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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 20 September 2012

President Barroso answers citizens' questions on the State of the Union - LIVE Euronews "I talk"/ Google+ Hangout

Interviewer: Welcome to this special live edition of iTalk here on Euronews, produced in cooperation with Google+Hangout.

This time last year, Europe was in crisis. The President of the European Commission answered your questions here on iTalk. One year on, Europe is still in crisis, you still have questions, but will the answers be different?

José Manuel Barroso, thank you very much for coming on to iTalk live on Euronews. My first question is: something has changed. I don’t know if you saw the German newspaper, Die Welt, on Monday, there is a new opinion survey out, and Germans, 65% of Germans think that they would be better off outside the Euro, 49% of Germans don’t want to be in the European Union - not talking about their politicians, the Germans themselves. This is serious because they pay.

José Manuel Barroso: Look, of course when there is an economic crisis, it's only natural that the levels of confidence in the European Union go down. We are very well aware of that. But I believe that we can change the situation if we have solid solutions for the current crisis. And I believe that in the response to the crisis we are making progress. We are not yet out the crisis, but I think we are now closer to a solution than we were one year before.

Interviewer: Ok, let’s see what the solutions are that you are suggesting. Now, we have various people live, thanks to our Google+ technology, and let’s say hello to them straightaway. We have Christos, a Greek living in Dublin, who’s from the network Debating Europe. Christos is here with us to ask his questions.

We also have David, who’s British, he’s in Edinburgh, he has a question, I’m sure he’ll be asking you a question about Scottish independence, and we also have Giuseppe, he’s an Italian living in Brussels, he is the President of the European Youth Forum.

So, just a reminder of the principle of iTalk: very quick questions – very short answers, so we can get a maximum of subjects covered.

Let’s go over to Giuseppe, who has our first question for President Barroso.

Giuseppe: President Barroso, 22% of the young people of EU are unemployed, and the youth unemployment rate is over 50% in Greece and Spain. The Commission has made positive steps to work on quality internships and a youth guarantee. However, there has been less focus on precarious jobs. What will you do to ensure that young people can find quality and stable work and when will you stand up for the employment and social rights of young people in this area of austerity?

José Manuel Barroso: Yes, that is one of our priorities. It’s precisely the problem of employment and specifically youth employment. The best way to have sustainable employment and not precarious employment is precisely our countries to stimulate growth, and growth can come with confidence and also with the structural reforms that give our countries competitiveness. That is why to solve the issue of euro area confidence is so important, because only then you will have the necessary investment. And also some of our countries, and Greece is indeed one of the important examples, need to reinforce their competitiveness.

Now, apart from that there are some specific programmes the European Union is working on. Yes, we have created a youth guarantee; yes, we have now with some of our governments, eight countries indeed, made a redeployment of the structural funds so to promote youth employment, especially in SMEs. But the critical issue is how we can reform the euro area and our economies so that they can become more attractive in terms also of investment and new employment.

Interviewer: So back on message with growth. Isn’t it a little bit difficult though to have confidence when we changed the message? I mean, since you were here the last time, because of Président Hollande, we are all talking about growth now, it seems to be part of the new message.

José Manuel Barroso: No, I’m sorry, but even before President Hollande we had our European Agenda, “Europe 2020 for Growth” – sustainable, inclusive growth. It is true that because of the crisis and because of the urgency of the crisis in the financial sector, we have been discussing more this kind of emergency measures, but our goal was growth and remains growth, I mean sustainable growth.

Interviewer: Ok, we now have a written question. This is from moscafly2, who is a Portuguese, from Funchal. The question ¬– now I give you the English version – is: We are coming to end of another year of economic crisis and the formula that was imposed on countries needing help has clearly not worked. What will you do to change this situation and to prevent more countries from falling into the trap of recession?

José Manuel Barroso: Look, first of all nobody is imposing solutions in the countries – I want to make this clear. When the European Commission makes a programme, or discusses a programme, it is with the agreement of the country and at the end it is the countries themselves, all the euro area countries, that have to approve it. So we make the assessments and afterwards we make some proposals, but the decisions, these decisions are taken by the countries themselves.

Interviewer: But when you are creating this supranational idea of a bank supervisor, which is going to control the European banks, you are imposing solutions, you are imposing solutions on Greece.

José Manuel Barroso: We are proposing. The decision is not going to be taken by the European Commission. We have to put forward the proposal and now it’s for the Member States, for instance in terms of this single supervisor, to adopt it or not by unanimity. I want this point clear, because some people believe that this crisis is indeed generated to some extent by the European Union or by the euro. This is not true! We have countries that are not in the euro area that have indeed a big crisis also in their financial sectors.

Interviewer: Is it what you say that our institutions are not up to it sometimes. The creation of the euro has created a crisis in confidence which perhaps wouldn’t it have been there otherwise.

José Manuel Barroso: No, I don't agree, I'm sorry. Let me give you an example. The country that has mobilised more tax-payers’ money so far in Europe has been Britain, by far. So, there is a crisis in the financial sector, there the Government, the tax-payers had to intervene massively, and Britain is not in the euro area. Or Iceland – basically there was a default, a failure of Iceland and they are not even members of the European Union.

So, it is true that we have specific challenges in the euro area, because we were not prepared institutionally with all the instruments to face the situation, but it is not true that it was the euro that created the crisis. This is way, responding to the question, I have to say that our programme, prepared with the countries, and not imposed on them, is – I believe – smart enough and there is flexibility sufficient to adapt them to the current conditions, so that we can, of course, as much as possible, make them effective and not make them as painful as they are.

Interviewer: Ok, let’s go over to Christos, he’s Greek himself, I’m sure he has a question, he’s listening to you. What’s your question live from Dublin, Christos?

Christos: Good evening from Dublin! President Barroso, what next for Greece now. The government have brought the country to its knees, both socially and financially. Are we anywhere near the end of the tunnel? You spoke about growth stimulus and what will that involve, we’ll see new industries, new factories? How are we going to deal with unemployment? We can deal with salary cuts, as long as we have jobs. Thank you!

José Manuel Barroso: Well, first of all it’s important to understand why Greece came to this situation. It was not because of the European Union. Greece came to this situation because of unsustainable debt and deficits accumulated over the years. So, in fact what the European Union is giving is an opportunity to Greece to avoid default. Now, I understand that some of these adjustments are extremely painful and in fact the Greek people have been making a huge effort. Sometimes people underestimate the great, the great efforts made in terms of, for instance, of salaries and other matters. Now I believe that it is critically important for Greece, and also for the euro area, that Greece remains in the euro area, so that these new measures are adopted as soon as possible and that we are at the same time working proactively, for instance, with the utilisation of all the funds, also with the promotion of some of the reforms for Greek competitiveness, so that Greece restores confidence ¬– this is critically important, because only with this confidence we’ll be able to create sustainable jobs for the young people and not only for the young people.

Interviewer: Ok, we also have quite a lot of video questions sent in to Euronews. Here is one from Irish Homeowners.

Video question: This is a question on behalf of Irish Homeowners. We would like to know if the European Commission is aware of the bank’s lack of engagement or workable solutions for mortgage holders. The Irish are struggling with totally unaffordable levels of mortgage debt on their family home. If so, do they have a supervisor mechanism to address such issues? Thank you.

José Manuel Barroso: That’s an important question because in fact, everything that happened in the financial sector in Ireland, but not only in Ireland, in all of our Member States, was under the responsibility of the national supervisors.

Interviewer: But why didn’t the European Commission, the European Union, the European Parliament say something about it at the time?

José Manuel Barroso: Simply because we did not have the competence and we did not know. We did not know.

The reality is that many of the developments in the financial sector, they were only reviewed now, because to some extent, the national supervisory systems were not open enough. That is why it is important to have a single supervisor, working of course with the national supervisors, a single supervisor at least for the euro area but if possible covering all the European Union; because what failed was not the European supervision. That did not exist, we are now creating it. What failed was not only the governments with excessive deficits, but also in many cases the supervisors, and in the financial markets things happened that are simply, I mean, sometimes unimaginable, that is the reality, starting with the Lehman Brothers case but also what happened in many of our countries.

Interviewer: But aren’t you worried because Angela Merkel has been saying this week that she doesn’t agree with the timing of the bank agency – you want it for the 1st of January next year, she says, no no no that’s way too soon.

José Manuel Barroso: No, I think, I mean about timing…I’m always prudent about timing. What I can tell you is that I believe we are going to have this single supervisory because it was in fact a very good proposal by the Commission, and Member States understood that things could not continue as they were. So there are some differences, but I believe we are going to have a single supervisor rather sooner than later.

Interviewer: Okay, let’s go back now to Christos with another live question, you’re watching Euronews live from Brussels. Christos.

Christos: Hello. President Barroso, how can Europe deal with the rating agencies and their demands for the press for the markets? Would the creation of a European rating agency help? And how could we recollect the banks in Europe? Thank you.

José Manuel Barroso: There is already an EU regulation put forward by the Commission 2011 but we are now precisely studying the possibility to reinforce this regulation of the rating agencies, and I believe this is important.

About a European rating agency, if there is an initiative in that sense I think it’s positive, I think the more competition there is in that market, the less dependent we are of a small group of rating agencies, the better. But I believe it is not for the European institutions as such to create their own rating agency. It is very important that the rating agency comes also with the confidence of the market, and certainly this will not be the best solution to have now, the creation by estate or by European Commission of a specific rating agency.

Interviewer: Okay, I can see that – it’s a bit like the European Song Contest, we have all the people from different countries – Giuseppe, I think you have a question live on Euronews.

Giuseppe: We are worried that despite all the initiatives taken in the emergence of the crisis by the Commission there is still not enough investment and in the future of the continent at the moment. Now, how can you help us to convince the Member States to focus on growth in the next budget cycle of the European Union?

José Manuel Barroso: Just today, I had a meeting here in the Commission with the President of the European Council, the President of the European Parliament and the President of Cyprus where they have the rotating Presidency precisely to discuss how can we have a budget for growth and investment in Europe.

Because I think it is a contradiction when some governments say they are in favour of growth and investment, and afterwards they want to reduce the investment at a European level. Many of these programmes are critically important for our young people, for instance investment in research, and education. Also the funds for cohesion namely in the most affected countries. Once again I want to make the point, we are all of us in this together. The Commission can make the proposals, but we need the support at the end of the Member States, and the 27 countries have to agree unanimously on the new budget, and also the European Parliament.

But I believe now there is a greater awareness of the need to have a budget focussed on growth and investment including of course for young people as you have underlined. And I am sure we are going to have a compromise, I hope, a compromise that is, let’s say, compatible for the ambitions that we have for our young people.

Interviewer: We all know the figures of youth unemployment in countries like Spain, for example. What would be your advice to somebody who’s qualified, but simply can’t get a job?

José Manuel Barroso: Look, it depends on the position the person has.

First of all, try to find a job in the country itself. Namely, because of the very important opportunities that sometimes can be created there. If the person has not the possibility immediately to find in the country, there are possibilities in Europe. We have now developed a system called EURES jobs, there are some possibilities of jobs sometimes in the country next door. But of course, what a person has to do for that is to invest heavily in his or her own education first, I think this is a possibility, as still the possibility of getting more investment in education is good, if he has to go immediately for the job there are some specific programmes that all the national administrations have, and some countries, as I’ve told you, the European Commission made a redeployment together with the Member States for the structural funds, and with our support to training and on-job training; we have covered more than 400 000 young people.

But of course I have not the magic solution to create jobs; this has to come from economy itself.

Interviewer: Okay, still with Google + hangout Technology, we’re going live to Edinburgh where I think David has a question. Hello.

David: Hello. President Barroso, you’ve spoken of creating a federation of nation states. Given the anxieties about the current economic crisis, how successful will the EU be in pushing for further integration?

José Manuel Barroso: Look, I think it is important to be honest with our people.

I think the future of Europe is through more integration. In the globalisation age, our countries, even the biggest countries, they will not be up to the job, they cannot deliver, because the problems are more and more transnational and the solutions remain national. Even the biggest countries of Europe, when we see our American friends or China or other global giants, they will not have the leverage.

That’s why we need more integration in Europe – with more integration comes more democracy. And the federation is a democratic solution for this unity. Because it keeps nations, our countries, but at the same time we find some rules of sharing the power, sharing sovereignty.

Now, I have not said the federation is for tomorrow; I’m realistic. I’m suggesting some concrete steps, for instance a banking union, to have a single supervisor – that’s a concrete step. But we should have a horizon we should be honest. What do you think in the medium term? What is our vision for the future? And I believe it’s a federation of nation states as the best way to ensure integration and democracy at the same time.

Interviewer: I think President Barroso that some people don’t quite understand quite. They think it’s sitting on the fence because they hear federation and then they hear nation-state. They think it’s a bit of a contradiction. Howe do you define a nation-state?

José Manuel Barroso: A nation-state is Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Ireland. These are nation states.

Interviewer: So that sense of national identity?

José Manuel Barroso: These are countries, some of them exist as countries since centuries,, and I believe it’s a mistake to create Europe against our countries. Because for most European citizens, their first loyalty or their first reference is their country.

So it’s a mistake that sometimes people make to attack the countries. But at the same time, we need to understand in the 21st century, if we don’t create and reinforce something bigger, that is the European Union through a federation, our countries, alone, on their own, they will simply not be able, for instance, to deal with the financial sector, because the financial sector is transnational, and they will not have the leverage to deal with other powers.

That it is why it is a federation, in the sense that it is for all of those who want to participate, but it is based on the nation-states, having in mind that the goal is the persons, the important thing is citizens, not the nations or the federation.

Interviewer: …there’s going to be a lot of nation-states soon, I mean you know that last week, one and a half million people in Catalonia went on the streets saying we want an independent country.

David is here from Scotland, Scotland is very likely going to have a referendum and may be independent from Great Britain. You’re going to have more and more of these nation states.

José Manuel Barroso: Certainly you don’t want me now to interfere in those discussions in Britain or in Spain. No, it’s for them to decide. What I want to say for the nation states that exist, we should have a federation, and now I very much respect the democracies in our countries and it’s up to them to decide how they organise themselves.

Interviewer: I see that David wants to ask another similar question which comes from this. David?

David: Yes. How concerned are you about the surge in nationalism, how will it impact on the European Union as it is?

José Manuel Barroso: I think that what usually is called nationalism, so the extreme, let’s say, attachment to a country against the others, this chauvinist attitude is negative, and we have seen in the history of Europe what nationalism could create. We had two awful wars, the so called two World Wars which were here in Europe in the 20th century not many years ago. So, extreme nationalism, like xenophobia, like racism, like extreme populism, this is negative.

Now this is precisely why we need to combine what we can consider a positive thing, it’s patriotism, the love of our country, with the citizenship of Europe. And it’s why I think it is important that the leaders also at national level, not only at European level, explain this, because I think a majority of all people don’t want those extremist forces, from the extreme populisms or nationalists to win. I think most of the citizens are proud of their countries, but at the same time they understand that the European Union is something that adds value, that helps them defend their values and their interests.

Interviewer: Do you think that everybody has the right to be represented at European level, for example the extremes, the extreme right, perhaps the extreme left, does everybody have the right to be represented in the European Parliament?

José Manuel Barroso: Yes. I mean, except some parties that are, it depends on the legislation, in some of our countries also it is not allowed to have, let’s say, Nazi party types, parties that have in their programme just hatred, and the promotion of hatred, or racial prejudice, this is not acceptable. But yes, we also have, we already have in the European Parliament parties that are very critical of European integration, that are not only Eurosceptics but they are sometimes nationalist parties. I mean, a democracy we have to listen to all Europeans, but I am absolutely confident that there is in Europe, from the centre-left to the centre-right to the centre, a clear majority in favour of democracy, avoiding the extremes of nationalism, or populism.

Interviewer: We had a lot of questions on this and next subject, Sarah is Italian, she lives in Brussels, she sent in a video, this is her question.

Sarah: Hello, this is Sarah. I am Italian but I live in Brussels, I would like to ask President Barroso if he thinks that a direct election of the President of the European Commission could help to bring the citizens of other European institutions closer, and in this case, what should be the role of the European parties? Thank you.

José Manuel Barroso: I think a direct election will be good, it’s not possible according to the current treaties, that is why I’ve proposed in my State of the Union speech recently in the European Parliament that even before that change, the political parties present their candidates to the elections in 2014, that there is a platform, so that we have an election that is not, as it has been very much in the past, European elections, but in fact with 27 different national campaigns, but we have also a European campaign promoting a European public space, a European political system…

Interviewer: That’s extremely hard, any country that tries to do that, people are not interested in the European issues, most people vote locally, don’t they?

José Manuel Barroso: They vote locally, but now, and that’s, interestingly, one of the paradoxical developments of the crisis, more and more people are discussing Europe. Sometimes criticising Europe, but I can tell you that in the cafés of Athens, people discuss what is happening, what is the discussion in Germany, and in Germany, not only the elites, but the people discuss what are these Greeks doing.

So there is a debate going on. Now, are we going to be able to win that debate? I believe we are, if the national leaders and the politicians, instead of just trying to blame the others, have the courage to explain what we have to gain with the European Union, and what we will lose if we don’t have the European Union.

And this is why I think the elections of 2014 are very important and that some of the parties that should leave their comfort zone and have the courage to engage in the debate. I’m for democracy and for open debate, but it’s true that in the past European integration was very often made by implicit consent of the citizens. This time it’s over. We are now in the open world of the Internet; we need to win the hearts and minds of our citizens, and this is why I believe to have political parties that are really European and not just national. It is important, and by the way the Commission put now a proposal, a legislative proposal to reinforce European parties as such.

Interviewer: Ok, well you talked about the internet, I think Duarte on video sending a question, which preoccupies a lot of the younger viewers on iTtalk. Let's have a listen.

Eduarde: There is a democratic crisis in Europe. I believe that the main reason for this is that us, European citizens, feel that Brussels is not responding to our concerns. One example of this is the current efforts to censor the Internet and bringing in force legitimation to clamp down on our freedoms without proper democratic scrutiny and in many cases on behalf of powerful corporations. So, my question is this: what will you do to stop the next ACTA from being forced upon us, when us, European citizens, have clearly spoken out against this?

Interviewer: ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement which is very controversial, intellectual rights. Are we going to have the internet censored, , are we going to have news or download music and so forth.

José Manuel Barroso: This is very interesting debate and a very difficult issue. All the governments of Europe asked us to conclude ACTA. ACTA , because it is important to protect intellectual property rights, because our prosperity is based on innovation, and without defense of our proper intellectual property rights, it's difficult to have this kind of innovation.

So, our intention was never, and will never be to restrict in any way the freedom of expression. For me, the freedom of expression, the media freedom is a sacred right, it's one of the most important issues, by the way, we have it in Europe, and we don't have it in many parts of the world. Having said this, when there were doubts about this, we sent the ACTA to the European Court of Justice to analyze the situation and this is a situation we are now in and I believe in two political debates about this.

How can we promote at the same time freedom in Internet, not restrict, but at the same time, to guarantee for the creators, for the artists, for the writers, the right also to have their intellectual right respected. I think it's a very important debate and we should engage in this debate and…

Interviewer: Who decides how much they should be paid?

José Manuel Barroso: It is decided at the end by the democracies, so we have democratic system in all our Member States and in the European Union as well, and I think we should find a good compromise on that, because it is a very challenging issue and, let me tell you, there is not an easy solution.

Just two days ago I have received here very important filmmakers, musicians, writers from all over Europe and they are concerned about the fact that now their rights to their creations are not respected. So, we have to find a right balance without restricting, of course, the freedom in the Internet, that's a great advantage, to have a way to say to a writer that yes, your rights, you intellectual creation, if you're an artist, or musician, will be respected.

Interviewer: I have a final question, which resumes a quiet a lot of the questions were coming in more general level.

When we see Americans, they hold their hands at their heart, that they are proud to be Americans, what must we do so that the Europeans feel so proud once again to be Europeans. We don't at the moment, just aware of the crisis elements. How can we make Europeans feel pride when they hear the European anthem for example. You have 30 seconds to tell us.

José Manuel Barroso: Look, I think it's important to reinforce the emotions, the emotional connection to Europe, but this cannot be done artificially. This is why I think it is important to explain, to discuss issues in a democratic way. I am proud to be European, because we have in this continent, some of the most decent societies in the world. We should be proud of our democracy, of our social market economy. We should also avoid any kind of arrogance. I don't like this kind of "We are proud because we are better than others", but I think through debate, through democracy, we can be proud of being Europeans without making any kind of a decree to be proud to be Europeans, because we have more reasons to be proud than to be, let's say, frustrated by our Europe.

Interviewer: OK, Mr. Barroso, thank you very much indeed. Thank you to all viewers who came in live. That was Giuseppe, Christos and David. Thanks to technology Google+Hangout. Thanks to the European Commission for use of its audiovisual services. You can see this program again on our website which is euronews.com. It's changed recently and it's keeping those questions coming for iTalk. See you soon from Brussels. Bye.

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