Good afternoon, and welcome to our liveblog of today’s “Citizens’ Dialogue” in Warsaw, Poland, with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Vice-President Viviane Reding.
This dialogue is one of series the Commission is holding in cities in every EU country, giving ordinary people an opportunity to speak directly to EU politicians about their rights, the kind of Europe they want to live in, and expectations for the European Union.
They follow a call by European Commission President Barroso for an EU-wide debate on proposals to deepen Economic and Monetary Union, and to create a legitimate political union.
“There must be a broad debate all over Europe. A debate of truly European dimension,” he said. “We cannot continue trying to solve European problems just with national solutions. This debate has to take place in our societies and among our citizens”.
The debates are part of the 2013 European Year of Citizens: an entire year dedicated to your rights as a European citizen.
And that’s all, folks! Stay tuned for a follow-up debate on some of the issues raised today in a future post.
What does it actually mean to “Dialogue with citizens”?
And the bell tolls one final time for this debate:
The debate is drawing to an end now with a final question: Do you think that politicians should more often dialogue with citizens?
92% say “Yes”.
The moderator wonders if the 8% of people who voted “No” or “Don’t Know” might have accidently pressed the wrong button.
Reding is asked if there should be direct elections for the President of the European Commission. She thinks there should be, but it cannot happen straight away:
Before we can directly elect a president, we need to change the treaty. I believe, in the coming years, we will need to change the treaty, in order to establish a common European finance minister and in order to have a bigger say for the European Parliament so there is greater democratic control of the Commission, which I believe will become the real government of the European Union. And, if we are [changing the treaties], then it makes sense to have a direct election of the president of this government.
Viviane Reding is asked how much Croatian membership of the EU is going to cost Poland. She responds:
The fact that, after a decade-long effort from the Croatians to create a democratic state, we have finally taken Croatia in, was a signal to the whole Balkans to say full-stop for any war in the Balkans. Balkan nations are all bound one day to become members of the family, and in the family you live in peace. Remember, it’s not long ago that there were bombs falling in the Balkans, much like bombs fell on Warsaw during the Second World War… To pacify the Balkan region is one of the aims of the EU. But no country will join the EU without having fulfilled the conditions of joining the EU.
Polish MEP Róża Thun adds a few words relevant to the EU’s Eastern Partnership:
Sometimes it is said we are ambassadors of the countries East of the border who want to acceed to the European Union. We will be a better ambassador if we are an important country in the EU, cooperating constructively. If we stay out of the European mainstream then it will not be of any help to our neighbours. [However], it is not only a question of membership… Ukraine should continue to be in our orbit of interest, but it is not ‘To be or not to be’ in the EU. It would be entirely false if we positioned things like this.
As for the cost of Croatia, it should not be seen as a cost but an investment. Let us not look at cost alone.
The audience is asked: “Do you want a closer political union?”
70% respond ‘Yes’.
But how representative is this audience of Poland as a whole? In the latest Eurobarometer survey, Poland was (along with the UK and the Czech Republic) one of the most eurosceptic countries in the Union, with 46% agreeing that their country could better face the future outside the EU, versus only 43% who disagreed.
And there goes the bell again.
ROUND THREE: The future of Europe.
The audience is asked: Will you make your voice heard by voting at the European Parliament elections in 2014?
In the last election to the European Parliament in 2009, the turnout in Poland was less than 24%. However, in the audience today, 89% say they intend to vote in 2014.
A couple of questions from the audience: one on the rise of nationalism in Europe and what it means, and another asking what can be done for neighbouring countries where human rights are violated (such as Belarus).
On the second question, MEP Róża Thun offers a Polish perspective:
It is my impression that we are trying to behave the same way the West behaved towards us when we were behind the Iron Curtain.
Viviane Reding is asked whether the US spying scandal will have any impact on the negotiation of the EU-US trade agreement. She responds:
I am shocked that the Americans spy on European citizens. That really shocks me, because it is against European law. Of course, the intelligence services, in order to fight terrorists and criminals, sometimes have to collect information… but let them do it by the law, and not do it in a wildcard way. This is unacceptable.
However, she hopes that the trade agreement will not be too negatively affected:
What has happened was a real wake-up call for Europe’s relationship with the US, but we need strong relations with the US. We need a trade agreement with the US, because we have to put the first economy in the world – Europe – together with the second economy in the world – America – to become a real world power. But citizens need to be respected.
Finally, she adds that she believes the spying scandal will make it much easier for her to pass the draft EU data protection law.
One day, I will send Eric Holder [the US Attorney General] a thank-you note. Thank you for PRISM, which has helped me to make a very strong data protection law in Europe.
The bell rings:
ROUND TWO: The rights of European citizens.
Interesting comment from Reding, when asked what young people should do to fight the crisis:
I prefer to have young people out on the streets shouting at me than have them sitting at home gaming.
She explains that she means it’s important for young people to be active and to put pressure on politicians to achieve solutions.
The audience is asked: Will Europe come out of the crisis stronger?
- ‘Yes’ – 44%
- ‘No’ – 34%
- ‘Don’t Know’ – 22%
Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding tells the audience that they are the most optimistic audience she has spoken in front of during these Citizens’ Dialogues (with the exception of Luxembourg). She adds:
The crisis has shown to us that we need to go a step further: we need to build a Europe of political union. Thank you for this optimism, because we politicians need it. We need it to fight to build Europe. And I promise you, we are fighting for this Europe of the citizens, a Europe of political union, and a Europe of solidarity.
Barroso is asked a question about Europe’s aging population. The questioner suggests that the shrinking working-age population means that:
Either Europeans should start having three or four children per family, or there will have to be immigration from outside Europe. Do you see a third option? And, if not, how can the first two be achieved?
Barroso answers that both family-friendly policies and immigration will be needed:
Probably both. This is a decision that the European Commission cannot take, but I agree with your analysis. Europe has a serious demographic problem.
It’s a positive problem, because it’s good that people have longer lives. The life expectancy in Europe is one of the highest in the world, and that’s good… but, in policy terms, it puts pressure on the social security system that we have to find ways to finance. That’s why some reforms are necessary. Otherwise, we are not going to be able to pay pensions to the people that are now working…
We recommend to have policies that make life easier for couples that want to have children… and migration is indespendble at the European level. I know some extremist forces don’t like to say it, but more migrants are necessary to maintain the current level of workforce. Of course, we need to have an intelligent migration policy, fighting illegal immigration…
Barroso answers a question on the future of the euro:
I expect most European countries will join the euro. There are two countries that have agreed to have an opt-out or some other kind of measure… But it is important to be in the euro, because the countries in the euro area will have a more direct say in the issues related to our european project.
The two countries with opt-outs from the euro are the UK and Denmark (though Sweden also has a de facto opt-out). If all other countries eventually join the euro, will these two countries find themselves isolated at the edges of Europe?
Barroso is asked if the US has recovered from the crisis faster than Europe because it is a federal state. President Barroso responds:
In your question, you gave the answer. The US, even if the crisis started there, was able to correct some of the problems they had because they are a federal state. They are the United States of America, and we are not the United States of Europe. We are 28 member states, 17 in the eurozone.
And, let’s be honest and frank about it: there were originally different approaches to the crisis. The speed of democracy is slower than the speed of the markets. And when you have 27 democracies to agree on emergency measures, I have to tell you, it’s not easy. Which is why we are working to equip the euro area with common instruments to face any difficulty, like the financial crisis… So, Europe is a work in progress. I believe we are going in the right direction, but I feel we should learn the lessons of the crisis.
Barroso says he wants to deliver a message of confidence:
The missing variable in the equation for growth in Europe is confidence. Because we have enough resources in Europe, there is enough capital, human capital as well – imagination and energy – to overcome the crisis if member states are ready to do it. If they have the support of citizens – and that means you.
Barroso sets out what he sees as the biggest challenge for the EU today:
In Europe, we have a social market economy. It means an open economy, but with relatively high levels of social welfare. We want to keep this model, but how can we keep it when there are big challenges coming from international competition? This is why we’ve been developing a consensus around a policy of getting public finances in order, carrying out structural reforms, but also [increasing] investment.
And the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has now rolled up fashionably late to the debate. He now offers his belated introduction to the debate.
Viviane Reding is asked whether the euro should be abandoned. She argues that the euro was a flawed creation, but many of the flaws have now been corrected, and the EU is now much better prepared than before the crisis. She says:
If a second crisis hit us, it won’t do the same damage because we have established a banking union; because we have established a common economic union; because we are automatically controling our budgets, because we know that if one country goes bust it affects the others… You have read again and again in the papers that the euro will collapse and Greece will leave the euro. But what has happened? The euro is still strong, Greece is still in the euro, and Latvia is about to join the euro. The euro is going perfectly well, it’s our national policies that sometimes are not, but the euro is part of the solution, not part of the problem.
Polish MEP Róża Thun is on the stage with Reding, pointing out that “Poland is the largest beneficiary in the new EU budget.” Historically, Poland has also been one of the largest recipients of EU structural funds.
The audience is asked: For you, does Europe mean solidarity between member states?
More thant 75% of the audience vote “Yes”. Viviane Reding says this is a rare answer, as most people in Europe answer negatively “when the money is scarce”.
A ceremonial bell rings, apparently inaugarating the first part of the debate on the crisis.
*Ding!* ROUND ONE.
Reding is giving her opening remarks:
I will shut up at once. We are not here to speak. We are here to listen.
First, though, she says hello to the young people in the audience:
Hello to the young people here today. You are numerous. That’s good. You’re the next one to take over the Europe that we are building. So you must prevent us from making the mistakes that you will pay for tomorrow.
The moderator has been padding like crazy, but Vice-President Viviane Reding has finally arrived at the venue and has been given a mic.
The audience is now being asked to vote on the question: “Do you feel that your voice is heard in the EU?”
- 32% – Yes
- 56% – No
- 12% – Don’t know what a voice is
Overwhelmingly, the audience in Poland feels their voice is not heard by the EU. Yup, tough audience.
A video vox populi of citizens in Poland is being displayed. The first young man interviewed is asked if he is hopeful about the future:
No, I’m looking at the future with fear. I don’t like how the EU is governed, and I’m sceptical about the EU’s economic policy. I used to be hopeful, now I’m a bit fearful.
It could be a tough audience for President Barroso and Vice-President Reding…
And, we’re off! Welcome to today’s liveblog. You can see some of our liveblogs of the previous Citizens’ Dialogues here.