In the latest instalment of "De Cara al Mundo" we had the participation of Spanish politician Antonio López-Istúriz, Member of the European Parliament for the People's Party and Secretary General of the European People's Party, who analysed current European affairs. The MEP discussed the reality of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Conference on the Future of Europe, the main key issues on cybersecurity and the election of the new president of the European People's Party in the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola.
Do you fear that a new war could break out in the heart of Europe?
If not now, it could happen in the future. I do not like to be a catastrophist, but in recent years we have been witnessing a resurgence of the Cold War, either between the US and China or Russia taking advantage of the occasion to make its own particular conflict with the European Union. Behind all this there are two conceptions of the world, that of democracies and that of tyrants, dictators and authoritarian regimes which, in the end, to simplify, is unfortunately how the world is being divided at the moment. For my part, I am clear about which side I am on, I hope that the government is on the same side, the leader of my party and the Popular Party, we know that it is on the side of democracy. However, in Spain we have political actors who, of course, are on the other side, there are the statements of some members or former leaders of Podemos such as Pablo Iglesias who once again come to the rescue of dictatorial regimes. Against our democratic system, readers must understand that we live in Europe in a democratic bubble surrounded at the moment by multiple problems, not only Ukraine, the Caucasus, the Mediterranean, the Balkans, once again unstable. The European Union today more than ever must have a single voice on international issues and defence, we have been very divided, but now is the time. We have to overcome Putin's temptation to seize the opportunity because at the moment his electoral or support figures in Russia are not what he likes, which is 99%, the Russian opposition is very active. I also know Aleksei Navalni, who is unfortunately in prison, a journalist who is going through the same situation, and I would also like the European media to highlight this fact, fighting for a democratic Russia, which would surely coexist in this space with the European Union. Vladimir Putin is a tyrant, he takes advantage of the situation in the United Kingdom with the "party-gate", Boris Johnson is partying all day long, in France we have elections for the presidency of the Republic, everything is blocked because of that, and on top of that, the possibility that Marine Le Pen is financed by Putin, which has been publicly demonstrated and is not a secret matter. In short, Germany in the hands of a social democracy and the Greens in a pusillanimous attitude, whose energy dependence on Russian gas is also very clear, and governments like the one we have in Spain that for the moment have shown signs of commitment to NATO and the European Union, but let's see how far they can bend the will of their government partners.
You mentioned the gas issue. To what extent can economic issues play a role in Putin's mood? Beyond regaining its role as a nuclear and political superpower, and wanting to secure territories that were close to Moscow in the former Soviet Union.
Putin's problem is that economically Russia cannot withstand a war. Let us also remember that not only Ronald Reagan, but also Pope John Paul II and many other actors such as Margaret Thatcher, pointed out that Russia's economy has never been the country's strong point.
In terms of volume, it is similar to Italy, to give us an idea, it is not a superpower...
Indeed, and it needs all the magnificent resources it has in gas, oil, raw materials, and it constantly invests them in its enormous military apparatus. An "economic war" Russia would not stand up to the US and the European Union. As for the issue of sanctions, if we Europeans get serious once and for all and impose sanctions not on the oligarchs who support Putin, but sanctions that go to the heart of the regime, then Russia will probably not be able to withstand them, which is why Russia is resorting to its military apparatus and the threat of its powerful army. The only thing is that the absolute dependence of Germany and other European countries on Russian gas has in the past slowed down the ability of all of us to react and put an end to Putin's imperialist illusions.
If I am not misinformed Gerhard Schröder still sits on the Gazprom board...
Yes, but as he is a socialist these things don't normally come to public light, and indeed that the former chancellor of Germany is on the board of Gazprom is a very interesting fact. And there are so many others who are in the pay and it is becoming necessary to denounce them, especially in European politics, but not only in Russia but also in China. I don't have anything against the Chinese, nor do I have anything against the Russians, I collaborate with the democratic opposition in Russia, there are a lot of Russians who have tried through the elections to show that there is another Russia, a pro-European, democratic Russia that is not Putin's Russia. And as far as the Asian country is concerned, I have nothing against trade with China, let's move everything forward, but with the same rules for everyone and without the future of my daughters being dictated by the Chinese Communist Party, because obviously I am not going to collaborate in that.
You were talking about how Putin is using his military power, but you are aware that the Russian government is constantly causing cyber-attacks that in the last few hours are damaging systems in Ukraine. That cybercrime is very serious, because they are used with a certain impunity, it is something that is done every day.... China is doing it, we are defending ourselves, but in that sense we would have to see how to neutralise cyberspace.
These are the realities of security and defence that we have been seeing for a long time, and they are not new to those of us who deal with these issues. I was in charge of drafting the last European Parliament report on relations with NATO and transatlantic relations, on what unites us with the Americans in NATO, and we are very clear that cyberwarfare is an issue that can be used for military installations and to destabilise computer systems. Moreover, we Spaniards are very familiar with the effect of this cyberwarfare on the part of the Russians, who during the Catalan "procés " of 1-O have used this type of action to destabilise. I had to respond to colleagues from the European People's Party because the images they were receiving came from Russian interference, with dioramas showing tanks, which said that divisions of the Spanish army had gathered on the border with Catalonia. Many European colleagues approached me and asked me what was true in all this, which is why I say that during those days we Spaniards have experienced the seriousness of this issue of cybercrime and how it can affect us.
And the fake news and Russian interference, I remember a case in Düsseldorf where refugees were accused of having raped a German woman and the Düsseldorf police had to come out and deny the information.
Any episode, no matter how minor, that could destabilise a European country or the European Union is welcomed and supported by these kinds of issues.
How can these issues affect the Conference on the Future of Europe?
I think that is a completely separate issue. Personally, I would give the Conference on the Future of Europe, in my view, more time because it is not the time now. The aim of this conference is to bring the European Union closer to the citizens, a laudable and necessary attempt because there is a great distance between European issues and what happens on a day-to-day basis and it is a very good attempt, but it is not the time to get involved in discussions about this when we still have to coordinate the issue of Covid-19, let us remember that here each government continues to implement its measures and it is necessary to coordinate at a European level.
Will the United Kingdom knock on the door of the European Union again?
Surely, and it will be done quietly, without much publicity and no one will take any account of this issue.
I would like to ask you two questions about the European Parliament. Firstly, my condolences on the death of Mr Sassoli, a great journalist who never shied away from reporting from conflict zones. Secondly, the election of a new President of the European People's Group, after a long negotiation, how was it possible to have been such a degree of consensus between the People's Group and the Socialist Group?
The consensus between the big "normal" families, the Liberals, the People's Party and the Socialists should be exportable. If anyone thinks that European politics is looser, more gentlemanly than national politics, they are completely wrong, clearly before reaching an agreement there have been tough negotiations, but in the end there was a consensus between the main families, this is very boring for the populists and there are even groups that have become angry after these agreements, but it should be an example and the citizens have the right to know that there are positive examples of construction. I would like to make a special mention of Mr Sassoli, President of the Social Democrats for two and a half years, an excellent person, a very good politician, very constructive and he kept Parliament open so that we MEPs could work, albeit telematically, a remote working system was quickly put in place, and the European Parliament was the only Parliament in the world that during the worst part of the pandemic was active and working, and that is to Sassoli's credit. This is a great loss, a great Italian and European politician, there was already an election called, so that readers understand us, normally every two and a half years, in the middle of a legislature, there is a rotation of posts and we were heading straight for this issue. For their part, the socialists did not have a candidate worthy of what we put forward, Roberta Metsola, a Maltese politician who has been involved in European politics for many years, I think more than twelve years in the European Parliament, a great connoisseur, with tremendous experience and a woman who, as I say, is not a quota woman. Roberta Metsola is a woman with a strength and political capacity that Europeans will see over the next two years, which has impressed not only the Popular Party but also other political groups, and which has greatly facilitated these negotiations. We have known each other for fifteen years when she came to my office to ask for my support to become Secretary General of the students of the European People's Party and at that moment I saw the person who, two days ago, we watched with great pride as she was appointed President of the European Parliament. Likewise, I am convinced that she will be that person of consensus who is so necessary to defeat the extremists and opportunists, the troublemakers, of whom there are many in the European Parliament.
What happened to the Spanish candidate of the left-wing group in the European Parliament?
Sira Rego, from Podemos, who also wanted to be president of the European Parliament and who was almost not even voted for in her group, really went unnoticed. The striking thing about her speech was that she ended up raising her fist and spoke four times about revolution. Unfortunately, these are the policies we export, I remember my colleagues taking pictures of how exotic this issue was. For my part, I reminded them that this lady belongs to a party that is part of the Spanish government, to the surprise and dismay of many colleagues, not only from the European People's Party but also from other parties, seeing this kind of re-edition of the most rancid communism. A communism that they thought had disappeared and that now we in Spain know all too well, we see it in the statements of Pablo Iglesias or Podemos on the subject of Russia, and we must remind them that Russia is no longer Soviet. Russia is a group of oligarchs who still keep those people from the KGB because it suits them, it really is a curious thing.
To understand some issues and behaviour I always recommend watching the film "Doctor Zhivago" and how Leninists think and act.
Every Christmas I take some time out and watch it again.