Brussels, 20 February 2013
Future of Europe Debate: Vice-President Reding Face to Face with Citizens' in Coimbra, Portugal
As the debate about the future of Europe is gathering pace, the European Commission is reaching out to different European towns asking citizens directly for their views. On 22 February 2013, Vice-President Viviane Reding will be in Coimbra (Portugal) to hold a debate with over 200 citizens about their expectations. The debate will feed into the upcoming Citizenship Report 2013 and accompany the work on the Commission's proposals for treaty change to shape a stronger European Union for the future.
The coming months and years will be decisive for the future course of the European Union. Since the State of the Union Speech by Commission President Barroso in September (SPEECH/12/596), the debate about the future of Europe is in full swing: At the end of last year the Commission presented a Blueprint for the development of Economic and Monetary Union (see IP/12/1272), which was followed by a report by the four Presidents of the Council, of the Commission, of the Eurogroup and the ECB. Before the European elections in 2014, the Commission will come forward with its proposals for political union.
"We're giving citizens in Portugal the unique possibility to tell European decision-makers directly about their worries and dreams for the future of the European Union and Portugal's future within that Union. This is a new way of making policy: involving citizens before taking political decisions that directly impact upon their daily lives," said Vice-President Viviane Reding. "Democratic legitimacy is the key for any ambitious policy agenda. I will listen to what citizens in Portugal have to say about how we can learn from past mistakes and what we can do better in the future. Having such an open dialogue is even more important in a country like Portugal, where citizens have made huge sacrifices to ensure that future generations won't pick up the bill for past generations' mistakes. National reform efforts are bearing fruit and I am encouraged to see that optimism in Europe is growing. However, challenges remain and optimism must not lead to complacency. The Commission will support further reform efforts in Portugal. I have for example sent experts from my justice department to help the Portuguese authorities implement an ambitious reform of the justice sector which will improve investor's confidence and will therefore have a positive impact on the business climate."
In January, the European Commission kicked off the European Year of Citizens (IP/13/2), a year dedicated to citizens and their rights. 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of EU Citizenship, which was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, and it is also one year before the European Parliament elections in 2014. Throughout the year, members of the Commission will hold debates with citizens about their expectations for the future in Citizens' Dialogues (townhall meetings) all over the EU.
The debate in Coimbra will take place in the historic Universidade de Coimbra, which is one of Europe's oldest and most prestigious universities. Vice-President Reding will speak in the renowned “Salle des grandes acts” (Sala dos Capelos) of the University, a room traditionally reserved solely for the Dean and recipients of honorary doctorate.
The economic crisis and its impact on people's daily lives, EU citizens' rights and the future of the Union will be at the centre of the debate between Vice-President Reding and the citizens. Portuguese Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) Regina Bastos and Vital Moreira will also participate, as well as Luxembourg Member of Parliament Félix Braz. There will be a video link to Coimbra's partner city of Esch-sur-Alzette in Luxembourg, which has an important Portuguese population. The mayor of Esch-sur-Alzette, Lydia Mutsch, will greet the participants in Coimbra.
What are the citizens' dialogues about?
A lot has been achieved in the twenty years since the introduction of EU Citizenship: A newly published EU survey shows that today 63% of citizens feel "European" (in Portugal: 59%).
Across the EU, citizens are using their rights on a daily basis. Europeans are benefiting from increased protection on cross-border purchases, guaranteed treatment in other EU Member States through the European Health Card and cheaper roaming charges all thanks to European legislation. But people are not always aware of these rights. The new EU survey shows that just over one third of EU citizens (36%) feel well informed about their rights as EU citizens (in Portugal: 32%).
This is why the Commission has made 2013 the European Year of Citizens, a year dedicated to citizens and their rights. The aim is two-fold: Half of the work will be about explaining – explaining what it means to be a European citizens and the rights that people enjoy by virtue of being a European citizen.
And the other half will be about listening. Throughout the year, Vice-President Reding and her fellow Commissioners will join forces with national and local politicians in holding debates with citizens all across Europe in all member states – to listen and answer their questions.
European politicians will be engaging in a direct debate with citizens about what they want, how they feel about their rights and where they want to see the Union progress to in the next ten years. European citizens’ must be able to voice their concerns and prepare the ground for future elections.
Vice-President Reding has already held debates in Cadiz (Spain) with local mayor Teófila Martínez Saíz and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Teresa Jimenez-Becerril, in Graz (Austria) with Austrian Vice-Chancellor Michael Spindelegger, in Berlin (Germany) with the social-democrat Member of the European Parliament Dagmar Roth-Behrendt and in Dublin (Ireland) with the Irish Minister for European Affairs Lucinda Creighton. Commissioner Andor held a debate in Naples (Italy) and Commissioner Malmström participated in a Citizens' dialogue in Göteborg (Sweden) and will be in Turin (Italy) on 21 February. Many more Dialogues will be held all over the European Union throughout 2013 – which will see European, national and local politicians engaging in a debate with citizens from all walks of life. Follow all the debates here: http://ec.europa.eu/european-debate.
Why is the Commission doing this now?
Because today Europe is at a cross roads. The future of Europe is the talk of the town – with many voices talking about moving towards political union a Federation of Nation States or a United States of Europe. For the Commission, it is essential that European citizens have their say in this debate, that that they have a stake in their future before the European Parliament elections in 2014 and before any Treaty changes are proposed.
More than half of Europeans (68%) feel that their voice does not count in Europe - this must change.
12.000 citizens participated in one of the largest online public consultations about citizens' rights and the future of the European Union (IP/12/461). Of the participants who described in their own words how they would like the EU to develop in the near future and how it should look in 2020, one-third (31 %) said they envisaged the EU as a Political Union (see Annex).
Vice-President Reding said: "We have to build our European house together with the citizens, not build it and only then ask them if they want to live in it. We need the direct involvement of citizens in building a stronger and more political Union. European citizens’ must be able to voice their concerns and prepare the ground for future European elections."
What will be the outcome of the dialogues?
One of the main purposes of the dialogues will be to prepare the ground for the 2014 European elections.
The feedback from citizens during the dialogues will help guide the Commission as it draws up plans for a future reform of the EU. On 29 November 2012, the Commission already outlined its Blueprint for moving towards full economic, monetary and budgetary union, and the Presidents of the European Council, European Commission, Eurogroup and European Central Bank issued a joint report on 5 December 2012. The Commission and the other institutions are now working on a roadmap for Political Union. Citizens need to have a say in the debate about the future of the European Union and the dialogues will be one way of giving them a voice and a platform for discussion.
Meanwhile, the European Commission is also working to remove obstacles frustrating citizens. The EU Citizenship Report 2010 (see IP/10/1390 and MEMO/10/525) outlined 25 concrete actions to tear down remaining barriers EU citizens face when exercising their right to free movement in the EU. One of these is to strengthen people's awareness of their EU citizenship status, their rights and what these rights mean in their daily lives.
During the European Year of Citizens, around 9 May 2013, the Commission will publish a second EU citizenship report, which will take stock of the 25 actions outlined in 2010 and will outline 12 new concrete actions to address remaining problems that EU citizens still face. The issues raised during the online public consultation and during the dialogues will feed into this report and shape the Commission's citizenship policy.
For more information
Further information on the Coimbra dialogue:
Debates with citizens on the Future of Europe:
European Year of Citizens:
Europeans have their say: Results of the consultation on EU citizens’ rights:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU
1. EU seen as most effective actor to take action against the crisis
2. A majority of citizens feel "European" and are familiar with the concept of "EU citizenship"
3. How well EU citizens feel informed about their rights
4. How EU Citizens would like the EU to develop in the near future and how it should look in 2020: