We have a historic opportunity as Romanians to make our voice hard. We would like to be the re-founding father of the EU
- Commissioner Corina Crețu -
The EU allows us all - in all regions and in all municipalities - to live a better life and it makes us stronger in the face of global challenges
- Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions -
On 7 September 2017, the Arcub cultural centre in Bucharest was the location for a Citizens' Dialogue with Commissioner Corina Crețu and Karl-Heinz Lambertz, President of the European Committee of the Regions. The passionate discussion with the audience focused mainly on what it means to be European; the future of the EU and Romania; the contribution of Cohesion Policy and its future after Brexit, as well as the responsibility of the regional and local authorities in defining the future of Europe. Through the survey "Reflecting on Europe", citizens who were not physically present were able to feed their thoughts about the EU into the discussion.
Commissioner Crețu kicked off the debate by explaining the Romanian authorities' responsibility in highlighting the benefits accruing from the EU. She called for the support of citizens and regional and local authorities alike to work hand-in-hand to defend Cohesion Policy, which provides for the narrowing of the gap between EU countries. She stressed that "regional and local politicians also need to do their work, and they should make sure the public is aware of the support they receive from EU funds."
In his opening remarks, President Karl-Heinz Lambertz underlined that the EU is not Brussels, but rather its over 510 million inhabitants in whichever region of the EU they may live in. He reminded participants that the European Union, which was recently awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize, is the greatest achievement of the continent, and brings numerous benefits to all its citizens. At the same time he also stressed that citizens need to be better involved in shaping the future of the EU.
The first contribution from the packed room came from the mayor of sector 3 of Bucharest, Robert Sorin Negoiţă. He explained that the very low rate of Euroscepticism in Romania may be due to the fact that politicians do not blame the EU for the country's shortcomings. He encouraged all mayors to explain to their people why it is important to be part of the European project.
Participants then raised the situation of Southeastern-European workers who are frequently discriminated against in Western-European countries and in practice they often lack equal opportunities. In his response, President Karl-Heinz Lambertz called for the respect of all workers and also highlighted the challenges posed by young, talented Europeans leaving their home countries.
He drew attention to the importance of offering possibilities for young workers in all regions, including rural areas and small villages. Commissioner Corina Crețu acknowledged the lack of opportunities for young people in rural Romania and pointed out the risk of a dwindling rural population. "Rural and urban development should go hand in hand, and we need to find better solutions for this", she explained.
Further questions and comments were made on better involvement of citizens in decision-making at all levels. "Politicians need to be in direct discussion with the citizens at all time", one participant said. In the ensuing debate, Commissioner Crețu and President Lambertz clarified that the European Union can only intervene in areas where it has competence, and although it encourages broad consultation by all national governments in all important questions, it cannot prescribe what governments should do.
The discussion continued on the future of the Cohesion Policy and participants voiced their concerns regarding the decrease in the EU budget following the departure of the UK from the EU. President Lambertz referred to the EU's Romanian presidency of the Council in 2019, which will play an important role in shaping the new European budget, and reiterated that Cohesion Policy must remain strong.
"We are ready to fight for the best possible outcome, yet we must not deceive ourselves or make promises we cannot keep", he warned. "We will need to consider how we can be more ambitious with fewer funds" Commissioner Crețu concluded.
The snap vote at the end of the Dialogue revealed that the first words that came to mind to most people in the audience about the EU were: peace, prosperity and unity.
The event in Bucharest was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.