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Europe

Commissioner Says Reform Treaty Vital for EU's Survival

In an interview with DW-TV, Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, spoke about the reform treaty as a force for change, enlargement and the tendency to blame Brussels when things go wrong.

EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media, Viviane Reding

Reding said there's a tendency to blame the EU for everything

DW-TV: The Lisbon reform treaty has been signed but has yet to be ratified. Could it still fail?

Viviane Reding: I don't think so and I hope not as it would not be in the interest of the 500 million people of Europe who want to live together peacefully and be a force in a globalized world. That will only possible if Europe speaks with one voice and if we have an internal market. But for that, we need institutions to work effectively. The ratification process has begun and will go on. I'm sure that a new EU will be fully functional from January next year.

How will the Treaty of Lisbon change the EU?

Portuguese Prime Minister and EU President, José Sócrates, during the signing ceremony of the Treaty of Lisbon at the Jeronimos Monastery, in Lisbon, Portugal, 13 December 2007.

The EU made history with the signing of the Lisbon Treaty last December

The institutions will become more effective. The big winner is the European parliament. It will have a very strong voice in all decisions. And I think that's a good thing, because the European parliament is the democratic institution on this continent. Directly-elected members will have a say in the future of European life and politics. That is real democracy, and that's a good thing.

Many people are talking about where the EU's borders lie. What's your position -- should Turkey and Ukraine be admitted?

That's something we have to debate in a democratic way with those already inside Europe. But I would like to point out that this discussion has been going on for quite a long time already, and that there was a lot of criticism of past EU expansions -- huge criticism of those countries that went from Communism to democracy. But it was the most wonderful reunification project you could imagine in world history. It was the first time that such a large number of people moved into freedom and self-determination; and that, not through war, but on a voluntary, democratic basis.

All the same, there's a feeling the EU may have bitten off more than it can chew. People say it doesn't matter if they meet the criteria.

People celebrate in Poland in 2005

Enthusiasm for further EU enlargement has waned since the last big round of expansion

The ability to absorb new member states is important. You have to remember that wealthier nations have let in nations that were less well-off. But we also have to remember that the internal market has expanded greatly, and that was a big boost for an exporter like Germany. This expansion had many plus points, particularly the historical aspect. Because that which history divided, has now been re-united. I think that with this we set an example for many nations.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he wants to establish a Mediterranean Union; sceptics say it could tear the EU apart. Are they right?

We already have a Mediterranean Union with the Barcelona Process, where the EU formed a solidarity pact with countries south of the Mediterranean. The right thing is to build on that. But we shouldn't just look at the Mediterranean. We also need to look to the East . We have many new neighbors. And that's why it's so important to have the right policies to engage with them.

The EU isn't popular among its own citizens at the moment. What can the commission do in real terms to make the mood a bit more pro-Europe?

People have become used to the European Union, and when something goes wrong at home, then they think Europe is to blame, because national or regional politicians lay all the blame on Europe. And then of course it is difficult, when you have spent six days criticizing Europe, to declare on the seventh day that Europe has done something well. But take the financial crisis that has spread around the world. If we did not have the EU, and if we did not have the euro, then all these states would be suffering badly from this crisis. The Union has shown it can maintain stability. We shouldn't lose sight of very concrete things like that.

A standard criticism you hear is that there's too much bureaucracy, that the Commission loves to centralize. How do you respond?

Bildgalerie Reizworte der Wahl Bürokratieabbau

The EU is seen by many as a bureaucratic monster

Every day I meet politicians from member states and members of the European Parliament who are always telling me "do this, do that." I'm always being asked to do more. You really have to put your foot down if you want to do less. Throughout my political career, I've noticed that when you try to deregulate, you come in for a lot more criticism than when you create new rules.

You've come in for criticism in particular for wanting to set up an EU-wide regulatory body for the telecommunications market.

We're regulating in order to open up markets and introduce more competition. Once we have competition, we no longer need regulatory mechanisms, we can get rid of them. So why do we need this regulatory authority? We have 27 national regulators who don't always apply European law in a uniform way. The European single market can't work like that. So it's vital that instead of having the Commission regulating from the top down - we have a supervisory body which groups the 27 national regulators together so that they can regulate their markets in a way that makes sense for the whole of Europe.

You mean the EU body would have authority over the national bodies?

No, the 27 bodies would work together. But they would no longer be against each other. No more could one introduce measures that contradict what the neighbouring country does and which don't allow our industry to draw on a pan-European market. Instead it's about building this internal market, with its five hundred million people, attractive -- not only for the consumer but also for Europe-wide industries.

Those millions of people don't all have the same access to media. Anyone wanting to watch DW-TV on the Web, for example, needs broadband. But that's not available everywhere. Do you have a strategy for spreading broadband?

Yes I do, in two ways. First of all we want broadband for everyone in Europe, including those who live in isolated areas. And then we want European industry to have the opportunity to be involved in that investment. So my goal is to modernize across the board - so that it's no longer the select few who are out in front, but all 27 EU states together and everyone with access to a high-speed broadband service.

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