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Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission: "Democracy is not an easy endeavour"

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Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission: "Democracy is not an easy endeavour"

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Getting people in the EU to buy into the European dream, particularly in the midst of the current economic crisis is proving difficult. However, despite resistance, the EU’s justice chief and Vice President of the Commission Viviane Reding believes that Europe will need the involvement of its citizens to survive.

Euronews spoke to her about the European Commission’s latest public consultation to do this as well as the ongoing political turmoil in Romania.

Paul Hackett, euronews:
Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission, welcome to euronews. Thanks for joining us. I’d like to start with the four month consultation which has been launched by the European Commission. The stated aim is to find out what problems people face in the EU. You’ve said the feedback you get will go directly into forming policy in the next few years – but given the existential crisis facing Europe at the moment: what do you realistically hope to achieve with this initiative?

Viviane Reding:
Europe is our common house and it cannot be built only by politicians, who then, when they have finished the building, say, ‘oh: would you like to move in?’ We have to build that together with the citizens, and I think one of the problems of the past was that we never asked citizens what they think about Europe, about their common house, about their living together with other people, the five hundred million, and it is high time that we change this.

euronews:
Would you accept that it (public consultation)doesn’t go anywhere near to addressing the big democratic deficit that currently seems to be lying in the heart of Europe?

Viviane Reding:
But, look, the democratic deficit is that citizens so far have the impression, rightly or wrongly so, that they have never been asked their opinion, so it is high time to start this and to build this up. These are the first steps, because now we will have a whole year of consultation, on the spot, in the cities, in the villages. And then we will have the European elections, where citizens are again asked to elect their euro-parliamentarians, but this time, knowing why they are electing them.

euronews:
This is all very well, but it’s going to take time, and the problem Europe seems to be facing at the moment is that it is running out of time: doesn’t it?

Viviane Reding:
That is why we start now at once. So that when comes the European elections they will know why they vote for this person, to represent them with this idea, in a reinforced European parliament…..

euronews:
If I may interrupt you. You know very well that the turnout at European elections has dropped every time that there has been European elections. People don’t connect with the European parliament!

Viviane Reding:
Absolutely. The European parliament has an immense power to represent the European people and people don’t know it. So the implementation of the voters, of the citizens, into this new Europe is very important. And that is why I’m so happy that most of the answers which we go now, the big majority people under the age of 30, we have to reconnect them with their future, and their future is being built now. With them, I hope, and not without them.

euronews:
But when you see the situation across Europe. The rise of extremist parties. Parties like Golden Dawn in Greece. Doesn’t it worry you, that the fact is, there isn’t enough democracy. People don’t feel Europe is accountable anymore and that’s why they are turning to these parties?

Viviane Reding:
And that is exactly why we have to give an answer. But this answer cannot be theoretical, it cannot be promises. It has to be very down to earth. It has to be that politicians are going out and are listening to the people. They are discussing with the people……

euronews: Are they listening?

Viviane Reding:
That is exactly what the European citizens is about, but we have start it, and this is the starting point of getting this involvement, and the feeling of belonging and responsibility because people are desperate when they turn to extremists and populists because they feel they are not heard. Nobody is taking account of what they believe, and that is the reason why we have to go out there and we have to listen to them, and we have to show them that yes we take account of what they believe, of what they dream of and of the Europe they want to construct together.

euronews:
I’d like to finally turn to Romania. How concerned are you about the current political turmoil that is currently taking place in the country?

Viviane Reding:
Very much so, and the whole Commission is, and the whole Council is. And you have seen the reaction which is very clear. Democracy is a good which needs to be preserved. We need independent courts. We cannot dismantle constitutional courts. And we have to respect what those courts say.

euronews:
What can Europe really do to make prime minister Victor Ponta stick to his promises?

Viviane Reding:
Well, I think a lot has happened. The fact that the constitutional court could render its decision and that its decision was applied. We have, I think, blocked the deviations. Things are quite now, things are not perfect but a least they didn’t go completely to an extreme.

euronews:
It’s not quite clear whether prime minister Victor Ponta is really listening!

Viviane Reding:
He’s a prime minister of a normally elected government. He has to play his role as a prime minister. Every democracy, whoever political party is in power has to respect the democratically constitutional setup of a country, and that is what we were working for. And I’m very glad to see that the whole the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, all united their voice in order to say no – Democracy is a wholly good and it has to be preserved, whoever is in charge.

euronews:
When you look back, don’t you think it was a mistake to let countries like Romania into the European Union?

Viviane Reding:
The Europeans took an historical decision. When Europe’s divide was eliminated and when those who had lived under the Communist dictatorship came back to freedom and independence, we told them that our door was open. Democracy is not an easy endeavour. Many of us in old Europe had decades in order to know how democracy functions. Some of the newcomers learn democracy by doing, in some years only. We have to help them, we have to give them a chance. Europe is a democratic organisation.

euronews:
So Europe could live with a dictatorship within it?

Viviane Reding:
No, I do not believe that. Europe could not do that. One thing is very clear – Europe is a democratic state. A state of states and this will continue and be reinforced.

euronews: Commissioner Reding, thank you very much.

Viviane Reding: You’re welcome.

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/opinion/your-rights-your-future/