Sunday, 24 October 2021

EC Vice President Admits There Is Gap between Decision-makers and Citizens

ZAGREB, 24 Oct, 2021 - European Commission Vice President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Šuica said on Saturday that there was a gap between decision-makers and citizens, and European institutions were thinking of the inclusion of general public on a permanent basis in discussions on EU-related topics.

We have noticed that there is a gap between decisions-makers and and citizens and we want to lessen that gap. It is the reason why we are organising this Conference (on the Future of Europe), Commissioner Šuica told a press conference in the European Parliament on Saturday after a session bringing together EU representatives and ordinary citizens.

The European Parliament on Saturday started a plenary at which 80 EU citizens were presenting conclusions of discussions on different topics held by 800 randomly chosen citizens in September and October.

Technology has changed the world and we must change, too, said Šuica adding that she did not believe that the Conference on the Future of Europe would remain a one-off event.

We are thinking about a permanent mechanism, although we have not yet decided on it definitely, she explained.

The European Commission says on its web site that "the Conference on the Future of Europe is an unprecedented, open and inclusive democratic exercise, with a Multilingual Digital Platform, where all Europeans are invited to have their say on how to shape our shared future on various issues."

The citizens involved in the Strasbourg gathering are expected to prepare a final document and forward it to the European Commission in December.

According to the EC information on its website, Šuica stated that "this is a historic moment where, for the first time, citizens deliberate on a par with their elected representatives at all levels."

"Bringing citizens to the core of European policymaking will reinforce our representative democracies, as we set sail towards our common future."

Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the European Parliament and a co-chair of the Conference on the Future of Europe, was quoted as saying that "the enthusiasm in the Citizens' Panels is great, expectations are high, the formula is working."

"Now the Plenary has to find answers to the issues raised, in the form of a shared vision of Europe's future and concrete deliverables on how we reform the European Union. EU politics have to rise to the occasion."

He also advocates the organisation of conferences of such format every five years.

In August, 70% of the respondents in a survey conducted by the Ipsos pollster in the European Union said they were dissatisfied with the way the EU was working at present.

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Sunday, 17 October 2021

Šuica Calls on Croatians to Participate in Discussions about EU More

ZAGREB, 17 Oct, 2021 - European Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica of Croatia believes Croatians are insufficiently interested in participation in the Conference on the Future of Europe, launched by the EU to convince citizens of its 27 member-states that their opinion, too, is important in decision-making.

Numerous citizens believe they have no influence on decisions made by EU politicians and bureaucrats so the EU's three main institutions - the European Commission, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament - have launched an online platform where citizens can offer their proposals on topics important for the bloc.

"More is expected of Croatia and Croats because so far they have reported 25 events and made 500 proposals and around 100 comments on our platform," Šuica, Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, told the Yammat FM radio station.

She considers these figures to be low.

"We (Croatians) like to speak when it is too late," she said, calling on Croatian citizens to present their ideas on the Conference on the Future of Europe website.

Debates can be organised by citizens and groups of citizens at county and local levels and conclusions can be reported on the digital platform by the end of the year.

"Their ideas will be taken into account in an analysis next spring," Šuica promised.

On Friday, she opened in Strasbourg the last of four panels at which randomly chosen EU citizens discuss topics relevant for the EU.

Among the 200 EU citizens whose travel and accommodation expenses as well as daily allowances have been paid for are three Croatians - two pensioners and a student, from Istria and Zadar- They will present their opinions on the EU in the world and migration at the panel, to last until Monday.

In September and October, 800 EU citizens have taken part in the panels, after which additional online panels will follow. Their proposals are expected to be formulated into a proposal to the European Commission in spring.

Šuica claims that the EC will take those proposals into account, mostly when making laws.

"The main purpose of this conference is to debunk the myth about the Brussels bubble and make EU citizens participants in the creation of European policies, so they can see that they themselves can influence the final outcome," she said.

"Until now people thought that that was not possible or happened only here. That's not true but such is the perception," she said.

Fifty-eight percent of Croatians do not trust the EU and only 38% trust it, shows a survey by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions, conducted in September 2020.

On average, 47% of EU citizens trust the EU while 45% do not.

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Monday, 11 October 2021

Dubrovnik: Panel Debate with Citizens on Future of Europe

ZAGREB, 11 Oct 2021 - As part of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs on Monday held, in cooperation with the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, a panel debate on the EU's future global and regional role.

The panel debate was held at Dubrovnik's Lazzarettos buildings, once used as a quarantine station during the Ragusa Republic era.

The aim of the panel debate, entitled "Preparing for tomorrow: The European Union's Global and Regional Role," was to encourage discussion, particularly among young people, on the EU's geopolitical and strategic issues.

The European Commission Vice President for Democracy and Demography and the co-chair of the executive committee for the Conference on the Future of Europe, Dubravka Šuica, underscored that it was essential to talk with citizens because of new technologies and digitization were changing democracy.

"We want citizens to be involved, not just for elections but during this opportunity too, to state their ideas which will be examined on a multi-lingual digital platform which is the heart of the conference. They will participate in European and local panel debates which will be followed by a large plenary conference and its conclusions will be presented to the presidents of the European Union's three main institutions," Šuica explained. 

She added that there was a gap between politicians and citizens and that citizens needed to feel that they can create European policies.

"Citizens need to be active because our future depends on them. Young people aged between 16 and 25 in particular because they are creative and they will live that future. Naturally, older citizens can help too. This is the EU's preparation for a new generation, but with them," she said.

She mentioned that more than 3.5 million EU citizens had registered with the multi-lingual digital platform but underscored that so far citizens had not acquainted themselves sufficiently with that complex project.

Spain's State-Secretary for the EU Juan González-Barba said that he expected the most from young people in the panel debate because it mostly concerns their future.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Sunday, 9 May 2021

EU Kicks Off Year-Long Conference on Future of Europe

May 9, 2021 - The Conference on the Future of Europe, a citizen-led series of debates and discussions that will enable people from across Europe to share their ideas and help shape our common future, was officially launched on Sunday on the occasion of Europe Day.

The formal ceremony of the opening of the event was held in Strasbourg.

French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the ceremony, European Parliament President David Sassoli, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Prime Minister Antonio Costa of Portugal, the current chair of the Council of the EU.

About 500 participants, citizens of the EU, and civil society associations activists participated in today's video conference, and the Conference executive board's co-chairpersons answered their questions.

One of those co-chairpersons is the European Commission's Vice President for Democracy and Demography, Dubravka Šuica.

Multilingual digital platform in 24 languages

The Executive Board of the Conference on the Future of Europe, comprising representatives from the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the European Commission, is launching the multilingual digital platform for the Conference on the Future of Europe, inviting all EU citizens to contribute to shaping their own future and that of Europe as a whole. The platform is available in 24 languages, allowing citizens from across the Union to share and exchange their ideas and views through online events.

All Conference-related events that will be registered on the platform will be visualized on an interactive map, enabling citizens to browse and sign up online.

This Conference is an unprecedented exercise for the EU, Šuica tweeted.

"This has never been tried before, but we are confident that this will strengthen both our Union & our representative democracy. And there is no better date to celebrate that than on #EuropeDay," she added.

For more, follow our dedicated politics section.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

PM Andrej Plenković: Croatia to Make its Contribution to Conference on the Future of Europe

ZAGREB, 11 March, 2021 - Croatia is ready to make its contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe, in which Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Šuica will have one of the leading roles, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in Brussels on Thursday.

Croatia will make its contribution to the discussion on how to respond to global challenges together and how this Conference can improve the responses of the EU and its institutions to citizens' expectations and to numerous issues in the world which are now substantially different than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, Plenković told reporters after meeting European Parliament President David Sassoli.

The leaders of the three EU institutions on Wednesday signed a joint declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe, which is conceived as a public forum where citizens will over the next year be able to say what sort of Union they want.

The  Conference is expected to open on 9 May, Europe Day. It should have been launched on 9 May last year but had to be postponed, partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, but mostly because the leaders of the EU institutions were unable to agree on who would chair the Conference.

The Conference will be chaired by a three-member presidency consisting of the Commission President, the Parliament President and the Prime Minister of the country holding the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU.

In addition to the collective presidency, there will also be an executive committee which will be responsible for the organisation and oversight of the Conference's work. Each of the three main institutions will have three members on the executive committee, while the representatives of national parliaments will have observer status. Croatia's Dubravka Šuica will be on the executive committee on behalf of the Commission.

Sassoli said that the Conference should result in the better functioning of the Union, which is expected to be given new competences.

Plenković and Sassoli also talked about problems with COVID-19 vaccines in the EU, EU membership prospects of the Western Balkans, and Croatia's efforts to join the Schengen zone and euro area.

Plenković said that Croatia supports the EU integration of southeast European countries, especially Bosnia and Herzegovina with which it shares the longest border and where Croats live as the smallest constituent ethnic group.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 20 November 2020

MEP Sokol and Suica Announce New Long-Term EU Vision for Rural Areas

ZAGREB, November 20, 2020 - The European Commission will develop a long-term vision for rural areas to enable them to make the most of their potential, which will also benefit Croatian villages and bring back young people, the European Commission's Vice-President Dubravka Suica said on Thursday.

Suica participated in a meeting of the Intergroup on Rural, Mountainous and Remote Areas & Smart Villages dedicated to a long-term vision for rural areas and creating a comprehensive strategy for their development until 2040, the press office of the European People's Party (EPP) said.

Croatian MEP Tomislav Sokol, vice-president of the intergroup, stressed that the goal of the intergroup was to strengthen territorial cohesion within the European Union, addressing the specific need of rural, mountainous and remote areas.

Rural areas are of the utmost importance for the EU, which depends on them for food, energy and raw materials. In addition, rural areas are a source of creativity and innovation in which a great part of European cultural and natural heritage is based, which needs to be preserved. The importance of this intergroup's work is exceptional: rural, mountainous and remote areas make up 80% of the territory and nearly 60% of EU population lives in them. As for Croatia, about 90% of the territory is rural and 10% urban, Sokol said.

He stressed that he would personally, and through the intergroup, work on making rural areas attractive and bringing young people back to them.

Suica said that the Commission would develop a long-term strategy for rural areas to enable them to make the most of their potential and support them in facing their unique set of issues, from demographic changes to connectivity, risk of poverty and limited access to services.

A hundred million people in the European Union live in rural areas, half of the territory is rural. Our aim is to offer them a new perspective of a green, digital and demographic transition. It has become less important where you are as long as you are connected, Suica said.

Sokol said that rural, mountainous and remote areas require special commitment and attention and called on the European Commission to adopt the European Rural Agenda with ambitious and concrete political goals that will be transformed into concrete activities on the ground.

By 2040 we will strive to make rural areas become attractive places to live and work in, especially for young people, Sokol said.

Monday, 7 September 2020

EC Opens Public Consultation on Long-Term Vision for Rural Areas

ZAGREB, September 7, 2020 - The European Commission on Monday opened a public consultation on the long-term vision for rural areas, on the basis of which next year it will propose measures for the realisation of that vision, Commission Vice-President for Democracy and Demography Dubravka Suica said.

"Rural areas are often faced with challenges such as distance, poor connectivity and limited services. However, they abound in great opportunities with a matchless quality of life and can play a special role in the transition towards a green, digital and sustainable Europe. Based on these consultations we will present the long-term vision for rural areas to help them cope with these challenges and make them more attractive and dynamic. We will propose measures, including short-term ones, to achieve the long-term vision," Suica said.

The consultation will be conducted online until November 27.

 

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Thursday, 9 July 2020

Šuica's Call-In Show Comments Draw Attention of European Ombudsman

July 9, 2020 — The Europe’s Ombudsman will investigate Dubravka Šuica’s criticism of a Dubrovnik local television station’s call-in show, as well as the European Commission's subsequent response.

The European Ombudsman, the chief watchdog of the continent’s administrative body, will look into the European Commission’s handling of Vice President Dubravka Šuica’s response to criticism on a local call-in show in Dubrovnik.

The inquiry comes in response to an anonymous complaint filed by a Croatian, which took issue with Šuica’s call in to the show, as well as the Commission’s response.

"[The complainant] is concerned that, while it is welcome that the Vice-President stated her support for freedom of expression, the Commission should nonetheless have taken a position on her comments, which the complainant insists are at odds with support for freedom of expression,” the Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly wrote. “I have decided to open an inquiry into this complaint.”

Šuica, the Commission’s Vice President of Democracy and Demography, called into a local show in Dubrovnik this April, after a viewer questioned the sources of her wealth. “It's really amazing how people are dealing misinformation, and you haven't reprimanded it!” she said at the time chastising the host, Pasko Tomaš. “My wish would be to prevent any Croat, male, female, or citizen of this country from speaking in this way.”

The European Commission and Šuica gently sidestepped any implication her call tried to stifle debate, limit free speech, or threaten the free press.

“The European Commission and Vice-President Šuica attach utmost importance to the freedom of expression and to the freedom and pluralism of the media, which are fundamental European values enshrined in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights,” the Commission initially said in response to the hullabaloo cause by the TV exchange. “Since the programme was broadcast, Vice-President Šuica has already reiterated her unwavering support for those freedoms and clarified that it was not, and is not, her intention to impair the independence of the TV station in question, the independence of the journalist, Mr. Paško Tomaš, or the independence of his programme ‘The Voice of the People’ (‘Glas Naroda’). I hope this allays your concerns.”

During her call-in, Šuica told the journalist, “I’m the godmother of your Dubrovnik television! And I'm really happy that I was at the time.”

The Ombudsman O’Reilly said, after reviewing the show’s transcript, Šuica “appears to say that she believes that the media should not broadcast or publish statements criticizing public figures. She also seems to imply that the radio station allows such critical statements to be broadcast in order to increase its popularity.”

The European Ombudsman acts as an independent liaison between citizens and the administrative bodies overseeing the continent. The office can initiate inquiries and send reports to the European Parliament for review. While he or she cannot formally start any proceedings, the officeholder can investigate and pass long findings which may start disciplinary proceedings.

Šuica’s incident on “Glas Norada” or “The Voice of the People” show was a break from the show’s usual pattern. Croatia’s local television broadcasters often feature call-in shows giving citizens a chance to vent, air conspiracy theories or generally lambaste politicians.

But usually, it’s a one-way exchange. The politicos almost never respond.

The caller on Dubrovnik’s show followed the same format.

“We have individuals, these politicians, they stay for four to eight years in power,” the angry caller said. “They rob everyone wherever they can and in eight years they have to 10-15 million [kunas],” the caller said.

“Here, for example, Šuica. She was said to be worth seven million euros. Imagine that!” 

The caller was referring to Šuica’s wealth, a major bugaboo which arose when she was nominated to be an EC Vice President. The former mayor and school teacher has assets worth about €5 million, including multiple homes, two apartments, a cottage in Bosnia, as well as a yacht and three cars. The figure was first reported by Index.hr.

“She has a yacht worth 500,000 euros,” the caller said. “She would need HRK 250,000 a month just to maintain the yacht, to pay for anchoring. Where did her money come from? She can say this, that, but it's all the same in our country.”

Šuica’s response to the call included a castigation of the journalist and host Tomaš.

“I’m surprised you didn't react,” she told him during her call. “I know that you are an excellent journalist, that your show is watched. I heard it from the kitchen!”

O’Reilly requested the European Commission respond by July 27.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

European Commission VP Šuica Excoriates Journalist After Call-in Criticism of Her Wealth

April 29, 2020 — European Commission Vice President Dubravka Šuica was in the kitchen on Saturday when she heard her name on local a television call-in show. The caller echoed long-standing questions about her wealth. Šuica then picked up the phone and called the program herself. Not to lambaste the accusations so much as berate the journalist hosting the program.

“It's really amazing how people are dealing misinformation, and you haven't reprimanded it!” she chastised the host, Pasko Tomaš.

“My wish would be to prevent any Croat, male, female, or citizen of this country from speaking in this way,” Šuica continued. “I’m the godmother of your Dubrovnik television! And I'm really happy that I was at the time. But I'm really sorry that you're letting citizens dump mud, garbage, mud on my name!” She also suggested Tomaš allowed such criticism to increase viewership.

Šuica is the European Commission’s Vice President overseeing Democracy and Demography.

The bizarre spectacle unfolded on “Glas Naroda”, or “The Voice of the People”, a Dubrovnik-based call-in show common for local television stations across Croatia. The shows ostensibly serve as an open forum yet often devolve into an hours-long political demolition derby. Ordinary citizens phone in and deliver soliloquies chastising local politicians, lobbing conspiracy theories, or just lament the state of the nation in a one-way conversation.

Šuica found herself in the crosshairs of such a tirade this weekend.

“We have individuals, these politicians, they stay for four to eight years in power,” the angry caller said. “They rob everyone wherever they can and in eight years they have to 10-15 million [kunas],” the caller said, while Tomaš sat with a furrowed brow and diligently scribbled notes. 

“Here, for example, Šuica. She was said to be worth seven million euros. Imagine that!” 

Tomaš continued to listen, diligently scribbling notes, peering at his laptop or back at the camera. 

The caller was referencing questions about how Šuica’s wealth — namely, how the former mayor and school teacher accrued assets worth about €5 million. The European VP owns multiple houses, two apartments, a cottage in Bosnia, as well as a yacht and three cars. The figure was first reported by Index.hr.

Šuica attributed the wealth to her husband’s earnings as a boat captain and inheritance. Yet she refused to release documents that could back up her claims, even after local reports refuted them.

She survived a European Commission vote in October, by the scantest of margins after a three-hour-long hearing.

The European Commission through a spokesman said its Vice President respected the freedoms of press and speech.

“Vice President Šuica reiterates her unwavering support for media independence, freedom of expression and information,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer wrote in a statement for Večernji List. “She also wants to point out that this TV station in Dubrovnik was opened during her mayoral term. So she obviously supports their work.”

Hosts for call-in shows mostly act as conversational traffic cops, stopping rants that run long or intervening if a caller breaks rules regarding good taste. Sometimes, they’ll ask a question to keep the monologue going. 

Tomaš let the caller run through a three-minute screed that decried the state of the nation from several angles before finally reaching Šuica.

“She has a yacht worth 500,000 euros,” he said. “She would need HRK 250,000 a month just to maintain the yacht, to pay for anchoring. Where did her money come from? She can say this, that, but it's all the same in our country.”

Here, about four minutes in, Tomaš gently cut the call short.

Šuica was among the next on the line.

“I’m surprised you didn't react,” she told Tomaš. “I know that you are an excellent journalist, that your show is watched. I heard it from the kitchen!”

The Croatian Journalism Society recently warned reporters in the country are targets of attacks and threats despite climbing in the press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders.

“Reporters investigating corruption, dealing with organized crime and war crimes, are often exposed to harassment, pressure, and attacks,” the society’s president Hrvoje Zovko said in a statement. “What we especially consider important to mention is that in Croatia, an atmosphere has been created in which journalists are blamed for everything.”

Tomaš offered the European VP a chance to respond to the accusations. Šuica laughed.

“In this country there are institutions, and they’re the ones who know,” she said. “It's very interesting that you even bother with this at all.”

She turned down two more chances to refute the accusations before dangling Tomaš the chance at an interview.

Tomaš saved his thoughts for the end.

“Tonight, unrelated to all the participants in this show, I will never, or ever, allow, as long as I am in the business, that anyone, and most of all politicians, influence my work or teach me this business,” he said. “This is [The Voice of the People], and I'm Pasko Tomaš and I'm responsible for what I do.”

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Šuica: Committee of Regions Very Important for Conference on Future of Europe

ZAGREB, February 13, 2020 - The Committee of the Regions is an extremely important institution for the Conference on the Future of Europe as without the local level the Conference would not be feasible, European Commission Vice President for Demography and Democracy Dubravka Šuica said in Brussels on Wednesday.

She spoke about the Conference at the first plenary of the Committee of the Regions' new make-up. She is in charge, on behalf of the Commission, of organising the Conference which is expected to start on May 9, Europe Day, and last two years.

We must make it so that citizens see the tangible effects and results of debates, which can be achieved via a feedback mechanism that makes it possible to turn ideas into clear recommendations based on which we will take further steps, Šuica said.

We want to be innovative, to eliminate the gap between institutions and citizens, and local and regional representatives have a key role in that, she added.

Šuica said the Committee of the Regions, although its role is only advisory, would have equal treatment as other EU institutions.

Apostolos Tzitzikostas (EPP), the Committee's new president, said the Conference on the Future of Europe must be an opportunity for genuine debate with citizens and for changing the EU.

It must be open and inclusive. The Conference will not be successful if run vertically, if it is centralised, if it is launched from Brussels and does not actively include local and regional leaders. Only through ambition and openness to change can we restore trust and build an EU that puts citizens first, he added.

Croatian Public Administration Minister Ivan Malenica also spoke at the plenary. "We must come closer to citizens, listen to them and respond to their problems more adequately. The expertise of the Committee of the Regions at local level and its experience in organising dialogue with citizens will represent a valuable contribution to this initiative," he said.

The Committee of the Regions today adopted a resolution on the Conference on the Future of Europe and a resolution on the European Commission's work programme.

More news about Croatia and the EU can be found in the Politics section.

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