Brussels, 21 March 2013
Future of Europe Debate: Vice-President Reding Face to Face with Citizens' in Thessaloniki, Greece
As the debate about the future of Europe and the consequences of the economic crisis is gathering pace, the European Commission is reaching out to different European towns to listen to citizens, their concerns and hopes for the future. On 22 March 2013, Vice-President Viviane Reding will be in Thessaloniki (Greece) to hold a debate with over 500 citizens.
"I am going to Thessaloniki to listen to citizens and to engage in a direct dialogue with them. There must be more discussions with the Greek people – and not just about them," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. "I am going to Greece as a friend. And friends must be frank: there is no alternative to the difficult reforms. They are needed in order to ensure that future generations won't pick up the bill for past generations' mistakes. The EU is helping in this difficult process."
The debate in Thessaloniki will take place in the central Conference Centre of Thessaloniki ("Velidio"). Thessaloniki is a fitting location: it is the second largest Greek city after Athens and one of the largest student centres in South-eastern Europe, host to the largest student population in Greece. Students are the next generation of leaders and the dialogue will be an opportunity for them to start taking a stake in their future.
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 Viviane Reding and the citizens. The dialogue will be opened by Vice-President Reding and Yiannis Boutaris, the mayor of Thessaloniki. Greek members of the European Parliament, Mrs Chrysoula Paliadeli, Mr Ioannis Tsoukalas and Mr Theodoros Skylakakis will also attend the debate.
What are the citizens' dialogues about?
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.
Vice-President Reding has already held debates in Cádiz (Spain), in Graz (Austria), in Berlin (Germany), in Dublin (Ireland) (see IP/13/2) and in Coimbra (Portugal) (see IP/13/129). Commissioner Andor held a debate in Naples (Italy), Commissioner Malmström participated in Citizens' dialogues in Göteborg (Sweden) and Turin (Italy) and Vice-President Tajani debated with citizens in Rome (Italy). 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.
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 Greece this figure is just 46% - though 63% of Greeks say they feel closer to citizens in other European countries as a consequence of the crisis.
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. For example, surveys show that around two in three Greeks say that they are not well informed about their rights as EU citizens. Whilst more than six in ten Greeks say that they want to know more about their rights as EU citizens.
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 have 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.
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. 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
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. 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.
European citizens should be able to voice their hopes and concerns before the European Parliament elections in 2014 and before any Treaty changes are proposed.
Currently more than half of Europeans (68%) feel that their voice does not count in Europe - this must change.
What will be the outcome of the dialogues?
The feedback from citizens during the dialogues will help guide the Commission as it draws up plans for a future reform of the EU. One of the main purposes of the dialogues will also be to prepare the ground for the 2014 European elections.
Next year’s elections to the European Parliament should be about European issues, and not about if the Greek or any other people have problems with their national government. There should be a more European dimension where the Greek voter knows that he is not just voting for a Greek political party but a family of parties that are following a political line in Europe.
In parallel to the dialogues, the Commission is also taking steps to enhance the democratic legitimacy of European elections. At the beginning of March, the Commission asked political parties to name candidates for the Commission President post (IP/13/215). The Commission would like to see a real European debate – with European Political Parties campaigning on a clear programme of their vision for the future of Europe.
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 Thessaloniki 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:
Twitter hash tag for the debates: #EUDeb8
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU
1. Greeks say EU best able to tackle the financial and economic crisis
Source: EB Standard 78 EL National report
2. Greece sees same positive results as the rest of Europe
Source: EB Standard 78 EL National report
3. Fewer than half of Greeks feel they are a citizen of the EU
Source: EB Standard 78 EL National report
4. Fewer than four in ten Greeks feel informed on rights as EU citizens
Source: FL 365 "EU Citizenship" p22 (Fieldwork Nov 2012/Published: Feb 2013)
5. People in Greece are least likely to feel well informed about the EU
Source: Eurobarometer Standard 78 National report