Once it was us who were the refugees. How do we know that it will never happen again?
- Vice-president Kristalina Georgieva -
On 8 February, European Commission Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva, in charge of Budget and Human Resources, debated with citizens in Amsterdam about the EU budget, the refugee crisis and the future of Europe. The audience, mostly composed of young people, also raised other topics such as the EU administration and the way the Commission communicates about the EU's many benefits for citizens.
Vice-President Georgieva kicked off the Dialogue by explaining that the the annual EU budget amounts to €145 billion, which is only about 1% of the wealth generated by EU economies every year. The net contribution from Dutch people is €125 per person per year.
As an example of how the European Commission is stretching the budget more and using flexibility, she said that the €30 million it gave to the UN World Food Programme not only helped the people in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, where the food aid was distributed, but also the EU farmers from which the powdered milk that was bought. Those farmers were also going through moments of difficulty due to the plummeting price of milk in Europe.
Throughout the debate there was a dynamic interaction between the Vice-President and the audience, with questions and answers coming in both directions. The Vice-President took the opportunity to ask participants their opinion on various topics such as the funding priorities for the EU and the future of Europe. She paid special attention to what a group of young students in the audience had to say about how to communicate better with young people using games and music.
Several young participants asked the Vice-President why the Commission is not communicating better to citizens, given that the good results are already there. Vice-President Georgieva acknowledged that communication has been built in an institutional way but said that the Commission is taking four steps to improve its image with voters: 1) Focus funding on value; 2) Better regulation; 3) Get out and communicate; and 4) Share success not just blame with Member States.
Replying to a question from a young Erasmus student of Indian origin about discrimination and violence against immigrants, the Vice-President said that Europe has to deal better with the 1.5 million refugees that have arrived in its territory. This should be achieved by being more generous with those in need while controlling our borders so that those who come with bad intentions do not get in and, finally, by better integrating those who come. "If something makes me lose sleep, that is nationalism, because it is discriminatory and it brings back memories of worse times in Europe", she said.
Asked about the need to cut administration and personnel costs in the EU institutions, the Vice-President explained that only 6% of the EU budget is spent on the functioning of its institutions. She described the reforms undertaken in 2004 and 2014 and the impacts on officials' purchasing power and work benefits. She also reminded the audience that very few people from richer countries like the Netherlands are applying for EU competitions because they get higher salaries in their home countries. She added that in the future, institutions could be made up almost only from officials from new Members States. "But we need people from all countries, with their experience and diversity".
On the question of federation and integration, she replied that in the medium term the EU will have to sort out the internal tension between those who want deeper integration and those who do not. The solution she favoured was one with different levels of integration in some areas and she mentioned the Eurozone as an example.
The event in Amsterdam was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.