(Watch the interview and Hangout On Air below)
Vice President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, is one of the most powerful women in Europe. Not afraid of courting controversy, in her role as Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Reding helps to make vital decisions affecting Europe.
As part of a special, interactive Global Conversation, Isabelle Kumar and Mark Davis interviewed Reding live on euronews. The interview was followed by a live Google+ Hangout in which a selection of your questions were put to her.
Reding’s reaction to the US spy scandal recently made headline news when she thanked fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden. Her comments strained EU-US relations – we asked her if she regretted them.
Reding said she regretted the US was spying on Europe and it is up to Europe to speak with one voice on the matter, so that it does not lose credibility on the world stage.
On data protection Reding said Europe is the best-protected continent in the world. The European Parliament will vote before April 17 to ensure new data protection rules are adopted before the elections in May.
She said the US needs to build up trust in order to have a partnership or trade deal with the EU – stealing citizens’ private data is “completely illegal in Europe, and we have to stop this.”
The issue of data protection also came up in our Google+ Hangout. Yves Le Roux, from France, wanted to know what would become of data transfer outside the EU.
Reding reiterated the policy of “one rule for one continent”, saying citizens have the right to have their privacy preserved and protected.
Bulgarian Maria Spirova, also speaking in the Google+ Hangout, asked what the EU’s policy on whistleblowing was and wondered what would happen to a European Edward Snowden.
Reding replied whistleblowing and its consequences are dealt with by national governments and are not covered by European treaties.
“In a democracy, it’s the majority that matters”, said Reding, when asked about freedom of movement. She added it was one of the most precious rights and was not up for negotiation.
Reding declared she will run in the May 2014 European elections, if her party asks her to.
Several other topics were raised in the Google+ Hangout, including: women’s rights; Roma people in Europe and freedom of movement; data protection; EU ‘citizenship’; the situation in Ukraine; independence for Catalonia and e-cigarettes.
Danielle Alpher, a US/Israeli viewer opened the questions by asking what new initiatives Reding is involved in for greater representation of women on boards, particularly at the European Central Bank (ECB).
Reding stressed the importance of having women, as well as men, in high-ranking positions. The ECB has an all-male board of council currently, however Reding says this is going to change. Two women have recently been nominated to replace outgoing members; Reding says the message has been heard.
Freedom of movement
Eszter Soos, a Hungarian who currently lives in France, had some pressing questions about the situation of Roma people in Europe. Of particular interest to her was the implementation of and political reactions to national strategies for the integration of Roma people throughout the continent.
Reding acknowledged the problems Romas often face in their own countries and said the European Commission has taken this in hand. The idea behind giving each member state their own Roma integration strategy is to get them out of poverty and their children into school, so the next generation of Romas “can lead a normal life.” She said dedication would be needed on the part of the member states, but the Romas will also have to want to integrate.
Romanian Paul Budurca was passionate about the treatment of his fellow citizens in the UK media, following the lifting of restrictions on the labour market in England. He asked why the EU tolerates UK politicians “demonising” and “defaming” Romanian nationals.
“We do not accept discrimination of any EU citizens”, Reding stressed, continuing “We all have the same rights and obligations.” During a recent debate on free movement in the European Parliament, an overwhelming majority agreed it is one of most important rights of European citizens.
Reding highlighted that “free movement” does not just include moving between borders, but also studying and working, and must not be prevented. However, she did say individual governments have a right to stop the illegal use of their social system and benefits.
The upcoming EU elections have raised questions about “EU citizenship”. Czech Republic national Jakub Kajtman wanted to know why the people of the EU should consider themselves “European citizens”.
Reding said national identity and European identity don’t contradict each other, but rather work together. While 507 million European citizens may have different customs and traditions, they all share the same rights.
Tension has been rife in Ukraine, and particularly in the capital, Kyiv, since the end of 2013 when President Viktor Yanukovych decided to scrap an EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with Russia. Ukrainian student, Timur Faradzhev, asked Reding for her opinion on the situation in Ukraine.
Expressing admiration for the Ukrainian people and their dedication, Reding said their voices are being heard and said: “We’ll do our utmost to ensure the dream (of entering the EU) becomes a reality.”
Independence for Catalonia
Independence for Catalonia is a hot topic in Europe, particularly as Catalans will vote on the issue in November 2014. Xavier Mir Oliveiras, a Catalan and member of the left-wing Republican Party of Catalonia, asked about his rights when voting. Will he be voting as an internal Spanish citizen, or as a European citizen with European rights?
Giving what she called “quite a complicated answer”, Reding affirmed that “the right to vote in the European treaties has been established for all European citizens in the European elections.” However, the right for referendum is a Spanish affair, she stressed, not a European one, so it has to be handled by Spanish laws, rather than European laws.
Following new laws restricting e-cigarettes, Martijn Voncken from The Netherlands wanted to know why consumers weren’t consulted before the motion was passed.
Again, Reding said it is up to the Member States to decide (individually) how to handle the classification of e-cigarettes, using the pun “there is a lot of smoke over this”. Reding did say that the European Union will not ban e-cigarettes.
Who is Vice President Viviane Reding?
A key voice in Europe, particularly where citizenship and your fundamental rights are concerned, Viviane Reding has been Vice President of the European Commission and also EU Justice Commissioner since 2010.