Good afternoon, and welcome to our liveblog of today’s “Citizens’ Dialogue” in Zagreb, Croatia, with Neven Mimica, Croatia’s EU Commissioner.
This dialogue is one of a 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”.
17:26 - Monday 3 March
Oh dear… Not a great result in the final audience question today. They are asked again: Do you feel your voice is heard by the European Union?
Yes – 30%
No – 66%
Don’t know – 4%
This means that the audience has gone from 45% believing their voice is heard by the EU (versus 41% not), to a majority believing that their voice is ignored. It looks like the majority of those who voted “Don’t know” at the beginning of the session have come away with a bad impression.
17:22 - Monday 3 March
The audience is asked another question: Will you vote at the European elections in May 2014?
Yes – 69%
No – 23%
Don’t know – 8%
The Commissioner says this is a good result, and he hopes this means that the upcoming elections will have a higher turnout than the previous European elections held in Croatia, when the turnout was only 21% – among the lowest in the history of the European elections!
17:09 - Monday 3 March
A question from the audience about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently being negotiated between the EU and the US. The questioner asks how the European Commission plans to protect the high level of consumer protection standards in the EU compared to the US.
The Commissioner argues that there are huge potential benefits for both sides of the Atlantic in a deal, but says that Europe is not ready to decrease its level of protection in order to get benefits in trade. He adds that, personally, he would like to see more transparency in the negotiations, including greater involvement of consumer NGOs at the European level.
17:02 - Monday 3 March
An interesting poll result. The audience are asked: Do you consider your consumer rights are better protected now that Croatia is part of the EU?
Yes – 26%
No – 63%
Don’t know – 12%
Neven Mimica, the European Commissioner for Consumer Protection, responds:
Since this is an area that I am directly competent for in the EU, I would like to comment. Yes, it is quite obvious that you are confirming what has already been suggested in many surveys; that Croatia, in relation to consumer protection, is usually placed third from last in the EU. According to these surveys, Croatian consumers do not have sufficient information about their rights, they don’t know about these rights and don’t trust the institutions that are supposed to help them in protecting these rights.
In other words: citizens don’t trust the market, don’t trust manufacturers, don’t trust companies and don’t know what to do to protect their rights… We are going to initiate an information campaign for Croatian citizens, starting from the Autumn, and we hope that Croatia is going to overcome this situation of mistrust.
Mimica also suggests that this high level of mistrust might have something to do with Croatia’s history as a socialist economy, “Where the market and consumers did not mean anything”.
16:47 - Monday 3 March
More complaints about the justice system in Croatia. Petitioners are bringing their cases to Commissioner Mimica, and the Commissioner (not being aware of the individual details of each case) is doing his best to refer them to his office.
16:43 - Monday 3 March
Several questions have come in complaining about the functioning of the justice system in Croatia, particularly about the length of time it takes for a court case to be resolved. The Commissioner argues that it is important to improve the justice system in Croatia, rather than see the EU courts as a replacement:
In general, citizens shouldn’t have to look for justice in Strasbourg, Luxembourg or Brussels. European citizens should get justice in their village.
16:33 - Monday 3 March
The Commissioner is asked what the EU is doing to improve the economic situation in Europe. He answers that the EU cannot dictate economic policy in the Member States, but rather “There is better or worse coordination. There is more or less energy invested in coordination.”
He says that the EU could help to improve employment and the economy in Europe by making sure that coordination between Member States is as strong as possible.
16:30 - Monday 3 March
A question from Twitter now, asking what the Commissioner would say to all the eurosceptics out there. He answers:
In better times, there were fewer people who were against EU unity. I think that the [economic crisis] has created more euroscepticism in Europe. And I think a large part of these economic and social problems that were created in the crisis are attributed to the EU. Sometimes this is justified, sometimes this is not. My message to eurosceptics is [that] it would be better to invest the energy which they put into criticism of Europe into trying to formulate new proposals, new models, new viisons to improve the functioning of the European Union.
16:24 - Monday 3 March
An interesting question from the audience now. A young man stands up and says 8 of his friends left Croatia recently looking for jobs. He thinks this would be fine, except these young people did not leave for other EU Member States; they went to Australia and Canada. The questioner says young people in Croatia don’t have any prospects in Europe, and he asks what the EU is doing about this.
Commissioner Mimica says the economic crisis existed before Croatia’s EU membership, and it will continue for a while during our membership. But he argues that Croatians should see EU membership as “our path for recovery from the crisis”.
16:19 - Monday 3 March
As the newest EU Member State, it’s interesting to see what the audience thinks about further EU enlargement. They are asked whether they think Croatia will be able to help its neighbours in the Western Balkans also to join the EU:
Yes – 41%
No – 40%
Don’t know – 18%
16:14 - Monday 3 March
Commissioner Mimica is asked a question from Facebook, asking When will the economic standards of Croatia be at the same rank as Austria, Germany or Denmark? And how is the EU going to help things get better?
The Commissioner responds:
This is something that we’re all interested in. Well, this question was probably on the agenda and was probably also asked by the citizens of Austria, Germany and Denmark when THEY joined the EU. Because the expectations of a new European Community were always high. Citizens were always asking when will things get better? How will this community help me resolve my personal problems? But it took about 60 years for the first member states to really feel the advantages that membership in the European community had in relation to the possible development of member states.
Will Croatia also have to wait 60 years? Not sure how that would go down with the audience. Luckily, the Commissioner continues:
I would not say that Croatia needs 60 years… but I’m sure that we will need more time than the 8 months that we have been members of the EU up till now.
16:07 - Monday 3 March
And, we’re off!
Croatia has been a member of the EU for 8 months now. As an introductory question, the audience today is being asked: Do you consider your voice is heard in Europe?
Yes – 45%
No – 41%
Don’t know – 14%