Interview with Viviane Reding

You talk about EU data protection reform for both companies and citizens, which will do away with national, often conflicting rules. How do you see this promoting growth across the Member States?

Let me explain why the reform which is proposed stimulates growth and benefits both citizens and businesses. The proposed rules empower the citizens to re-take control over their data, thus rebuilding their trust in digital services. But that’s not all! The measures will also make the life of businesses a lot easier. Today businesses face 28 laws. In the future, they will only have to comply with a unique legislation: one continent, one law! In that sense, the EU data protection reform is not only a protection for 500 million consumers against market abuses, but also a market-opener to SMEs, cutting red tape and increasing competition. It will serve consumers and businesses alike.

Part of your remit is to be a strong Gender Equality Commissioner. Are there any particular strengths and insights you bring with you to this role from a female perspective?

I dedicated a part of my past fifteen years as a member of the European Government to the promotion of equality between women and men. Discrimination still persists and, still today, gender considerations often replace qualifications and merit as the decisive criteria for job recruitments. Can we continue to lose talent? No, most of all because 60% of university graduates are women!

The same goes for politics! Though Europe has promoted gender equality since 1957, the proportion of women barely increases in the European Parliament (from 35 to 37% after the last elections) and might even decrease in the next European Commission. Not to speak about the national parliaments where the percentage of women went from 22% in 2004 to 26% in 2013. A shame! How do you want the situation to change in society and business, if it does not in politics?

As women, this is our responsibility to help change this negative situation in society, politics and businesses alike. We should make sure to make our voices heard so that no woman is denied any position simply because she is a woman. I am proud to notice that civil society has provoked a societal change since my wake-up calls. Bringing together societal and political forces is one of my main success stories of the last years.

You work hard to promote citizenship rights throughout the EU. How far do you believe that this helps strengthen the EU and do you see a day when everyone will benefit from these rights being recognised?

The promotion of European citizens’ rights plays a central role in strengthening the EU. To illustrate this, let me give you three examples related to consumers, workers and travellers. First, the right to data protection enshrined in article 8 of the Charter for Fundamental Rights makes a real difference for citizens who want to take to Court those in breach of the right to data privacy. This restores their confidence in internet services. Second, the right to move and work freely within the EU territory enables Europeans to benefit from job opportunities in other EU countries, thereby contributing to the growth of the European economy. Finally the EU Package Travel Directive and the EU air passenger rights help intensify intra-EU tourism. And the European contract law helps businesses to develop cross-border without supplementary cost. Benefits are for the economy and consumers alike.

4. One of your objectives is to develop a truly European area of justice. What will this look like and how do you believe it will promote growth and employment throughout the EU?

Justice is one of the building blocks of the EU integration process. For me, a truly European area of justice will make EU citizens feel that they have the same rights in another Member State that they have at home. In such an area, intra-European borders do not matter anymore. Everyone can confidently cross borders to travel, study, live, work or raise a family somewhere else in the EU. Consumers can fearlessly go online to buy a product from another EU country. Authorities and courts in all Member States fully respect the legal decisions of their neighbours. My aim is that – apart from an EU minister of Justice and a strong European Court of Justice – all our judiciaries work together on the same legal basis. How great it will be to live on this continent!

I am particularly supportive of this furthering of the EU system of justice because it would boost our economies. Growth depends on investments, which in turn depend on trust. Convincing business representatives that contracts are swiftly, effectively and reliably enforced throughout the Union is the condition sine qua non for companies to invest in the whole Union and capital to flow freely. For all these reasons, we need a true European Area of Justice, for which I have laid the basis, to become a continent-wide reality.