Gunnar Hökmark is a Swedish MEP from the European People’s Party and a member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs. In an interview with UNITEE, he sheds light on the upcoming European elections, the importance of SMEs and migrant entrepreneurship, and EU-Turkey relations.
What issues do you think will be most important for the European population during the 2014 elections, and which issues will be your priorities during the campaign?
Ensuring that we move out of the economic crisis and ensuring that entrepreneurship and investments get going as this will create new jobs. There is an important choice of whether or not we should continue the policies that led us into the crisis, such as high spending, high taxes and high deficits. Many social democratic parties across Europe and Socialists in the European Parliament still believe in this policy. However, such an approach would further undermine our welfare and growth opportunities.
In countries where reforms have been implemented and budgets have been aligned according to what they can afford, we see that their economies are on their way out of the crisis. I would like to see a reform of the internal market and make it easier for businesses by reducing regulations, red tape and bureaucracy.
What role do you think SMEs play in the European economy and especially in recovering from the economic crisis?
SMEs account for an absolute majority of employment in Europe. The more SMEs can invest and grow, the more opportunities we have to fight unemployment and create growth. A simple calculation is that if every small business employed one more person, we would eliminate almost all unemployment. In addition, SMEs often turn into big companies. Many big companies that nowadays stand for technological development started out as SMEs.
What do you think can be done at the European level to help SMEs, for example to internationalise? Do you think that New Europeans can play an important role in this?
New Europeans can play a huge role. Knowledge of languages and cultures can open doors to Europe’s neighbouring markets, which are important to the vast majority of European companies. They are often very strong emerging economies. Turkey, for example, is already one of Europe’s largest economies and about to become even bigger and more important.
You are also involved in issues related to EU enlargement and neighbourhood policies. How do you see the EU-Turkey relationship when it comes to expansion and possible future EU membership of Turkey?
It is important that we see Turkey, in a long-term perspective, as a future member of the European Union, whereas entrepreneurs in Europe should see Turkey as a market for the future. This is important for both the development of Turkey and current European developments.
The decision to become a member of the EU should be in Turkey’s hands. It is up to Turkey to meet the requirements and demands of membership in terms of a modern market economy, fight against corruption, and stability of institutions for democracy and the rule of law. Turkey should move in this direction so it can become a member of the EU.
You have previously expressed that the EU should not become too centralised and that areas such as social policy, family policy, school and welfare, should not be governed at the European level. Are there other areas where you think the EU should do less and are there areas where it could do more?
We need joint decisions in common areas, in which we have a shared responsibility and the consequences affect member states equally. The single market is an example of such an area. We can do a lot when it comes to raising the level of European research through joint efforts or in environmental policy.
Some issues, however, are perhaps more consistent with different traditions and therefore better dealt with locally. The treaties say that the EU has not and will not have the right to decide on all matters; only in those areas in which the member states have transferred their powers to the EU.
Are there any specific changes you would like to see after the European elections in May?
It would be great if we saw a common telecom market. It falls within the EU mandate, but it requires many changes of various kinds.
Criticism of the EU and anti-immigration rhetoric is increasing in Europe today. Regarding the upcoming elections, how do you think the EU could better communicate the positive aspects of European integration and migration to Europe?
There is no clear-cut communication. It is a project based on different political orientations. Some want more regulation, others less. The real issue is therefore to decide what kind of politics we should have in the EU and this debate should resemble the ones we have in every member state.
After all, the political views are the same. Socialists, for instance, want to regulate more as they have a different idea of the limitations and boundaries of politics. They often think that if they have the political power, then they should use it to decide over people’s everyday lives.
I think one should draw a clear line between what politicians should decide and what the people themselves should be able to decide. This also influences my view on how the EU should work. I am against the socialist policies in Sweden and I oppose them at the European level for the same reasons.
What role do you think organisations such as UNITEE can play with respect to entrepreneurship and changing attitudes towards migration?
A very important thing is to highlight the importance of enterprises founded by migrants. Not enough people are aware of the boost that is being given to our economies by people moving from one place to another and bringing different experiences, traditions, and abilities to innovate.
Similarly, UNITEE can show the favourable conditions that entrepreneurs might enjoy and the opportunities they have to contribute to their communities. Your knowledge is very important.