a qualified majority, which would also include the involvement of the European Parliament, but this was not done Do you think the Commission will adopt the same approach for the upcoming COP11 in November 2025? And what do you think Parliament can do to ensure that the principles of democracy and transparency are upheld?

A. I wanted to point out something that I believe is very serious: that the Commission changed the rules along the way, excluding Parliament from a decision-making process and from a debate that, even in that case, should not be handled unilaterally. The Parliament, as the representative body of European citizens, must be involved, whether the final decision leans one way or another. It cannot simply be bypassed, avoiding a dialogue that I believe should be constructive, proactive, and used to raise public awareness about an important issue like tobacco. Even in its most critical interpretation, this topic should lead everyone to consider how tobacco use can be increasingly mitigated, but at the same time, we cannot ignore that there are gradual processes, production chains, and a system that has been built through industry contracts. Italy, for example, produces tobacco not only for cigars but also for alternatives to cigarettes, which are part of an educational path to address diseases related to tobacco use. This requires transparent and calm debate within Parliament, without resorting to these types of workarounds.

I hope that the next Commission will always involve Parliament, even in the face of heated and intense debates that could lead to divisions. However, it’s important that Parliament can exercise its prerogative to oversee and verify so that the entire process is as thorough and legitimate as possible. Too often, we’ve encountered unilateral decisions without even giving Parliament the chance to voice some considerations. These are not intended to defend a particular sector or issue, as we understand fully that it requires the utmost responsibility. But even from a theoretical standpoint, I believe we should engage with all stakeholders rather than relying solely on bias, which clearly neglects and undermines the debate within Parliament.

Q. On this topic, the Commission is reviewing the Tobacco Products Directive 2 (TPD2). The goal of a tobacco-free generation could have a significant impact, as you mentioned, on tobacco cultivation in Europe. Organizations like Coldiretti and various Italian economic stakeholders have stated in their response to PC 2023 that no proposal for revision is acceptable without assessing the potential impact it might have on the tobacco sector and the utilization of agricultural production. How can the European Parliament ensure that the Commission takes into account the economic impact within the European Union?

A. Look, this is the issue with anything that needs to happen in a radical way, through a cultural process that can’t be imposed overnight. So even with tobacco, we’re aware that we need to move in that direction, but we must find a transitional approach that helps mitigate the economic impact by enabling farmers to regenerate and convert their production toward something entirely different. What I think the European Parliament can do is express this position, which, I repeat, isn’t meant to halt the journey toward a tobacco-free generation, a goal I share, but we know this can’t be achieved in one or two years or in such a short time frame. We’ve already seen that any form of prohibitionist policy tends to generate black markets, illegal activities, which we can’t afford.

It’s better to manage these processes and ensure there are gradual, alternative tools. I mentioned earlier about alternative products to traditional ones, which can be used to raise public awareness about the need to stop using tobacco, and we can do this in a gradual way to ensure that the economic aspect isn’t heavily penalized.

Q. Returning for a moment to the farmers, we’ve seen the category mobilize across Europe. What can Parliament do to protect the category of farmers, and how do you think your work over these years in the Agriculture Committee has contributed in this sense?

A. First of all, I have to acknowledge that the demands of farmers are more than justifiable. The only regret, which we’ve also expressed within the institutions, is that these positions had already been put forward by my political group, Forza Italia, by the European People’s Party, and other political groups because we always argued that certain European strategies and policies that were too strict and rigid would put stress on the system and lead to the kind of extreme responses that we later saw in those protest marches. It was disappointing to see the Commission take a step back only after it had been requested by us. I’d also like to point out, for example, that the strategy to reduce the use of pesticides was rejected by the European Parliament. The Commission later withdrew the proposal, but it was Parliament that flagged the illogicality of a measure that wouldn’t have made any sense and would have weakened our production system.

I think Parliament must continue to emphasize that farmers and the environment are allies, not adversaries, and that farmers are the first stewards who should be enabled to keep producing in a way that respects the environment but also ensures their economic sustainability. This is why we insisted, starting from Italy, on assisted evolution techniques, which are now clearly distinguished from GMOs, and are finally finding a regulatory framework that will soon allow European farmers to have crops that are more resistant to new pathogens and changing climate conditions, including drought, which is always lurking around the corner. I believe that Europe should do much more to address drought, which could affect not just production but also everyday uses. Parliament needs to communicate that all strategies, including those that affect the agricultural sector, must be grounded in pragmatism and realism, something only we, as the voice of the regions and citizens, can bring into the decision-making process, ensuring that goals are achievable and not like some that were outlined with a package of hyper-regulations that would immobilize the system.

All of this works to the advantage of other countries because, let’s not forget, while we continue to take sustainability commitments very seriously, there are other players in the world, like China, India, and even the United States, which don’t seem to be adopting similar rules. That’s why we need to find, in the processes of global trade, the right balance that shouldn’t weaken the European system but make it competitive and, at the same time, encourage other players to also work together toward achieving climate neutrality.

Q. During this legislature, the revision of the regulation on geographical indications was also approved. Do you think this regulation protects consumers and food products of Made in Italy?

A. I definitely think so. This is the Europe we like. We approved a text that was the result of shared input. I must acknowledge that agriculture is one of those sectors that found the broadest degree of convergence among various political groups, including many Italian delegations, and in this revision, we included provisions that offer greater protection to products with geographical indications. It’s a tool that should be leveraged to protect and preserve agricultural and agri-food identities, not only Italian but also European, which make Europe a unique continent on a global scale. Today, consumers have an additional means of protection, and that’s the key goal we aimed for with the revision: to ensure not just the producers, but especially the consumers, who should be in a clear and transparent position to make responsible purchasing decisions in an objective and not misleading or biased manner.

Q. Final question: looking ahead to the next legislature, what do you think will be the priorities for your group?

A. We defined our program during the Bucharest Congress, creating a manifesto that we handed over to our candidate, Ursula von der Leyen, with a clear indication that we would like these prerogatives to be part of a shared program with other groups. This includes the need to strengthen the credibility of the European Union, starting from within by regaining credibility with the most pragmatic strategies possible, achieving energy autonomy, true food security, and reinforcing the role of foreign policy. This involves ensuring that individual states demonstrate genuine solidarity through strategies that are not just economic, with a Stability Pact that should be increasingly oriented toward growth and not merely financial and economic regulation of individual states.

Regarding the Migration Pact, we believe that Europe should respond in a unified and consistent manner to ensure that the European Union manages migration flows, thus ending human trafficking. These are key points in our manifesto, which we believe have the realism needed for the European Union to embark on a new path in the wake of a series of events like the pandemic and the war, which highlighted our weaknesses. These deserve to be addressed in a reform process because we have a unique opportunity with Europe, which can and must be improved if we are to face increasingly complex challenges. I hope this meeting on the 8th and 9th will be recognized for its significance. I hope it doesn’t turn into yet another sort of referendum on the approval of one political group or leader, but instead becomes an opportunity to discuss topics, issues, proposals, and visions like the ones you’ve given me today. We in Forza Italia and the European People’s Party want a fair Europe, where the Green Deal becomes a Good Deal, where we believe Europe should have more and proper competences without questioning the prerogatives of individual states.

The interview is over. We thank the Honorable De Meo for being with us and for the numerous topics addressed.