Graham Watson: Europe needs self-confidence, EU will overcome populism

Europe can cope with the challenges, but it needs self-confidence. If we choose to retreat into ourselves and just be an economic unit, we will never give our citizens what they need.

This is what British politician Graham Watson, a member of the European Parliament from 1994 to 2014 and chairman of the Liberal group for more than seven years, said in an interview with BGNES.

Watson emphasized that Europe can and must cope with major geopolitical changes on a global scale in the face of Russian aggression against Ukraine, the war in Gaza and China's growing influence.

"The solution requires recognition of the fact that we have an European demos. It requires self-confidence to deal with these challenges. But the reality is that we are the largest single market in the world, one of the richer parts of the world, and if we choose to retreat to ourselves and just be an economic community, we will never give our citizens what they need," he said.

"We really need to stand up to Vladimir Putin when he invades another country or when he murders his political opponents. We need to take a firm stance with China on issues like human rights and talk frankly to the Americans about some of the issues where we don't always see eye-to-eye," the politician noted.

Watson said that he is worried about the rise of populism in the European Union and the growth of radical parties in view of the upcoming European elections.

"I’m frankly rather angry when I see parties like Revival going to Russia as if they recognise it as part of the democratic world. But I think Europe can overcome this," he said.

He added that many people now realise the danger we face.

"They saw, for example, what happened in the United Kingdom when Russian money helped buy 'useful idiots' like Boris Johnson out of the European Union. And I think that European union has become stronger as a result of that. That’s a good thing", Watson said.

He pointed out that European nations will never be united along the lines of the United States of America because "our history is different".

"We recognise that the terrible wars we used fought - the wars that soaked the 20th century in blood are thing of the past. We work together as different nations, speaking different languages but with common values. That is what is important", Watson summed up.

Asked by BGNES whether the EU's far-reaching ambitions to implement the Green Deal were matched by opportunities, and whether the bloc would be able to counter its rivals if it implemented these changes, the British liberal replied:

"I'm sure there are a lot of concerns about this, but if you look at the development of the European Union, it has always been a gradual one. But the EU has recognized and you can see it for example in the response to Covid or the response to the invasion of Ukraine. The union can be strong, can stand tall in the world and I would say let’s have more of it."

Graham Watson stressed that the bloc has become "stronger over the years" as countries such as Bulgaria and Romania have joined.

"It could be even stronger. In the Western Balkans, here in this region, there are countries queuing up to join the EU. Europe has to recognize it’s potential on behalf of all of it’s citizens and stand up for their values in the world", Watson said.

"I am very pleased that Bulgaria is now in Schengen and I hope the last details will be sorted out soon. Bulgaria has an important role to play in helping Europe deal with some of the difficulties in the Western Balkans and helping to get more countries into the European Union", he added. /BGNES