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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  May 5, 2020 12:30am-1:01am BST

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into vaccines and treatments for coronavirus — saying a common threat to humanity requires a concerted response. a0 countries and donors took part in the online summit, hosted by the eu. 4.5 million italians have to work after two months in lockdown. people are also allowed to see relatives within their region as restrictions are eased. for the second consecutive day, the country's recorded its lowest death toll since the lockdown began. the british government's rolled out a contact—tracing phone app as part of its strategy to ease the lockdown. people on the isle of wight will put the app to the test. it's hoped it'll be used across england by the middle of the month. this is bbc news with the latest headlines for viewers in the uk and around the world. i'm mike embley. world leaders have a whipround on webcam, pledging $8 billion to find now on bbc news, hardtalk. a covid—i9 vaccine. the divide deepens in us—china relations, as president trump continues to
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blame beijing for the outbreak. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. the coronavirus pandemic loved ones meet for the first time in weeks has presented europe with a massive challenge. as italy tentatively and the response? lifts its social restrictions. well, so far the european union has tributes are paid to dave greenfield of struggled to cope as the death toll the stranglers, who's died has mounted, and the economic damage worsened. from covid—i9 at the age of 71. european solidarity and co—ordinated action have been in short supply. my guest today is the long—serving influential dutch mep sophie in ‘t veld. has this pandemic exposed weakness at the heart of the european project? sophie in ‘t veld in brussels, welcome to hardtalk. hello.
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you are a europhile. you make no apology for your enthusiasm for the european project. i wonder then how disappointed you are with the european union's response to this massive coronavirus challenge. well, look, frustration is part of life, but if i look at the development of the european union over the decades, i note that every time it was a crisis that triggered further integration and development, and, look, everybody is struggling with this crisis, and, yes, so is the european union. but it took a while, we can see that, first of all, the response to the health crisis to start with has really taken momentum now in terms of, for example, the joint procurement of protective materials and stuff like that. yes, there is a big argument over
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money, and that's of course always a very difficult one. there is an issue of solidarity, trust and, yeah, those are difficult challenges. let's go through this piece by piece. do you think there's institutional complacency in the city you're speaking to me from, brussels? i'm just mindful of, for example, an official memo that was sent on february 5th from a senior european commission official saying at a private meeting about coronavirus and europe's preparations given what was happening in china by then, he said, "things are under control." now, they patently weren't under control and we learned just a few weeks later that europe is desperately short, for example, of protective equipment. is there institutional complacency? look, again, i think we see institutional complacency, as you call it, around the world, including in the uk and in the us. i mean, it was your own prime minister who, not so long ago,
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before he fell ill, was fairly light—hearted about the whole thing, and i think we have all made mistakes there. we have all underestimated it, and the question is — how are we now going to face this crisis together? but also, the post—crisis period. and there — am i sometimes frustrated and angry at the lack of progress or complacency, the disunity? yes, of course i am, because i think it is unnecessary and it is undermining our efforts. at the same time, i can also see that massive efforts are being made, and if you see how the european union has responded to past crises, we are slow to respond, but we do respond, and, ultimately, it has always made us stronger and it has made us actually the most prosperous and safe continent in the world, ultimately. right, but it isn'tjust the speed of the response, which you characterise as slow. it's also the nature of the response.
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because if one looks at the instinctive reaction of so many national governments across the european union back in march, one sees an immediate default reversion to national self—interest, not to any sense that we are in this together, but, for example, nation straits across the european union were banning the export of medical equipment and other supplies simply to ring—fence it for themselves. this wasn't just a lack of solidarity. it was the very opposite of solidarity. but we are living and we have been living for a couple of years now in times of rampant nationalism, which is also being embraced by some government leaders inside the european union and outside the european union, and it is not alien to the united kingdom either, i think. but if you look at where we are coming from, after the ruins of two world wars and 45 years
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of communist and military dictatorship, we have very little reason to trust each other. and yet the europeans were able to reach out and to say, "ok, it's not easy, we have to learn how to trust each other, but we're going to have a common future, a common destiny" and every time we stepped up to the plate. have you tried that argument out on many italians recently? yes, it's very difficult for the italians, yes, i understand that they are feeling abandoned. at the same time, let's not forget that there's some italian political leaders as well who are of course exploiting this. but, look, this is the real world we're living in and these things come with ups and downs and we take a couple of steps forward, a couple of steps backwards, but we do learn, and i do believe in the ability of the european union to learn and to advance. we have shown every time that we do that. and, again, if you look at the results, if you simply look
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at the results, we are a very strong, prosperous continent. yes, we are going to take a big blow of this crisis, like everybody else, but we are much better off and much more prepared for the world after the corona crisis if we stick together in a strong and deeply integrated european union. "deeply integrated," you say, and as i say, you make no apology for being very a much an integrationist european politician. does it bother you that we see so many different approaches to, for example, the lockdown, the emergency response to coronavirus, in different european countries? i am thinking of the netherlands, your home country, which has adopted what some call the "intelligent lockdown", keeping as many businesses as possible open, trying to keep some sense, semblance of an economy ticking over, while in neighbouring countries, like, for example, belgium and france, there's been a complete and total lockdown.
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so for you, with your absolute priority on integration, we've seen fragmentation. does that bother you? yes, of course it does, and it bothers everyone. i don't think that the differences are that big. it's exaggerated a little bit because it was presented in the media, as if — in the netherlands, it was all very careless and there was hardly any measure. that is of course not true. but there are different approaches and time will tell which was the best one, and what's actually the bigger problem is the fact that different countries inside and outside europe have their statistics compiled in a different way, they count it in a different way. for example, in belgium, the figures are very high, but they also count cases which have not been confirmed by testing, but which are very, very probable to be, you know, people who have died of corona because they have all the symptoms. so even if they haven't been tested, they are still counted in the statistics. whereas in other countries, they're not doing that,
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and the figures are probably much higher. so, look, nobody...nobody knows the ultimate answer to this challenge — nobody does. i mean, not even the president of the united states despite the fact that he is a stable genius. so everybody is trying to find their way and i think sharing information, working together, yes, that is very important, and i think that after a false start, you might say, the european union is getting its act together now and there is a lot more cooperation and solidarity. that delicate phrase, "false start" — let us be honest, how much damage was done by your home country's finance minister going to a meeting of the collective finance ministers of the european union and delivering a lecture on how countries like italy should take responsibility for the mess that their public finances were in, at the very same time as thousands of italians were losing their lives. how much long—term damage has been done by that?
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i have publicly condemned his attitude, his words and his message. i think it was the wrong message, the wrong time and wrong tone of voice, and i think he's recognised that. it's a bit late, miss in ‘t velt, because the portuguese described it as repugnant, the italians were furious and italian public opinion looking at the very latest polls, has moved so far away from support for the european union that a clear majority now disapprove of italian membership. i think in hindsight you could also apply this to british politicians in the past. if national politicians do not take their responsibility for the european union, then, yes, it gets severely damaged and trust here is key — trust and respect — and, yes, sometimes big mistakes are being made. but what is important is the way forward. and i somehow seem to suggest that if you are in favour
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of european integration, then the european union should be perfect and there should not be criticism. look, i'm one of the strongest critics of the european union. i think there are very few people who have been as vocal in their criticism of how things work, or rather, don't work. i mean, i'm very critical of the response — very critical of the fact that the member state governments have been unable and unwilling to address, for example, the migration crisis, i'm very critical of the rule of law crisis we're having on the european union. i've even taken the commission and the council to court. now — but the fact that you are critical and that you're trying to change things actually means that you believe in something, you want to make it better. no, i understand the point you are making, but it seems to me you've got a political problem. you were very critical of your own netherlands finance minister because you felt he was being completely tone deaf towards the italians.
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but the substantive issue at stake was an important one — the italians and the spanish have pushed hard for what we might call debt mutualisation, to see the massive cost of the coronavirus economy — the crisis to their economies being shared out right across the european union, particularly by some of the more prosperous, richer nations, and the richer nations have responded, particularly the netherlands and maybe germany as well, by saying, "no way, we are not debt sharing, this is not what this is about." the truth is you might, as a liberal pro—integration european, believe in debt sharing, but your own people in the netherlands don't. so if you push too hard, you're going to find that the dutch public is actually turning against things like corona bonds and debt mutualisation. well, thank you very much for your campaign advice. next time we have elections, i'll invite you on my team! am i wrong? my constituents actually do very strongly support european integration and i think many people in the netherlands also...
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i mean, many people were extremely critical of the way that the finance minister operated, and of course, look, they've been fed a lot of nonsense, prejudices and caricatures and lies for many, many years, but i think many people also realise in a very pragmatic way, as the dutch people are very pragmatic, that we are much better off in a — inside a strong european union than outside. and, look, if you look back at the start of european integration... but if you wouldn't mind, just address my specific point. will you let me finish my thought? we don't know yet how european union is going to deal with this massive economic problem. we know that you're facing, across europe, recession, gdp could fall by up to 15%. there is going to be a massive hole in the public finances, particularly in countries like italy. the italians say, "we can'tjust take more and more loans from brussels, we need grants and we need debt sharing." will the dutch public, the german public wear that or not? look, that will be a very tough one, it will be very tough to swallow,
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and of course there will be negotiations on exactly what the package will look like. but i think, yes, it is correct to say that you cannot pile debt on a country more and more and more and sort of already put that debt on the next two, three generations. that is simply not doable. at the same time, you also have to be fair to the dutch voters, to the german voters. but i do think, look, if you — i looked at some graphs of where we started, in the ‘50s where, you know, because both the netherlands and italy were amongst the six founding fathers of the european union. if you look at gdp per capita at the time, it was much, much lower in both countries. we were very different countries at the time and there was a great deal of poverty. the fact that we managed to trust each other and give and take a little bit has made us all a lot more prosperous.
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i think that goes for this situation as well. but, yes, it's a hard one to sell to the public. but you know what? if you only want to sell popular messages, don't go into politics. wise advice indeed. but throughout this interview you have given me the historical perspective of the postwar history of europe and suggested that it was tough but say we have overcome difficult times before. but i am interested in the fact that many european leaders today, be it the prime minister of italy or the president of france are saying that we could see the collapse of the eu as a political project unless it supports the stricken economies like italy. the decline of the european union is possible, yes, it is possible. i do not believe, because many people say that that is exaggerated and will never happen, people think it would happen like a big explosion but it
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will not be an explosion, it will be erosion. that is possible but it is in our own hands and i think the funny thing is that when you mentioned at the start, the fact that there was such a disparity in the response to the coronavirus, many people, european citizens in all countries have said that, look, we expect europe to do more here. if you say people were disappointed or frustrated with the lack of unity at the start, at the same time that also indicates that they understand that there is a point to unity and working together and joining forces. so is it a given for ever and ever? no. it is like marriage. you need to work on it. but is it the best protection that we have? the best starting point, the best situation to face the post
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coronavirus world order? absolutely. how grave a threat do you see right now to europe's liberties and freedoms? you are well known as an mep who spends a lot of time devoted to human rights and liberty issues. what we have at the moment are governments across the eu who have taken emergency powers which have clearly infringed liberties, they are open about the need to infringe individual liberties but some governments, particularly the hungarian government, have gone to an extreme degree with a new brand of authoritarianism. how concerned are you about that? that is a big worry and i think already some time ago i labelled the situation as a rule of law crisis. we do not only have a corona crisis but also a rule of law crisis and of course in any country now there is either a state of emergency or there are exceptional powers for government in order to act
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swiftly which i think is warranted by the situation, absolutely. but in a healthy and robust democracy, there will always be checks and balances and it will ultimately always be up to the parliament to decide whether or not the state of emergency will be prolonged. you know better than i than in hungary right now we have a government led by victor orban which has unlimited powers, pretty much, for an indefinite period. it is not clear how and when those emergency laws would be revoked and in the meantime, elections are suspended and there are huge punishments for people deemed to threaten national security and the human rights watch organisation has described this as an extraordinarily carte blanche brand of authoritarianism, and if europe does not stand up for democracy and rule of law now in hungary, grave damage will be felt across the continent.
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what will you do about it? mr orban is not a democrat, he is an autocrat at best and we have grave concerns about hungary and about poland but we see not only in the eu but if you look across the atlantic, the whole impeachment process where it was very clear that president trump has broken the law and has violated the constitution and everything and many of his fellow republicans would acknowledge that but... we don't have have much time, ms in ‘t veld. specifically on hungary, we have a situation where the european parliament invoked a process a couple of years ago to consider punishments for hungary for violating fundamental values of the european union. now they have gone an extra step and yet we see the chief of the commission respond with a very lame statement where she did not even identify
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hungary by name and we do not have any clue as to how people like you in the european parliament much less those in the council and the commission are ever going to put a meaningful sanction on hungary. it is not going to happen. if you will allow me, this is a process of maturing of the european union as a political union and as i was giving the example of the united states, you can see how a mature democracy is struggling with it. in the european union we are making progress. step—by—step. just today the european commission took poland to court again over basically undermining the independence of the judiciary. there are more and more court cases. and this is something which you have to... which is being built up step—by—step. the procedure, as we call it, the article seven procedure... i know what what you call it, but it may interest you to know, i spoke to a senior figure in the hungarian government the other day, zoltan kovacs, and he said to me that "the feelings of those european parliament liberal
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leftist politicians have no imprint on how we run hungary. put simply, we don't care anymore." it has gone on for too long and if he calls me a left—wing liberal, i'll wear that as a badge of honour. but look, if you want to join the club, you have to play by the rules. if you do not want to accept the rules, than you should not be a member of the club. you want to see hungary out of the club? one of the things we are seriously looking at is... you know, there there is a perverse consequence of the eu having supported hungary and the other post—2004 countries with massive amounts of money and much of that money in hungary has ended up in the pockets of the friends of mr orban who made sure that his oligarch friends got a lot of money and supported his regime. it does not mean he has the support of all the people in hungary. and there will be a post—orban era and then we will see what the people
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of hungary want. a quick final one about brexit. you have had long experience with brexit because you worked with the european parliament on their brexit negotiations and we are now in a period where we are in transition, the british government and the eu were supposed to be negotiating in very short order a trade deal which would avoid a harsh end of transition at the end of this year, but michel barnier said the other day that the negotiations were disappointing and on the other hand the british government says "no more extensions, we will not continue this transition after the end of the year." how dangerous do you believe this to be, given the economic disaster that coronavirus is already threatening to impose on the eu? you do not have to be a rocket scientist to see that it is almost impossible to meet the deadlines
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but, you know, mrjohnson is responsible for his own choices and his own strategy and there are some cynics who say that maybe he is just calculating because he knows there will be a massive economic recession because of coronavirus. i will tell you what the british seem to think and i quote michael gove, a senior minister, he says we believe that coronavirus will, quote: "focus european minds on getting these "negotiations done. "the feeling in britain seems to be in britain that their leverage is stronger because the european economy will be in such a mess." is he right or wrong? i find the concern of michael gove for the well—being of the european union very touching but i would suggest that he concentrates on his own affairs and, of course, if they believe — because brexit will be an additional blow to the economy and maybe
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they will calculate that people will not notice because there will be such a big fallout of the corona crisis, which would be a little cynical because i think there are many other matters to be arranged as well. i do not have to do summarise them for you. so i hope that they are are going to be sensible and i hope that this is going to be an honest negotiation. crosstalk. a quick final question, do you think there can be, in any realistic sense, a trade deal, a fully worked out trade deal that will allow the transition to end at the end of this year? you have heard the words of michel barnier and i think he is very dedicated and honest negotiator and i am sure he will do whatever is in his power to achieve such an agreement. but it does take two to tango
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so it is up to the uk government to decide what they want that they should also take the responsibility if it does not work out. sophie in ‘t veld, thank you forjoining me from brussels. hello. the highest temperature on monday was 20 celsius. that was in west wales. today it will be cool across the board but as the week goes on, so across the board but as the week goes on, so temperatures will rise once again, peaking on friday in the sunshine. for many part of the country, the weather is dominated by
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the area of high pressure keeping it dry and clear. the big fly in the ointment is this where the front bringing in wet and windy weather into the south—west through the early hours and as we head into tuesday morning it is a wet start in the south—west of england, heavy rain and strong and gusty easterly winds across devon and cornwall, the isles of scilly on the south—west of wales, gusts of 50, even 55 miles an hour. the winds will die down later on in the morning and afternoon but the rental edge eastwards along the south coast of sussex, northwards into south wales and become light and patchy in the afternoon. elsewhere it is likely to be dry with lots of sunshine. team breeze across england and wales, perhaps northern ireland but the winds will ease down and the highest temperatures will be across western scotla nd temperatures will be across western scotland and north—west england. but cool under the rain in the south—west, only 12 degrees here. the rain continues to peter out during the evening and the cloud a bit more reluctant to break up overnight and they will be cloud spelling around the top of the area of high pressure into shetland and
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0rkney. but where we have the clearest guys in eastern scotland and the north—east of england there could be a pinch of frost in some rural areas. the cool air will be pushed away by the gentle, southerly breeze which will bring the warmth from the south—west and temperatures will rise. by the time we get into wednesday most places will be dry with a good deal of sunshine. just the chance of a shower in the far south—west and there will be more cloud coming in across the northern isles of scotland. so cooler here and otherwise a warmer day on wednesday and there is temperatures getting up to 20 or even 21 celsius in the sunshine. those temperatures continue to rise for many areas during thursday and friday. there will be more cloud for scotland and northern ireland and maybe a few more showers but for england and wales, probably dry and in the sunshine in the south—east, temperatures could reach 25 degrees on friday. what a shock to the system this weekend. the wind changes to northerly and strengthens and draws down cold air, unusually cold airfor the time and draws down cold air, unusually cold air for the time of year. cold enough even for some wintry showers.
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