Antonio López-Istúriz has been at the heart of the centre-right since the turn of the century and has served in many of the most senior positions at a national, European and global level, giving him a unique view of the history, current state and future prospects for the centre-right.
Mr López-Istúriz has been Secretary General of the European People’s Party since 2002, as well as Executive Secretary of the Centrist Democratic International since 2002 (IDC-CDI brings together 100 political parties from 49 countries). He also serves as the Secretary-Treasurer of the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies and has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2004.
During his career he has been the MEP who received the most visitor groups, including university students, entrepreneurs and young people, and he has been a strong advocate and supporter of the young generation of centre-right leaders. He has also served on key committees at the European Parliament including the Legal Affairs Committee, the Transport Committee, the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee.
How can we build centre-right unity and be in a strong position to promote our values?
By reaffirming the values that define the EPP, we will be able to keep the centre-right unity and outline our vision for Europe post-COVID. This will be a vision that protects and delivers for our citizens while remaining true to our core ideals.
The roots of the EPP go back to the founding fathers of the European Union – we have been the pioneers of the European project from its inception. To remain a shaping force, we need to consolidate our values. Values are what we hold on to when we are in crises such as the Covid-19 pandemic – they are our compass.
In the last 15 months, all our lives have changed as the world goes through this pandemic. Yet the European Union is forged in crises and once again in this crisis, we have witnessed the resilience of the European project. This would not have been possible without shared values.
Of course, our members approach many issues from differing perspectives. But I believe it is easier to find common ground when we share the same core values. We have Christian Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals…. The EPP is our common house and we share the same pillar and moral compass: the uniqueness of each person, from which we derive the values of freedom, equality, justice, truth, subsidiarity, and solidarity combined with responsibility. Secondly, we stand for developing a social market economy that delivers opportunity and prosperity to our citizens. Finally, we are pro-European and committed to the future of the European project.
Our Congress in Rotterdam on the 17 and 18 of November will have a strong focus on values and the Europe we want. It would be an opportunity to discuss, debate and reaffirm our values.
What is the key advice you would give to young centre-right leaders?
Be loyal and stick to your values, showing leadership. Do not allow to be fooled by populists from the right and from the left. We are the party of the solutions and we should be proud of it. The EPP is the sensitive and reasonable force. We are pragmatic and we listen to people.
Parties from both left and right will want to take credit of your policies. Do not let them to do so.
And finally, work, work and work. People rely on us and come to us looking for solutions. Do not forget they are at the core of our policies and the reason of our work.
What is the biggest challenge facing the centre-right at present?
I believe that the biggest challenge facing centre-right political parties is the threat posed by populist political parties on both the left and the right. We see these movements emerge quickly: offering easy and simple solutions to the difficult challenges our citizens face. Unfortunately, these solutions are built on sand and time and time again we see these movements fail when they actually have to deliver on their commitments.
Faced with this disappointment, I can understand how voters could lose faith in the political process. For EPP member parties, our primary mission is to retain the trust of our citizens and I believe that, despite the enormous challenges of the past 18 months, we are starting to see this trust be acknowledged. I am extremely proud of how our leaders stepped up and worked tirelessly to protect their citizens during the pandemic. However, we cannot become complacent. Now we must work even harder to develop a post-pandemic economy and society that delivers for them. Our future depends on this.
Do you think that the Coronavirus crisis we faced last year, and we are facing now, helped or made it harder to build solidarity?
Of course, the obvious answer to this is that the restrictions implemented to fight coronavirus have meant we have not had the opportunity to see each other in person so building solidarity and working together to address the challenges we face has become more difficult. It is only now that we can look to hold some meetings in person and return to what we would consider normal and I truly believe that you cannot ultimately substitute the benefits of meeting people in person.
However, at EPP, we adapted quickly to the reality of the pandemic world by moving our meetings online which enabled us to continue our work with our member parties and political leaders across the continent and develop a modern form of solidarity. We also intensified our coordinating role amongst political stakeholders taking new initiatives, bringing solutions and connecting our political family. We were not only able to stay fully operational but also to increase the exchange of information, the number of meetings and communication actions. In fact, 2020 was actually a record year for us in how many Ministerial Meetings we organised. We even established a new ministerial meeting on health.
In a world that changed rapidly I am proud of how EPP kept up with this pace and engaged with our member parties and political leaders, staying to the fore of discussions about how we can protect our citizens health and livelihoods and, now hopefully, offer them the security needed to return to their work.
I would also like to remember that although the initial response at EU level to the pandemic was slow, soon we realised that we are in this together and we saw countries lending a hand to one another and the European Institutions taking the lead with a number of key initiatives. We saw EU solidarity in action.
And let’s not forget that the EPP was the force behind the EU Recovery Fund.
What can young people do to address current and future challenges?
More than anything else young people must stay engaged and ensure their voice is heard in the political process. Our debates, within the EPP and at the European level, must have the perspective of young people at their core. I’m glad that through the proactive and solutions-based approach of EDS, you are leading by example.
Even before the pandemic, your generation faced numerous challenges. Whether this is the rapid pace of technological progress or the threats posed by climate change. The norms which governed politics for decades no longer hold true. COVID has merely accelerated the pace of this change. But young people must not lose faith.
As Europe now recovers from the pandemic, it is up to you, as young political leaders to ensure that the negative forces of populism do not take root among your generation and ensure that your peers do not become a lost generation.
Despite the many challenges we face, having seen the renewed work and commitment of our member parties and leaders over the past 18 months, I am more convinced than ever that our political family’s vision for Europe offers our citizens the best opportunity of building a life that is secure and prosperous. In the coming years, I will once again count on you to take this message to our young people.