Nationalists hate the EU, because they need enemies. The real political competition is now between those who want open societies and those who want closed ones
Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s First Vice-President held his 20th Citizens’ Dialogue with some 250 citizens on 20 April, 2017 in the Museum of National Art of Romania in Bucharest. Key themes of the passionate debate, which was extensively covered in Romanian media and on the internet, were the rule of law, the need to prepare European societies for the “industry 4.0” and the fight against populism and re-emerging forms of nationalism.
A big part of the audience was concerned about the fight against corruption and the need to firmly establish the rule of law. The First Vice-President called upon the people in the room to appreciate the enormous progress that Romania has made in the last 20 years. A woman in the audience asked how the Commission could afford to challenge the situation about the rule of law in one Member State when it would not also address problems in others. Frans Timmermans referred to the Commission’s track record of procedures against a number of Member States where fundamental rights were an issue.
One of the 18,000 participants who followed the live web stream asked what benefits the EU membership has brought for Romania. First Vice-President Timmermans said that the 4th industrial revolution was shaped by continental powers such as the U.S. or China. Europe could play a strong role and shape its own future only if it was united. He emphasised that Romania, as an important part of the European civilisation, could fulfil its destiny in freedom as part of the European Union.
When asked by a young participant what his key message to first-time voters was, the First Vice-President called upon young people to take Europe as their natural habitat and to defend the Union and its values. Frans Timmermans warned that the EU as a man-made construction could be destroyed. He warned about falling back into Europe’s old traps, such as nationalism, xenophobia and exclusion. He urged the citizens in the room not to forget the real goal of the Union: sharing the same destiny. The rise of populism was not a consequence of the crisis since 2008 but of the fear of the middle classes.
In response to a question from a young participant whether Frans Timmermans would see a solution for the challenges of the future in more federalism, the First Vice-President identified the increasing disconnection in society as a key problem. Solidarity cannot be a one-way street. It needs to be expressed in solving the refugee crisis together, in budgetary discipline and in cohesion policy. In First Vice-President Timmermans’ eyes, stereotypes kill European solidarity.
The Dialogue ended with an optimistic look forward; First Vice-President Timmermans felt that we will be fine one generation ahead if young Europeans are willing to get mobilised for Europe.