Reding: EU is like a family running short of money

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Viviane Reding, European Commission vice president in charge of justice and home affairs, compared the crisis-hit EU to a family getting short on money. She made those remarks as part of a series of debates entitled "Citizens’ Dialogues on the future of the EU" that took place in Warsaw earlier this month. EURACTIV Poland reports.

As in a family, the EU should show solidarity and offer a helping hand to the countries in need, Reding said in an apparent reference to Britain, Germany and other richer EU countries, which showed initial reluctance to bail out impoverished eurozone members during the sovereign debt crisis.

Many speakers at the Warsaw debate on 11 July made extensive use of the word "solidarity" in an apparent tribute to Poland’s recent history. In the early 1980s, the Solidarno?? trade union was instrumental in speeding up the collapse of the communist regime, not only in Poland but across Eastern Europe as a whole.

It was also important, according to Reding, to define the political objective of European integration, otherwise they will be difficult to achieve it, she argued.

And during the crisis, more than ever we need a clear vision of where were are heading”, Reding added. 

Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland’s first freely elected prime minister, who currently serves as advisor to Polish President Bronis?aw Komorowski, said that the word “solidarity”, so important for Poles, implied not only financial solidarity within the EU, but also solidarity in taking responsibility for the whole Union. Support for the idea of European integration, which is inextricably linked with a sense of solidarity, is still very high in Poland despite the rise of euroscepticism in the EU countries, he argued.

'Go to the ballot box and vote'

Referring to the European elections in May 2014, Reding called on all Europeans to go to the ballot box and vote. She explained that this would have an impact on EU’s policymaking “so that we know where we bring this Europe together with the citizens”.

At the 2009 European elections to average turnout in the then 27 member countries was 43.24%. In Poland, a country considered as among the most pro-European, turnout has been extremely low, at 24.53%, superior only to Lithuania with 20.54 and Slovakia with 19.63%.

The question of direct elections for the European Commission president was raised during the panel on the future of the EU. Reding said she was in favour of it, but she also noted it was not possible under the Lisbon Treaty currently in force. Therefore, direct elections would require a Treaty change, she argued. Reding also said that the EU should have a common finance minister and that the European Parliament should be strengthened at the same time, because any government has to be under strong parliamentary control.

Reding is seen as a possible candidate for Commission president on behalf of the centre-right European People’s Party, although recent political problems in her home country of Luxembourg could make her opt for a career in national politics.

Another citizen right is personal data safety, Reding stressed, entering the sensitive territory of EU-US relations, marred by the recent eavesdropping scandal. The commissioner stressed that she supported a free-trade agreement with the United States (TTIP – Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), but that this did not prevent her from sending a letter to the US Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that the US stop violating EU laws.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso was also present at the discussion.

Speaking about the EU’s future challenges, Barroso agreed with a comment about an impeding demographic crisis in the EU. All studies show that in the future, the EU will need more migrants because of the low birth rates and ageing societies. To meet this challenge, “we need a pro-family policy and a rational migration policy”, the Commission president argued.

Polish citizens attending the event argued for more integrated Europe. One of them referred to the example of the United Stated, which as a federal state was able to address the crisis more swiftly than the EU. He urged the EU leaders to move in this federalist direction.

Among other future challenges that EU has to tackle, students present at the debate highlighted the high unemployment rates, in general and among young people with higher education, as well as the red tape and its consequences on youngsters’ mobility.

Citizens’ Dialogues (also involving other EU Commissioners) have been taking place throughout the EU, including events in Berlin, Paris, Dublin, Thessaloniki and Brussels.

The Dialogues are being held during the European Year of Citizens, which the EU is celebrating in 2013.

Established under the Treaty of Maastricht on 1 November 1993, European citizenship is automatically accorded to all citizens of EU member states. The 20th anniversary of EU citizenship and the coming elections to the European Parliament in May 2014 are among the reasons leaders of the EU meeting with EU citizens in all the 28 member states to learn about their views on European citizenship, the current economic crisis and the future of Europe.

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