Exclusive Interview with Mrs. VVera Jourová – EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality
EUBULLETIN: You became a Commissioner when the proposal for the Maternity Leave Directive had already been debated in the Commission for quite a few years. Don’t you think that this new and other similar pieces of legislation that call upon some Member States’ governments to increase their spending will be refused if only because of the economic crisis in the Eurozone that is still resonating?
Commissioner Jourová: Yes, but the last year’s figures indicate that the crisis is basically over. However, in general, every piece of legislation either coming from Brussels or from the Member States, when it has budgetary implications, namely increasing budgetary expenditures, faces big problems. It always faces this barrier and I can only mention another piece of legislation – the Equal Treatment Directive, which introduces a new arrangement for the physically handicapped people on the wheelchairs to get access to houses, which requires reconstructions of buildings, including public buildings. So, I face big problems also in this area – not because we think that people should be discriminated against but it is because it involves spending more money from the state budget.
EUBULLETIN: Talking about handicapped people, part of your agenda also deals with discrimination as such. What are, in your opinion, the most rampant examples of discrimination in the European society of today? Are there major differences in the nature and areas of discrimination between older EU members and those newer ones from post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe?
Commissioner Jourová: I think that some Member States somehow tend to be more tolerant than others. In this context, Netherlands was always my great example and ideal. It was also probably because I visited this country when I was 17 and I saw there how they treated people on the wheelchair and mentally handicapped people, which I had really never seen in any totalitarian society of the former communist block. It gave me the impression that Netherlands is a happy society where the healthy people care for the handicapped ones.
But, of course, to make this kind of comparison could be difficult. Still, I think there are increasing tensions and intolerance in different European societies. We tend to solve problems with hate speech and we also use very ugly expressions against some groups in the society, be it the Jews or the Roma or Muslims – unfortunately, these minorities often face discrimination from the so-called mainstream society.
EUBULLETIN: In your view, should this problem be dealt with only at the Member State level or also at the EU level?
Commissioner Jourová: I think that since this is a pan-European problem, it should be dealt with also by the European Union, which is also why have come with anti-discrimination legislation. And it does not have to be only minorities that we have so far discussed, but there are more not-so-obvious forms of discrimination, such as against elderly people. This problem probably differs state by state and when I was a Czech politician, I already criticized this in the Czech Republic that we should show more dignity and respect to older people because we are not only a society of young, healthy, beautiful people.
EUBULLETIN: But I suppose that only drafting new legislation does not change the deeply entrenched perceptions and attitudes in the European society.
Commissioner Jourová: I am quite skeptical with respect to the hard legislation – it is needed but to successfully fight all kinds of discrimination in the society, the legislation must be accompanied by campaigns and whenever I speak about this issue, I always mention also the role of the media in shaping public perceptions. And here I remember the campaign ‘Don’t Touch My Granny!’ about five years ago in which some young actors posed with their grandmothers and the message was that they loved and stood up for their grandmothers. And I was so happy when I saw it. I believe that younger people often tend to underestimate the important role that older people play in the society.
EUBULLETIN: Still, doesn’t this phenomenon have also something to do with the generally declining role of the family in European societies?
Commissioner Jourová: I think that one of the illustrations of how older people are lonely and not enough attention is paid to them is when you see how often they are subject to various scams, including shark businesses that use horrible, aggressive practices trying to sell cheap junk to them for exorbitant prices. And here the society calls for legislation. I remember myself writing to newspapers in an effort to contribute to public discussion about these unethical practices, calling on the policymakers to deal with the situation because, as I argued, it was also their own parents and grandparents who were exposed to these kinds of risks. Ultimately, we should not only blame these shark businesses but also the families who sometimes leave their parents without proper care and attention.
EUBULLETIN: Mrs. Jourová, thank you very much for the interview.
Commissioner Jourová: You are welcome.