People have to feel at ease in Europe
“We have to get rid of these centuries old systems of justice, which are very good per se, but on a given territory, not for cross border activity”. These are the words of Viviane Reding at the monthly lunch meeting organised by the Institute for Global Financial Integrity (TIGFI). The Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship also described the Commission’s latest legislative proposals to strengthen the Stability and Growth Pact. LFF interviewed Mrs Reding after her speech.
How big is your challenge as a Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship?
I am starting from scratch to build something, but fortunately I can rely on solid experience from the past. Throughout my life I have experienced people's problems, starting when I was a kid playing in the streets with children from Italy. That is where I learned about the problems of immigration. I gathered further experience as a politician on a local and national basis. There are a lot of things you learn about living together when you are constantly in contact with people. There is another point I want to stress: if you don't like people you cannot lead an active citizenship policy. My daily motivation is to achieve the goal that people feel at ease in Europe, wherever they live.
Do you understand critics saying that Europe is too bureaucratic and not citizen friendly?
I certainly understand all the criticisms that are being made but we shouldn't forget that a lot of things have been achieved too. I will give you one very emblematic example: we created the Erasmussystem which enabled millions of young people to study in another European country. This rewarding experience is not only about studying abroad, but also about getting to know a different culture. Since this European student exchange program has been a great success, I now want to create an Erasmussystem for judges and advocates in order to understand the decisions and the law system of colleagues working in other European countries. This system doesn't work in theory but only in practice when human beings from different European countries work together in order to understand the other's jurisdictions. Only then can mutual trust be build at a European level.
So you are striving to create Europe from the top down?
Yes, of course. The mission of the EU-Commission is to solve citizens' everyday problems. I like to quote the example of a person moving to another country and dying there. Many questions will then arise, for instance what happens with the heritage of the deceased and what legislation is applicable? As long as questions like these are not solved, it is obvious that Europe will be heavily criticized and I understand these critics. To me it is clear that Europe cannot work as long as these matters are being solved solely on a national basis.
What is the aim of the Commission's latest legislative proposals to strengthen the Stability and Growth Pact?
European economic government is unfortunately not yet as strong as its financial government. We experienced this during the financial crisis. We share a single currency and we have decided on measures to back the Euro in times of trouble. However, we have no system for controlling the budgetry policy of Member States. We need more consistency in this matter. It is not acceptable that budgetry austerity should prevail in one State and that money be thrown out of the window in another.
It is clear that national governments will still be controlled by their respective parliaments. The new element attached to this control is the fact that the budget of the Member States will prior to that undergo some tests based on an independent analysis made by the European Commission. We want to establish a system that is similar to the competition cases. Here the EU-Commission takes measures against companies following independent analysis.
The message of the EU-Commission is clear: if you don't abide by the common rules, penalties will be imposed
Solidarity in the European Union only can work properly if the Member States accept the application of controls in order to verify that they have applied common rules. The measures proposed by the Commission aim to strengthen the single European market, to eliminate distortions and to protect the Euro.
Our objective is not to punish Member States which don't respect the rules. The penalty is rather playing the role of the Sword of Damocles in order to discourage states to fool around.