Good morning, and welcome to our liveblog of today’s “Citizens’ Dialogue” in Sofia, Bulgaria, with European Commission 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 more analysis on Debating Europe tomorrow!
Reding explains her approach to politics (and embarrasses her sons in the process):
I have three boys – well, they are not really boys anymore, they are men – but whenever I put forwards a proposal I think to myself: how will this affect the world my boys live in? And, I think that’s a good approach, because you are not doing politics for yourself, you are doing politics for society.
A woman in the audience asked Reding:
Do you believe it’s time to have a woman President of the European Commission? Because, previously, all the presidents have been men.
Diplomatically, Reding responds:
Yes. It is time for female talent everywhere. In politics, in civil society, and in economy… We have so many wonderful women. Put them to work! Don’t push them in a corner.
The audience is asked: “Do you think politicians should be in closer contact with civilians?”
Don’t Know: 2.9%
Perhaps the people who answered “No” are so sick of politicians they want them to be as far away as possible?
Throughout the debate, Reding’s message has been that it is not for the Commission to solve Bulgaria’s problems of governance, it is something that the citizens of Bulgaria must be responsible for themselves. One man in the audience appreciates the message:
Sorry we’re seeing you as a messiah from the European Union, capable of saving us. But I, for one, believe my people are extremely capable of finding unification through their own efforts.
It looks like the debate with Viviane Reding is incredibly popular with the audience today, with many, many people wanting to ask questions. The moderator has asked that people limit their questions to a single sentence. Rather hopefully, he wonders: “Let’s see if it is humanly possible”.
It’s certainly a passionate audience today, with a young man saying Bulgaria is becoming a “crippling dictatorship”, whilst one woman calls Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans for a Eurasian Union “more ambitious than anything in Stalin’s Soviet Union.”
Reding goes into some detail about the future vision she has for Europe:
I want the European Union to become some kind of United States of Europe. We NEED that if we want to be strong. I want a political union, which goes over and above an economic union. The euro is important, but the people are more important… [Perhaps there should be a] second chamber for the government; some kind of European Senate. That is the vision for the future, and that is what you must discuss with your candidates for the European Parliament…
Should we vote one day for the President of the European Commission? I think so. If you look at what happens in the USA, when there is an election, people go out and debate the issues… That would be very good [in Europe]. In order to do that, we need to change the treaty.
This is strong stuff, particularly when the ‘F’ word (‘federalism’) has been taboo in the Commission for so long. Could Reding be positioning herself as a future Jacques Delors?
Reding responds to some more questions on corruption, arguing that it is the responsibility of Bulgarian citizens to hold their government to account:
I’ll tell you something straight from the beginning: the European Commission, as the government of Europe, has the possibility through its President, to ask a Commissioner to give his resignation. It does not have the power to ask a national minister to give his resignation. That is up to you [and] I wish you well in building up a government which you can trust.
Reding is asked why she intervened in Romania and Hungary, threatening to take those two countries to court, but not in Bulgaria. She responds that she intervened in Romania and Hungary because there were worrying constitutional changes taking place, specifically new laws that “eliminated the superior court”.
They reinstalled [the high court], finally, after the pressure [from the EU]. In Hungary, there were very concrete plans for eliminating judges. And I went to the European Court and the judges were reinstalled in their capacity… [However] corruption is something else… [Hopefully], nobody will touch the constitution in Bulgaria. Nobody will dismantle the courts.
Every second question today is about oligarchs and corruption. Perhaps not surprising given that Bulgaria has seen weeks of anti-graft protests recently.
Now, let me tell you, you are not making my job easy!
She goes on:
You protested against one nomination, and it was withdrawn. We were very relieved that your voice was heard.
Ms Reding is probably referring to the “32-year-old media magnate and lawmaker with no experience of security issues” who was about to be appointed head of Bulgaria’s national security agency, with the power to order arrests, wiretaps and surveillance. After days of protests, another compromise candidate was appointed.
Another question on corruption in the judiciary, and one more about misuse of EU structural funds:
Most of the EU money spent on agriculture in Bulgaria goes to only four or five companies, which are known to everyone, who share this money.
Reding is taking a lot of questions today on corruption from the audience in the room:
The Bulgarian judiciary is strongly corrupt and dependent on the oligarchs. Working only in the interests of the big fish… The media is owned by the richest people in Bulgaria, who manipulate the government. Never will the Bulgarian people hear the truth from the media.
All I can see is mafia behaviour, oligarchy, corruption, rackateering in the police. This is not the behaviour of a European Union member state. We are systimatically manipulated.
Good morning, and welcome to today’s liveblog of the Citizens’ Dialogue event with Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding!