As Single Market Month draws to a close, European Commissioner Michel Barnier took part in a one-hour public debate with European citizens.
During the debate, he responded to questions on topics such as employment, social rights, and banks and e-commerce. Here are some of the highlights.
Frédéric Bouchard, euronews
“The European Union is hindered by economic stagnation and mass unemployment, which is at 12 percent in the EU, but more than 26 percent in other countries.
“Michel Barnier, is the single market the solution to unemployment?”
A Single Market for Consumers
Michel Barnier, European Commissioner
“When we talk about the single market, we’re talking about 500 million European citizens who are consumers, and 22 million businesses, of which 80 percent are small and medium-sized enterprises – or SMEs.
“And these consumers and SMEs have been feeling for a long time that the single market is not made for them, but rather for the big companies. For three years I’ve wanted to reunite citizens and SMEs with the single market. So, we’ve drawn up and presented several laws to create what I’m calling a more favourable ecosytem for consumers and SMEs.”
“I’m now going to move over to one of our panel members for the next question to the Commissioner.”
Martin Kalani, panel member
“Hello Mr Barnier, I’m Martin Kalani, from Bremen Germany, working as a software developper. I want to present my idea to you. The idea is crowdfunding for European projects.
“Crowdfunding is the possibilty to raise money from people that like your idea by selling them products, profit shares, benefits before the project starts. Will it be possible for a citizen to invest in a European project? Could you imagine spending money for an internet-based crowdfunding platform for European projects?”
‘I believe in crowdfunding’
“I believe in this type of financing, which doesn’t really go through banks, on the condition that there are safety measures and guarantees.
“I’m currently working on a European framework for crowdfunding, to guarantee that Internet platforms designed for people’s savings are serious and secure for the people who place their money with them. There needs to be a certain transparency for customers and good governance.
“But, I do believe in this formula and my response is ‘yes’.
“So, let’s discuss what we mean by ‘European projects’. For example, crowdfunding will not be used to finance roads, buildings, or Internet networks. But, we can finance cultural projects; or social, economic and agricultural projects… And numerous projects are in fact already financed in this way.”
“Marie, do we have further questions across our social networks?”
Marie Jamet, euronews
“Yes, absolutely. On the theme of social rights, someone – via euronews.com – proposed the establishment of European social minimal norms. What do you have to say in response to this person?”
“Yes, I think that we must go in the direction of stronger social foundations. An example of this lies in the minimum wage debate that is currently taking place in Germany. I’m ready to work on these minimal social foundations – to build on them beyond what already exists.”
“You often raise the subject of social economy in the competitive market. Can you explain what this means?”
Ultra liberalism blamed for the crisis
“I can explain it by opposing it to another model that we have favoured for the past 30 years, the model of ultra liberalism.
“It’s throwing out the rule book and it’s this ultra liberalism that provoked the scandalous economic collapse and the financial crisis. Some bankers had an ‘anything goes’ attitude, and we allowed this. They paid themselves enormous bonuses, knowing that the taxpayers would pay the consequences.
“The social economy in the competitive market is something different: it’s competition; it’s market economy, but with each of our countries sharing the same social basis at a European level, a social protection system, a certain redistribution of funds. There is no sustainable economic performance without social cohesion.”
“International finance has seemed truly uncontrollable over the past few years. What lessons has the EU learnt from the 2008 financial and banking crisis?”
“I think our continent implemented the most G20 recommendations after the crisis, and we went the furthest in terms of creating sound bases for the financial markets.”
“Could the European banking system withstand a crisis, if one were to happen today?”
“We made good decisions and applied new laws. To be more precise, if all of these laws had been voted on and passed five or six years ago, there would have been a limit of three or four banking crises. By “crises”, I mean cases justifying public intervention, or the intervention of European citizens.
“I can’t say there won’t be further crises, and we have to remain constantly vigilant. But, equally, I can’t say that everything is in place because it takes a lot of time in parliament, and the Council of the European Union… We need two to three years to pass a law, and democracy runs more slowly than the financial markets. But, I think that we now have the structures in place to better withstand a crisis.”
“European taxpayers have paid the price, and their confidence in their banks has been rocked, which brings me to our fourth panel member’s idea…”
Kim Valentin, panel member
“Hi Mr Commissioner. We need better banks. I am from Denmark, my name is Kim Valentin.
“My idea is simply to rate the banks’ performance by a smiley system. If the banks don’t comply, they get a sad smiley, and the bank authorities already have this knowledge, so it is quite easy to impose.”
“I find your idea interesting and also strongly believe in a grading system. I think we could help the Consumers Unions to put this system in place at a trans-national level within the single market. We could support them and they could build on the rules we have created for the banking system, including new transparency measures for bank fees.
“Yes, why not create a smiley system?! In any case, I think it’s an initiative that should come from customers rather than a new bureaucratic or administrative system.”
“In 2012, e-commerce generated 312 billion euros’ worth of turnover. Could online business be a solution to the crisis?”
‘I want to make e-commerce safe’
“Yes. I think that there is potential economic growth with e-commerce, as it only represents six or seven percent of total commerce. However, we would have to knock down some concrete obstacles.
I have presented my proposals for this. For example, we must ensure online payments are secure.Thirty percent of citizens – and I’m sure some of them are among us today – do not trust card payments. And sometimes, they’re right to feel this way, because fraudulent transactions sometimes occur. So, I’ve proposed a law to reinforce the security checks and rules for bank payments and for credit card companies. “
“Many Internet users complain of delivery problems and costs…”
“I’m personally very interested in the issue of the quality and price of deliveries. A few weeks ago, I went to a very interesting meeting in Brussels, with postal workers from all over Europe and even Australia and America.
“They decided to work together on the project of a European single market for deliveries. They wish to lower delivery costs, which are too high; assure the security of deliveries so that they arrive on the date requested, and to also allow the return of items that have not conformed to what we ordered. So postal workers, who are the principal players in the delivery market, are working together and have made a common charter. I think we’ll see concrete and operational progress on this issue.”
“We can’t talk to you without asking about the next key date for European citizens. This is of course the elections, which will take place in seven months.
“In all likelihood, anti-Europeans will strongly progress. What will you do to give back some energy to the European idea?”
Shaping the future of Europe:
“If, as it stands, Europe doesn’t suit us, we must react and make changes. I think there are many changes to be made. I’m not smug but I can’t accept a speech in which we say “We cower, with every man for himself, every man behind any border.”
“Let’s look at the world as it stands. There are countries such as China, the USA, Russia, Brazil, India, who don’t need anyone. They have such big populations and resources that they are amongst the most powerful nations in the world.
“If we want to be up there with them, we need to be there as Europeans and patriots. That is what I’d like to say to the European citizens in the public debate, if we want to act on the world stage.”
To respond to people’s concerns, anguish and anger, we need jobs. We need to reduce the crisis, find growth again and we need to debate this. Those are my two responses.
“The novelty surrounding the election is that each European party is going to put forward their own candidate for the post of President of the European Commission. Is putting a name forward the key to avoiding abstention, and what is your personal ambition?”
“My ambition is to do the job I do today well, so excuse me for saying nothing further on the subject. In one way or another, I will participate in the public debate in 2014. I can’t tell you where I will be most useful, as that will depend on my party – the European People’s Party. They’re discussing this at the moment.
“However, I am ready to be useful and I will be in the debate as a patriot and as a European citizen. Yes, I think it’s a good idea to put a name forward for the appointment of the President of the European Commission, both before and during the election.
“And I hope citizens will vote in greater numbers than usual. At the same time, I hope they will vote to elect national MEPs and a President of the European Commission who align to their political choice and preference. I think that’s democratic progress.”