We will be able to survive [as the EU] if the rule of law is maintained
First Vice President Frans Timmermans
The first ever cross-border German-Polish Citizens’ Dialogue took place on May 24, 2017, in Frankfurt/Oder. Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission, Elżbieta Polak, Marshal of the Voivodeship of Lubusz, and Stefan Ludwig, Minister of Justice, European Affairs and Consumer Protection of the State of Brandenburg spoke mainly about the future of Europe.
Much of the debate focused on the rule of law in Poland and the effects of populism in Europe and beyond. More than 250 people attended the event - approximately two thirds were Polish, one third German. The debate went on for 90 minutes; it was intensive and lively.
The debate kicked off with a short round of questions to the audience: were participants reasonably satisfied with the state of democracy in Europe (a majority voted yes), and did they feel well informed about EU matters (a majority voted also yes).
The first question from a student was on data protection: - What politicians can do to control the collection of personal data and deal with servers located outside the EU?
In his answer, Vice-President Timmermans pointed to Microsoft’s announcement that the company would use the standards set by the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for other parts of the world, too. - “In that sense, Europe is now setting the standards globally,“ Mr. Timmermans said. This was also very important with regard to artificial intelligence, which would rapidly come to have a huge impact on society.
Other topics were related to the future of Europe and to common social standards in the EU. For many participants social rights issues were of the utmost importance. If there was more social justice in Europe, there would be less nationalism – they declared. First Vice-President Timmermans agreed that populism was thriving because there was not enough redistribution of wealth and therefore there were too many people losing out.
Regarding the upcoming European elections participants were wondering “what can we do together in order to achieve higher turnout?” A citizen wanted to know whether the European Parliament should be given the right to initiate legislation? Frans Timmerman’s answer was a clear no „because the EU is not a state and will never be one, but a membership organisation. - ”
On the common European values and the rule of law procedure against Poland, the First Vice-President was also crystal clear: - “We will be able to survive [as the EU] if the rule of law is maintained. The EU legislation needs to be implemented into the Polish law, and we need to ensure an independent judiciary system in Poland. I am firmly convinced that the Polish government understands that the European Commission is determined to achieve this” – he said.
“What is the future of the Eurozone? What can be done to improve it?” – one participant wanted to know. - “ I am optimistic when it comes to the current situation – Frans Timmermans replied – “we have very little unemployment, growth is not as good as it should be, but the Eurozone will be stronger when the Banking Union is completed’ – he concluded.
For many participants it was a real effort to reach Frankfurt/Oder. Some of them came from Lublin (Poland) located almost 1,200 km from Frankfurt/Oder. As a gesture of gratitude, Frans Timmermans invited them to Brussels as his guests.
Before the Citizens' Dialogue in Frankfurt/Oder started, 30 German and 30 Polish students took part in a four-hour workshop earlier in the day. They focused on three central questions about the future of Europe: what holds Europe together; in which areas should the EU either do more or less in the future; and how can people play a part in shaping the future of Europe?