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European Union

Wagenknecht: 'The EU is losing its resonance'

Left party politician Sahra Wagenknecht tells DW right-wing parties have gained momentum in Europe because Brussels is too cozy with banks and corporations. The EU must represent its citizens better, she says.

DW: The Swiss voted in a referendum to restrict immigration in the future, including migration from EU countries. Could similar restrictions be imposed in other European countries, particularly now in the run-up to the EU elections?

Sahra Wagenknecht: The fundamental problem is that the EU treaties and EU integration, as we have experienced it, have been designed in a way that benefits the interests of big banks and companies. And the people sense that. Of course open borders and the free movement of labor are positive achievements. But we cannot allow these achievements to be misused by companies for wage dumping. And that's exactly what's happening in Switzerland and to an even greater degree in Germany.

Many Eastern European workers are paid miserable wages in Germany. That brings down wages across the board and feeds justified fears, triggering defensive reactions. People are then incited and exploited by right-wing populists and nationalists in a very reactionary manner. That's why these parties are gaining momentum across Europe and the EU is losing its resonance and support among the people. You can understand why that's the case. But it's also a big problem. I believe that these parties could actually perform strongly in the European elections.

Do you fear that populists in Europe could become even stronger?

Yes, because there are historical parallels that give us reason to worry. Of course you can't compare the Europe of today with the Europe of the 1930s after the global economic crisis. Yet there are some similarities. At that time, many people in Germany turned away from democracy because they had the feeling that they had been left in a social lurch. Above all, it was the high unemployment that contributed to this frustration. I hope that parties that allude to fascist traditions, or other right-wing parties that are cleverer in their presentation, do not gain more momentum - because it would be a very dangerous development.

What specifically does the Left party want to change about the EU?

We need a completely difference balance between the responsibilities that the lie with and should remain in the member states, and those that Europe actually can and should have. Above all, we need a much stronger social orientation in Europe. I take no stock in the view that we should hand over more responsibilities to the authorities in Brussels without asking the question: How legitimate are these authorities?

For example, companies participate directly in the EU Commission's drafting of regulations. That's not a democratic institution. And even the European Parliament is elected by half or less than half of the EU's citizens. The legitimacy is much weaker there than with the national parliaments. And that's why the EU should limit itself to what can really be regulated by Europe.

Although the economic situation in Greece has slightly improved, the country remains stuck in a deep crisis. Should there be another debt haircut for Athens?

In the end, I am convinced there is no other way because the debts are simply much too high to service. The problem is that a debt haircut will come at the cost of the taxpayers in Greece and other European countries, since a large portion of the Greek debt was socialized. But that's the responsibility of European politicians, and they must carry the consequences. The policy was dishonest. On the one hand, they demanded that Greece cut the minimum wage and pensions and impose massive layoffs in the public sector. But on the other hand, they did not put any pressure on the Greek upper class, which was primarily responsible for this disaster, to help pay for it. That would be another step: Not the small people, not the middle class - but force the Greek millionaires and multimillionaires to make a hefty contribution to pay for the costs of this crisis.