Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Commissioner for Justice
Main Messages: Citizens' Dialogue in Sofia
Citizens' Dialogue/Sofia, Bulgaria
23 July 2013
1. The protests in Bulgaria
The political situation in Bulgaria is polarised. I make an appeal to all political forces in Bulgaria for dialogue and consensus for the stability and prosperity of the country.
The daily public demonstrations tell something very clear: there is a need for continued reform in the country. They indicate the deep concerns in Bulgarian society about the rule of law.
My sympathy is with the Bulgarian citizens who are protesting on the streets against corruption. Bulgaria must continue its reform efforts. And it is now the time to step up the efforts to reform its judicial system and fight corruption.
Modern democracies and vibrant economies are incompatible with oligarchies.
2. Youth unemployment
No person under 25 should have to wait more than four months for a job, a traineeship or an apprenticeship. The EU is providing more than €6 billion, and the Commission has proposed that this money is available already as of next year. What is important now is that national governments provide concrete proposals so that money can start flowing.
We need a truly European labour market. Finally at the end of 2013 the last obstacles for Bulgarian and Romanian citizens who want to seek work in other EU countries will fall. Those who want to look for work abroad should seize this opportunity of open borders. The Commission wants to make sure that EU citizens who want to look for work abroad in the EU should be able to receive their unemployment benefits from home for longer than three months.
3. Free movement
Free movement is very important to Bulgarians: for 74% of them, it is the most important and valued right which they associate with European integration (EU average is 52%).
I want to make it absolutely clear: Free movement is a fundamental right, and it is not up for negotiation. Let language not betray us: European citizens exercising their right to free movement are not 'immigrants'. European citizens have all the same rights. Let me also be clear that Roma people are EU citizens and as such have the right to free movement.
Populist rhetoric may win votes today, but the price would be paid by generations of European citizens tomorrow. This is why I expect national leaders to be firm and resist such populism.
I will continue to fight to uphold the fundamental right of free movement.
4. Mechanism for cooperation and verification/judicial reform
The cooperation and verification mechanism was a condition for accession, and it will remain in place until all the benchmarks agreed in 2006 are met. I want to stress the word "cooperation" in this mechanism. Cooperation is a two-way street. We are here to offer guidance and help also through the structural funds, but the necessary reforms must be done by Bulgaria, and they need to be consistent and firm to enhance professionalism, accountability and efficiency.
A strong and independent justice system is not a luxury but a necessary part of public life in a country. An efficient and trustworthy judiciary will improve the legitimacy by the public as well as bring economic benefit. Delivering results on the CVM is also a powerful tool to help restore the confidence of the citizens in the political and judicial institutions.
There are fears that external concerns about the pace of reforms in Bulgaria could affect the decision to allow it to fully join Schengen. Let me be clear: The Commission considers that both Bulgaria and Romania meet the technical criteria for the controls to be removed and for the two countries to fully join Schengen. What is needed now is a political decision and one that will be taken by all the Member States in the Council on the basis of unanimity.
I think Member States must be credible: if a country has delivered its part of the deal, it's time for the other national governments to do the same. That is what one should expect from EU partners.
6. Data protection
Data protection is a fundamental right in Europe and in Bulgaria (Article 8 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights – Article 16 of the Treaty and Article 32 of the Constitution of Bulgaria).
PRISM and the other recent data scandals have been a wake-up call. And I am glad that this wake-up call has created a consensus among all European institutions on the need to join forces for strong data protection rules in Europe.
The data protection reform is the EU's answer to PRISM and other violations of privacy. The reformed EU data protection rules will be an Anti-PRISM safeguard.
The new rules will ensure that the fundamental right of data protection in the EU is upheld. To strengthen that right further, the Commission has decided to assess the Safe Harbour Agreement that enables companies to transfer data from the EU to the US. This Safe Harbour may not be so safe after all.
7. Future of Europe
In my view, strengthening Europe's legitimacy can be best done by turning our Union into a United States of Europe. As in the U.S., we need a two-chamber system for the United States of Europe. A strong political Union with a strong government (the Commission) and two Chambers - the European Parliament and a 'Senate' of Member States. This European government must be accountable to the directly elected European Parliament.
I was encouraged to see that according to our public consultation last year about citizens' rights and the future of Europe, a majority of Bulgarian citizens participating said the EU should develop into a Political Union: 64%, while the EU average is at 31% only. That's a good start for the debate.
8. Media Freedom
I stand for a strong and free media. For me there is nothing better than a strong and free press to keep politicians sharp and on track.
Politicians should lead by example and show a high level of tolerance towards criticism and make sure that all voices – those they agree with and those they disagree with – are protected.
A free press is at the heart of every democratic society. I trust that the Bulgarian authorities will ensure that threats to journalists and to their physical integrity are not tolerated and that they are investigated.
9. Benefits of EU Membership
Free movement, access to the Single Market and access to the European Labour Market – all valued highly by Bulgarian citizens. Bulgarians who work abroad in the EU yearly contribute around 2 billion EUR to Bulgaria's economy. Following Bulgaria's accession to the EU foreign direct investment into the country shot up because investors gained trust and security. During some years foreign direct investments reached up to 2 billion EUR.
European funds have helped building infrastructure. A large number of farmers would not have survived without the European financial support.
Since 2007 Bulgaria's international and neighbourly relations have never been as good and stable – this also is a direct result of EU membership.