Last year you worked on a report on the situation of fundamental rights in the EU. Do you think fundamental rights have been breached in those countries subject to a financial programme, such as Cyprus?
I think that the EU protects human rights of the citizens throughout Europe but the Troika does not. In times of crisis we have accepted austerity measures imposed by a financial control body, the so-called Troika. The Troika has no democratic legitimacy to act. Especially southern countries such as Portugal, Spain, Greece and Cyprus have to face severe social consequences affecting citizens. Austerity measures without growth or investments are not the solution to the crisis. People in Cyprus ask for more transparency and they feel they are unfairly paying for a crisis caused by bankers.
In the report, there is also a great deal of emphasis on equality. Are you happy with the progress being made in gender equality in Europe?
I have been following gender equality issues for a long time. Apart from being a MEP, I am the President of the Women’s Organisation of the Democratic Party in Cyprus, an ex-member of the Committee for Equality of the National Parliament and an ex-member of the Gender Equality Committee of the Council of Europe. I am very happy for the work of such committees because both men and women members have a common ground of understanding concerning gender equality issues and fight against gender inequalities.
The EU has made several steps forward throughout the years, but imbalances still persist within the EU on gender issues. Scandinavian countries are still at the forefront generating social equality and gender equality. The point is that the economic crisis has stopped all progress on gender issues in most countries especially the European South. The quality of life in general has deteriorated. Now we need to focus first on tackling unemployment and poverty to restart growth and unfortunately due to severe budget cuts, gender budgeting is severely cut everywhere.
What has the crisis done for public services in Europe?
As a result of severe cuts, several public employees lost their job but the amount of work to be done remains the same. How can we ask public employees to guarantee the same level of efficiency as before? The solution for me is in implementing a comprehensive action plan that includes better investment in human resources and in appropriate tools, but also in a digital economy. The public sector needs severe reforms and better evaluation and matching of human resources and manpower qualifications to today’s complex public services, needs and challenges.
What has the crisis done for social dialogue?
I strongly believe that the EU needs active citizens and a participatory democracy. With the crisis, this is needed more than ever. I believe in the importance of including all social partners but also stakeholders and NGOs in all stages of preparing, drafting, enforcing and implementing legislation. The exchange of ideas is fundamental for a policy making process that really corresponds to the needs and demands of the actual needs of people.
What will be the legacy of this Parliament in terms of a social Europe?
I think the European Parliament will have to fight for a more decisive role in policy making. Today Parliament is missing from the Eurogroup system Troika does not have a democratic mandate and thus no democratic legalisation. Being directly elected by citizens, Parliament is democratically legitimate and closer to the needs of people. We have experienced the detrimental social consequences of blind austerity measures, underlined in the Cercas report, and I think that it is time to change strategy to restart growth and enforce investment in order to have jobs for the people in need. The EP must help to combat youth unemployment.
What has been your proudest achievement for this mandate?
I am particularly proud of three achievements. Health and fundamental rights are my key priorities. Concerning health, I am proud of the written declaration on establishing a European cardiac arrest awareness week adopted by the European Parliament and I am proud of having established the European ‘Restart a heart’ day, aiming to improve the number of people surviving out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. This was the main reason for being selected and voted as the 2nd best MEP in health during the recent “MEP awards 2014.”
On citizens’ rights, I am particularly happy of having been in the front line for designating “2013 as the European Year of Citizens.” In times of crisis and ahead of the forthcoming European elections, I thought it was essential to raise awareness of EU citizen’s rights. Last but not least I would like to mention the report on Gendercide I worked on. The EU has to do more to ensure that human rights and especially women’s and girls’ rights are protected.
It is an honour for me to be included among the 50 most active MEPs during this mandate and the most active MEP from Cyprus
What are your key messages to voters ahead of the elections?
I encourage all people to vote in order to have a say in the future of the EU and, in our own common future. Together, we need to build an alternative Europe characterised more by solidarity among Member States and based on justice, respect of fundamental rights and principles on which the European acquis communautaire is based.
Antigoni Papadopoulou is Member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and member of the Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee. She is running for the EU Parliament Elections in May.