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18 Jul, 2013

European Citizens’ Dialogue: “We should whine less, believe in ourselves more”


Heidelberg, 16 July 2013 (European Commission) – The Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, and the Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, today held one of the Citizens’ Dialogues on the future of Europe that have been initiated by the Commission. After twenty-four dialogues in fourteen EU Member States, it was the turn of around four hundred citizens in Heidelberg to share with the politicians their opinions, concerns, visions and questions regarding Europe’s future, the consequences of the economic crisis and their rights as EU citizens.

The Citizens’ Dialogues all address people’s views on the future of the EU and whether more must be done to promote EU citizens’ rights, for example to freedom of movement within the EU, in everyday life. The results should feed into the proposals for the further development of the EU which the European Commission plans to present in 2014.

In January the European Commission kicked off the European Year of Citizens (IP/13/2), a year dedicated to citizens and their rights. Throughout the year, European Commissioners, MEPs and leading national politicians are taking part in a series of face-to-face debates with citizens in all twenty-eight Member States about their expectations for the future.

The Citizens’ Dialogue in Heidelberg was the third to be held in Germany, after events in Berlin (10.11.2012) and Düsseldorf (8.5.2013). Other Citizens’ Dialogues have also been held at locations including Cadiz, Coimbra, Graz, Dublin, Turin, Thessaloniki, Brussels, Esch-sur-Alzette, Warsaw and Crete. In addition, other citizens’ forums were held in Tübingen, Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Erbach and Darmstadt prior to the Heidelberg Citizens’ Dialogue in order to involve as many EU citizens as possible in the discussion on Europe’s future. All the debates can be followed at: http://ec.europa.eu/european-debate/index_en.htm.

Today Europe is at a crossroads. Everyone is talking about the future of Europe. There is often talk of a political union, a federation of national states or the United States of Europe. The coming months and years will be decisive for the future course of the European Union. Further European integration must go hand in hand with strengthening the Union’s democratic legitimacy. Moreover, people often feel that they are not well enough informed of their rights as EU citizens. According to the latest Eurobarometer survey 74% of the citizens questioned (63% in Germany) feel that they are ‘Europeans’, yet 42% (54% in Germany) do not know which rights this gives them.

The dialogues are a good opportunity to inform EU citizens of their rights and at the same time to get their feedback on the further development of the EU so as to prepare for the 2014 European Parliamentary elections.

The following statement was issued to summarise the Key Messages after the convening of the Citizens Dialogue in Heidelberg

1. The time of the Troika is over

Getting the IMF on board in recent years was an emergency solution. In future, we Europeans have to be able to resolve our problems on our own.

People have the feeling that the Troika is working behind closed doors, not subject to any form of control, and that the IMF technocrats are miles away from any form of democratic control.

The Commission is the economic Government of Europe. Together with the European Central Bank and the Member States, we can make sure that, in return for solidarity, countries hit hardest by the crisis implement reform. We do not need the Troika for this. Its time is over.

2. Anti-crisis mechanisms: we need more democratic control

I strongly advocate incorporating both the Fiscal Compact and the European Stability Mechanism in the EU Treaties in the medium term, thereby subjecting them to the democratic control of the European Parliament. Sensitive decisions – be they about privatisations in Greece or joint taxation of income for married couples in Germany – cannot be left to financial experts who have no democratic legitimacy. Instead, there must be public debate in the European Parliament on whether lines of action are right or wrong.

3. Solidarity: Put the figures on the table

While the Germans complain loudest that they are shouldering the greatest burden in supporting the countries in crisis, the real picture looks very different: calculated on a per capita basis, it is the Luxembourgers who, under the European Stability Mechanism, are guaranteeing the highest amount per capita. Solidarity is not a one way street. The crisis countries, for their part, have implemented far-reaching and painful reforms in exchange for financial assistance: public sector pay in Greece, for example, has been cut by about 30%.

4. An alternative for Germany? For Germany there is no alternative to Europe!

Despite all the doomsayers, the euro is still there, growing strong and Greece is still in the monetary union. The euro is irreversible.

The benefits of the euro are evident. Studies have shown convincingly that, without the euro, real GNP growth in Germany would be about 0.5 percentage points less each year.

Returning to the deutschmark would cost about 200,000 jobs. Let’s be clear: there is no alternative to Europe. Germany’s future lies in Europe.

5. Youth unemployment: action instead of electioneering!

The EU is making available over €6 billion for the fight against youth unemployment, and the Commission has proposed to give priority to the funding of specific projects to get the money flowing as soon as possible.

However, we cannot content ourselves with mere pontificating. Youth unemployment cannot be downgraded to an electoral campaign topic. Instead of reiterating decisions already taken, governments in Europe should come up with specific projects swiftly.

I am wondering whether citizens should not take the lead and think about “solidarity sponsorships”. Would it not be possible for citizens and businesses in economically better-off countries to somehow sponsor young unemployed people in those countries in economic difficulties? Citizens can see light at the end of the tunnel. In Europe debt levels are falling and competitiveness is increasing. We are getting to grips with the problems. We Europeans need to believe in ourselves more. We should whine less, roll up our sleeves and get on with it.

6. Data protection: a fundamental right in Europe

In Europe data protection is an important fundamental right. For us Europeans security and data protection have always been two sides of the same coin. Striving for greater security cannot mean that fundamental rights can be set aside. The only place that offers 100 per cent security is prison!

I am fighting to ensure high European standards for data protection that can also find acceptance internationally. Recent events confirm that strengthening European data protection is not a luxury; it is a necessity if we are to restore people’s trust. Every day counts if Europe is to uphold its civil rights. I am counting on Germany’s support. Germany, with its high standards of data protection, must play a leading role.