Good afternoon, and welcome to our liveblog of today’s “Citizens’ Dialogue” in Košice, Slovakia, with Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations.
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.
Commissioner Šefčovič says the single market needs working on, but it’s already the crown jewel of EU integration.
A question from a pensioner in the audience: “Can we speed up the single market?”
Commissioner Šefčovič argues that the EU needs to provide cities and regions with more powers:
We need to invest in self-government, because cities play an important part in economic growth and development.
The Commissioner believes SMEs are critical to Europe:
We are working on eliminating roadblocks to growth across the EU, especially administrative red tape, and simplifying e-commerce – shopping and selling on the internet. We are also supporting creation of new jobs in Europe – thanks to the EU projects, 13 000 jobs should be created in Slovakia alone
A question from the internet now: “How does the EU support SMEs?“
Maroš Šefčovič agrees:
Why are people so afraid of federalism? Our citizens are free to live in any other EU country. We have one currency. Why are people afraid of this?
Pavol Paška, President of the Slovak Parliament, gives a straight answer:
We cannot be afraid of Brussels, we cannot be afraid of the EU. No one is taking away our boundaries, no one is taking away our language. We are not losing our sovereignty. Slovakia is so small, we need a strong partner.
A question from a law student in the audience, “How much integration do we need across the EU? Do you see risks in too much integration, especially for Slovakia?”
Commissioner Šefčovič was quick to reply
If someone said several years ago that we would have a say in the second biggest currency in the world, we would have had a hard time to believe them.
A member of the audience asks Šefčovič what should be done about the Roma issue. The Commissioner believes progress could only be made at a EU level.
Slovak MEP Monika Smolkova sitting in the audience agrees with Vice President Šefčovič that the lack of interest in EU affairs amongst Slovaks is down to the lack of EU media coverage.
Mr Pavol Paška, President of the Slovak Parliament, argues that Slovaks trust Brussels:
Slovaks are satisfied with the position of Slovakia in the EU, and therefore don’t feel the need to vote in European Parliament elections.
Another question from the audience: “Why don’t students vote, why don’t they get engaged?”
Commissioner Šefčovič believes there isn’t enough serious discussion about the EU in the Slovak media and people don’t really appreciate the power of the EU.
Commissioner Šefčovič argues:
Achieving post-war peace is no small accomplishment. However, there is far more to the EU than that.
A question from audience: “Is the EU only about post-war peace?”
Commissioner Šefčovič opens the debate by addressing the question “What does the EU do for Slovakia?”
Had we not be a member of the EU our standard of living wouldn’t have grown so fast. 85% of what is produced in Slovakia is now exported to EU countries. Without the EU we would not have achieved this. Before joining the EU, Slovaks compare their standard of living with Austria, a strong partner to compare yourself with. Better than Greece.
This dialogue’s themes will be “Crisis – what solutions does Europe offer?” and “The Future of European Integration”.
Good afternoon, and welcome to today’s Citizens’ Dialogue from Košice, Slovakia, with EU Commission’s Vicepresident Maroš Šefčovič, and the President of the Slovak Parliament Pavol Paška.