Discover more from Uncharted Territories
An Interview with Eva Maydell, Euro-parliamentarian
Today, I bring you an interview with Eva Maydell, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Bulgaria. I will send the podcast version of the interview to premium subscribers only, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to mention some of the articles I’ve recently published for premium subscribers only:
You’re a Piece of Software explains the purpose of life, and what’s the role of happiness and love in it. It includes the essay I wrote to gain access to Stanford’s MBA.
The Future of Written News is the follow-up to The Future of Substack. I cover the steps that star journalists will follow to split from news outlets and eventually form their own outlets, the impact of AI, the importance of genius, growth strategies, monetization strategies, and more.
The Fire Inside covers advanced public speaking techniques that I haven’t read anywhere else.
The Man Who Made 50,000 Babies explains how a single person probably caused the birth of 50k people and changed the natality of his country.
Children Equal Power explains how France’s natality drop in the 1700s made Germany the most powerful country in Europe.
Hypergrowth Society explores why everything changes faster now, and what happens when that clashes with the ossified pieces of our society.
Citizen Kane Moments of Innovation explores the problem with education today, what type of innovation it needs, and what other industries are in the same boat.
Updates on some topics covered in Uncharted Territories: COVID, the future of nation-states, Germany’s nuclear, plastics, intellectual honesty, Substack’s roadmap, Russia, and Africa’s colonization. There was another, deeper update on The Future of the English language.
Onto today’s article!
Some argue that Europe is a group of states with conflicting interests. However, during the Covid emergency, Europe managed to find a common line on vaccine management, demonstrating an unprecedented, unanimous unity.
Now, with a conflict at the doorstep in Ukraine, the EU is facing new challenges: will a common policy be achieved? A common energy policy?
Whichever way it goes, it is difficult for us citizens to interpret what is really going on behind the doors. But today I am taking you inside the European Parliament, with a politician who can speak very directly and transparently.
She will explain to us how the wheels of such a complex political system turn, what its contradictions are, and how to speed up decision-making processes.
This is Euro-parliamentarian Eva Maydell, and we covered plenty of topics, like:
How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is shifting the European Union’s future.
How to influence the future of the European Union’s structure.
The role of the government to regulate tech.
The speed of decision-making at the European level.
How the age of parliamentarians and the length of their tenures influence politics.
The struggle between nationalists and Europeanists inside EU institutions.
How the EU can strengthen a European nation, and the role of the British.
This is the chat I had with her.
TOMAS PUEYO: Before we cover the Ukraine crisis, I wanted to ask you about the future of the European Union, and the fact that there are some structural issues that prevent the EU from merging further.
I've seen from your Twitter account you agree with this goal, especially in the context of Ukraine and the Overton window1 that has been changing since the Ukraine crisis.
And so I wanted to ask you: is more integration in the EU something we want? And if so, how does the Ukraine crisis influence that?
EVA MAYDELL: It's funny. If we would have had that call when you first asked me, my answer would probably be very different than today2.
But with Ukraine’s war, we have seen a major shift in European policy, in the unity, in the power, the whole project in these last few weeks.
The situation in Europe is changing as we speak. Maybe I wouldn't use the word superpower for Europe, but more like a global player, one that is ever evolving.
If you look backwards, we lacked foresight. We were not prepared for the crisis, and didn’t try to prevent it, but we acted fast, we bonded and strengthened the union. When we are faced with aggressive or some sort of revisionist external forces, we come together and some sort of breakthrough policy comes around.
Even last time, when I talked with you around the breakout of the pandemic, nobody would have thought we would develop a common procurement of vaccines. Well, now we are coming closer to common EU security and defense policy. We see groundbreaking German foreign policy. Over the past years, the German government always opposed more spending into the military, because it was blocked by the SPD Party.
We see the discussions in Sweden and in Finland picking up to join NATO. Going back to COVID, we first had the common procurement of the vaccines, but then we also had this new recovery and resilience facility. I believe that in the next couple of days, the EU might try to replicate it with a multi-billion Euro fund, but for Ukraine3.
TOMAS PUEYO: That's interesting. You mentioned in a European Movement International document—that I think you signed a few days ago—that Europe should see these moments of unity and common solidarity to develop a fully-fledged European defense union. And having all of Europe be more sensitized to military spending is one way to do it, but as you know, there are some specific mechanisms that are obstacles to achieving that.
One of these obstacles that you mentioned is the role of the European Council and the unanimity votes for so many things. Can you explain exactly how you think these mechanisms are hindering unity at the military and foreign levels, and what could be done to change them?
EVA MAYDELL: First of all, we are currently undergoing this exercise called the Conference of the Future of Europe4. It's a type of a convention, together with citizens, to define the future of Europe: are we going to change certain aspects of our current treaties? Are we going to put different provisions that would allow us to do things in a different manner?
One thing could be to change the way we vote on certain topics, such as foreign affairs, defense policy, or fiscal policy, for example. Another point is to give more power to the European Parliament and give it power to co-legislate. A third option would be to have more competencies in the health sector, for example, or the education sector.
I see the need to take decisions with simple majority in the European Council on certain topics, particularly in the foreign affairs domain, to operate faster.
But if we do that in too many areas, small clubs of interests might emerge: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 countries will be pushing for one thing; 4 or 5 to another, 12 others for yet another thing. Before we decide to change majority voting rules in the Council, we need to assess how good it is and how bad it is.
On balance, I think it’s positive rather than negative to have majority or two-third majority voting in the European Council, but it could also lead to these different speeds of Europe or different types of feelings of unity. We should be bold and start changing the voting at least in a few areas and see what happens.
TOMAS PUEYO: You mention this way that citizens might have to influence these kinds of decisions, the Conference of the Future of Europe, which reminds me of another thing that you’ve said in the past: that ideas from Twitter are faster, and sometimes better, than the ideas coming from the parliament. You suggested a war room which, among other things, could collect these ideas and suggest them to the parliament, so it can be seeded faster with better ideas to debate.
That leads me to two questions.
First: in the short-term, how does a normal citizen feel empowered to influence these changes? You're talking about big things, changes in the treaties. This sounds like a convoluted, overwhelming, long-term idea. So, first, is there a way that citizens can influence this?
Second: in the long-term, the political system was designed a long time ago. In some ways, it's slow by design. In other ways, it’s slow just because it was designed a long time ago, when information traveled much, much, much, much slower than the speed of the Internet. And this contrast in speed of thought is only going to get worse.
So how is that going to evolve in 10, 20, 30 years when the gap between the speed of political change and the speed of the Internet becomes so huge that politics are not going to be moving fast enough? Won’t politics need to change somehow?
EVA MAYDELL: That's what I've been saying since day one, since I joined the parliament.
First, about the Conference of the Future of Europe. The perception in the “process bubble” is that this conference is the place where citizens should be active, should voice their concerns, should tell what they want as a change.
There are panels with just citizens, panels with policymakers and representatives of member states. It's a big pot where you can share your opinion in various forms. Some are recorded meetings, some plenary, some closed meetings. There are all these ways to share feedback, and then they’re going to be written down and we are going to vote on them. It's a very good opportunity.
Most of the people representing us there are already an active part of civil society from their own member states, or from Brussels. Many of these people are already engaged with EU policy, know about it, are advocates on certain topics, or are passionate activists, but you also have randomly selected citizens.
The benefit is that this is a structured place to give your feedback. Now we have a place where you could say: "Well, I care about this and this, and I will repeat it over and over to get your support”, and it might end up in the final document.
Of course, it’s not the only way to give feedback. A citizen can always approach their MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] or a concrete EU institution or body.
So now is an excellent time for citizens, interested parties, civil society, businesses, and everyone to say: "Well, you know, we think you should change things in this way or that way", and hopefully the institutions listen and vote.
TOMAS PUEYO: Thank you, this answers the first question. And you're going right into the second one.
EVA MAYDELL: The process of the Conference for the Future of Europe has already taken almost two years. It has been slowed down by the pandemic, of course, but we’re still just in the phase of gathering opinions. And it’s not even clear yet whether there will be changes to the treaties.
At the same time, the world is going faster and we need to make decisions adapting to that.
Particularly on disinformation, one could say: "Well, maybe you were a bit too late, but also it's a very, very complicated area if you want to regulate it. How do you balance freedom of speech vs. disinformation?” This is hard. There is not a magic solution. If there was, we would have implemented it.
And then on top of it, because we’re such a complex body, every decision takes a long time. Very often, by the time decisions enter into force, they’re outdated. So you might have to start reviewing it the moment it enters into force. That’s why we should act swifter when we know rules are needed.
Negotiation might take a year or two, but to counterbalance, we're putting short implementation periods in this type of legislation. That’s not really a solution either, though. Instead of giving you two years to implement it, we give you two, five, six months. For some big companies it's easy to do, but for a small business it might be very tricky.
So as you can see, we haven't found how to be prepared for the fast pace that the world goes around with us.
TOMAS PUEYO: To me, the metaphor that I use for this is Wikipedia. You had encyclopedias before, where a group of people gathered in a room, thinking, analyzing the articles that they had to write, and then they wrote them and then boom, you had the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Compare that with Wikipedia, where no contributor is as much of an expert as the employees of the encyclopedia Britannica, but it so happens that there are millions of people collaborating, and there is a good mechanism for crowdsourcing that information, for extracting the right information from the right people and putting it in articles, which ends with more, better, faster articles.
I compare that to the political process, which is very similar to an Encyclopedia Britannica, where you have a bunch of people, very equipped, very intelligent, much more than the average. They're sitting together and talking about these articles—of legislation instead of articles of the encyclopedia. But it's the same. A proper crowdsourcing that extracts the right insights from the right people would be faster, better, and with more legislation.
When I compare that to your comment around the Conference for the Future of Europe—which I think is a great initiative—I'm thinking: if it takes two years to get insights and then two years to legislate and then six months to implement, the world has moved on, right? To achieve the goals that you're mentioning, you need to structurally change the way politics in general work and specifically the democratic system, for sure for Europe, but even for every Western nation.
EVA MAYDELL: Yes. I absolutely agree with what you're saying. It's part of the thought that I had when I first became an MEP. I was like: “Oh goodness, we are debating and just talking to each other for days, for months, without acting faster.” But now I understand that unity and compromise takes time. I’ve always thought we're rather slow.
The pandemic has forced the institutions to use the Internet in a more advanced way; to make decisions faster, and to see that it was doable.
So these past two years have been helpful for the speed of decision-making in Europe. Before that, there was rarely a sense of urgency. It is part of the political game to take time and to dribble the ball slowly and not to pass it forward.
With this current mandate, which is just in its third year now, you got a wave of new, younger faces. I'm part of that group, and sometimes we meet and discuss things.
If you bring people with a different mindset, things can go faster. And I don't think it depends so much on your age. It depends on your mindset, on your background. Perhaps people who have not been born in institutions or die in institutions. I think this sort of people with a different mindset can move politics further ahead.
As President of the European Movement International the ability to act quickly is important. The hybrid working method has enabled our members to meet at a moment’s notice, rather than always having travel or organize meetings days or weeks in advance. In crisis moments such as the war in Ukraine, that is invaluable.
TOMAS PUEYO: I'm glad to hear that younger people are accelerating this process. It’s good. I do believe, however, that if the structure itself doesn't change, it's going to be hard to make decisions really fast. Because it cannot depend on the people themselves. It has to be in the system.
EVA MAYDELL: I agree with you. And there's very little work done to change the structure.
One important thing is how many people are needed to take decisions. Do you need anonymity? Do you need a majority? Do you need 2/3 majority? A lot of effort is very often spent to convince those few that are not sure and to look for a compromise. This could speed the process. This could be a part of the solution.
TOMAS PUEYO: I think you're right and obviously that echoes what you've mentioned before about the council. But do you think in some areas, just taking away the ownership of some decisions from the council and putting it on the commission, for example, or the parliament such as, for example, foreign policy, is this possible or desirable?
EVA MAYDELL: This is not my area of expertise. I'm sure you're going to get a ton of people telling you that that's not a good idea because without the member states, you know, what are you guys going to do?
But we are looking at this issue right now in a nonpolitical way, but in the end, it's all about politics. Politics needs to keep evolving with fresh perspectives and fresh idea.
We are here to serve the citizens, and none of us should be here with the expectation that it’s a job for life.
The other thing that impedes progress is that many people only see things from their national point of view,
TOMAS PUEYO: I have a strong opinion about this one. If the institutions are going to reflect what people want, and people are more nationalists than they are Europeanists, let's say, that will be reflected in the institutions. Nation-building has been an area of expertise for European countries for two centuries. So there's a lot of things that the European Union could be doing for the building of the European nation.
The obvious one is you cannot have a nation if you don't have a single language. We have not internalized the fact that the language most spoken in Europe is English—even without the Brits inside the EU. For me, it's a matter of time that English becomes the official language of the European Union. Do you think that's true, that it’s going to happen? And more importantly, if you think that it might eventually happen, are there ways to accelerate that?
EVA MAYDELL: We cannot avoid the fact English is a unifying language in the institutions – especially after enlargement, that’s a reality for many international organizations. Will it happen? never say never.
You have some countries like France that would oppose this very strongly. So I think it will have to be a very different generation. Maybe the one that is currently in their teens would be open to that. And it will be followed by a generation where this would be an obvious norm.
TOMAS PUEYO: I think you're right. I do think that a strong leader could do it. But you're right. It's going to take some time.
There are other tools for nation-building. Erasmus has been a great one. Are there other tools that are a bit less polemic that you think could be approved to accelerate the building of the European nation?
EVA MAYDELL: We have done a big part with introducing the Euro, with introducing Schengen. The single market. Now consumers take it for granted. It's just there, right? We can easily cross borders. We’ve forgotten having to queue for a visa, having to exchange money. Nobody remembers what it was like. That past feels like it never existed.
I would need to think more about the steps that could reinforce our European identity. You know, we don't even learn in school about the European Union. There's a half page on it in school books. I came to Brussels and everybody is talking about Alcide de Gasperi and Simone Veil and I'm asking myself: Why are we not taught about them in schools?
We don’t learn enough about the European Union in member states. The narrative in European countries is that they are what they are because of their own merit. The EU didn’t contribute. If there’s a success, it’s sold as a success of their own country, not of the EU.
This type of mentality is hard to change, but I think technology could help us get there.
TOMAS PUEYO: I think you're right. I think internet is going to make these cultural shifts faster than we expect. I think already we're partly there. So a key challenge for the next few years as this cultural shift continues is to reflect those into the structures of the European Union.
Eva, thank you so much and I don't want to take more of your time. Super, super useful.
EVA MAYDELL: Thank you Tomas. All the best, bye!
The Overton window is what is politically acceptable to discuss. This changes over time. For example, going back to nuclear energy was out of the Overton window in Germany until the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now it’s on the table.
I asked Mrs Maydell to talk in January-February, just before Russia’s invasion, and we talked in Marc. Notice how she refers to what was impossible politically but now can be discussed? That’s a shift in the Overton window.
This conversation happened before April 4th, when the fund was announced.