The event took place on 10 February 2014 in London, United Kingdom.
"It is about making informed decisions. Live up to the great tradition of debate in the UK!" European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding said in a Citizens' Dialogue that she held on 10 February 2014 together with the British Minister for Europe, David Lidington, in London's Royal Institution. The Faraday Theatre saw a discussion with some 300 citizens about Britain's role in Europe now and in the future.
Speaking during the debate, Vice-President Reding gave a strong message about the UK's place in Europe. "The UK has been shaping world history for centuries and can continue to do so as part of a European Union that collectively is a big player on the world stage," she said. "Half of the UK's trade is with the EU. The European Union is the largest economy in the world. Together, the EU and the U.S. make up 46% of the world economy. The UK alone: 3%. There is simply no other model that offers the same benefits and influence."
Members of the audience did not all agree, with one participant saying: "I don't want the EU, I don't want to be a European citizen and I don't want that Brussels opens up for more and more countries." For Minister Lidington, there was however a case to be made for a strong UK in a strong EU: "I want the UK as a part of a reformed Union which gives a stronger voice to the national parliaments and governments."
Asked about the impact of EU rules on the free movement of people, Vice-President Reding explained that the single market brings four fundamental freedoms, including the right to free movement, which cannot be separated from each other. She said: "You cannot have free movement of services and capital, but not of persons. You cannot have the right to establish your companies in Bucharest or Sofia but not accept workers from Romania and Bulgaria working in your country." At the same time, she empathised with concerns that free movement was placing an undue burden on national welfare systems: "I take these concerns very seriously. That's why I am working with national ministers to tackle abuse, curb false marriages, and clamp down on benefit fraud. We will not tolerate abuse."
Vice-President Reding also underlined the importance – whatever your political views – of voting in the upcoming European elections, saying: "There are 751 deputies to elect to the European Parliament in May, 73 of them from the UK. Together with the governments of the 28 Member States, they have a say on practically every law passed at EU level – 75% of EU laws are co-decided by the European Parliament."
Participants also asked about what the EU is doing to create jobs for young people, support social innovation and guarantee accessibility for people with disabilities. The fact that British citizens lose their voting rights after 15 years abroad, but also the issue that EU citizens who reside in the UK have no right to participate in the announced referendum on EU membership was also addressed by a number of citizens.
The Citizens' Dialogue in London was part of a series of over 50 debates in all Member States. Commission President José Manuel Barroso and practically all Commissioners are participating in discussions with citizens from all walks of life.
What are the dialogues about?
This dialogue is one of series the Commission is holding in cities in every EU country, giving ordinary people an opportunity to speak directly to EU politicians about their rights, the kind of Europe they want to live in, and expectations for the European Union.
They follow a call by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso for an EU-wide debate on proposals to deepen Economic and Monetary Union, and to create a legitimate political union.
“There must be a broad debate all over Europe. A debate of truly European dimension,” he said. “We cannot continue trying to solve European problems just with national solutions. This debate has to take place in our societies and among our citizens”.