Civil Society - for the people but also with the people

  • 2009-12-10
  • Interview by Anna-Maria Galojan

The very charming Mrs. Myria Vassilidaou joined the EU’s Social Platform Management Committee in 2008. She holds a doctorate in sociology. Myria has worked extensively in the area of gender issues and in how these relate to questions of identity politics, migration, ethno-political conflict and the media.
From October 1, 2007, she started work in her post as the Secretary General of the European Women’s Lobby.
Mrs. Vassilidaou was kind enough to meet with The Baltic Times during ‘The 3rd Equality Summit – Cooperation for Equality’ in Stockholm on Nov. 16 to discuss social affairs issues in the EU, and more specifically in the Baltic states.

Mrs. Myria Vassilidaou, social affairs seems to cover so many issues. What is its meaning to you?
Of course, there are a number of things.  At first, we need a clear social and public services’ policy based on traditional European models and principles, implemented in sound and clearly understood legislation for the protection of all citizens, especially now in this deepening economic crisis.
We cannot separate social affairs from the economic crisis - they are deeply intertwined and each are an integral part of the other. It is our duty to protect the fundamental rights of people – especially those of the underprivileged.
Thus, a new European social model incorporating both rights and responsibilities in an atmosphere of transparency and unencumbered by bureaucratic inefficiency is needed! All parts of the community should feel secure and protected, not just the privileged ones.

You are a brave lady! People say that you are never satisfied, despite doing as much as you possibly can, with the increasing number of problems and questions that arise. How does the economic crisis affect your work?
My job, in common with all civil society representatives, is to protect the most vulnerable in these times of severe crisis. The majority of the electorate understand that the economic crisis has been mishandled by the governments, whose policies have been largely ineffective. There is an urgent need for a fresh approach to public services, which should be increased rather than cut back for political expediency. Governments need to be seen to be not just for the people, but actually with the people. Cooperation is the keyword.

What do you mean by cooperation? And between whom?
Firstly, cooperation with the trade unions, as they represent the largest number of workers. Then, of course, cooperation with European institutions and between the national governments, and then with different agencies, local authorities, the media and judiciary. You know that the latest statistics reveal that 55 percent of people who feel discriminated against go to the police. This is sometimes the best thing to do, but at other times, not. They go because they do not know where else to go. In fact, perhaps it would be appropriate to go to the local trade union or to an NGO. But people are often afraid. Thus, a more user-friendly approach is need. If people knew where to go for immediate help there would be an immediate reduction in discrimination. And cooperation between nation states [is necessary]; this includes constant sources of information.

Estonia is a very small country, comprising about 1,340,000 people of different ethnic backgrounds. There are about 100,000 jobless people now. The media and government are often too optimistic when referring to unemployment, trying to cover up the real situation. What do you think about this?
It is absolutely not helpful either to cover up the facts or to be overly optimistic. This is a discouraging tendency in the political leaders of the newer member states who, emerging from years of communism, have little understanding of the need for transparency. Having faced up to the unpleasant facts, it is then vital to examine why people have lost their jobs, for both personal and social analysis. Then, priority should be given to finding solutions in a joint effort between government and NGOs.

During the history of the EU, the so-called Old European countries have constantly had to finance the new members. Do you think these new members must now learn to stand on their own feet and begin to contribute as well as receive?
Yes, of course, as in life there is no real receiving without giving! There is surely a common goal through membership of this club of independent nations and that is to enhance the quality of life for all the individual citizens, in a spirit of compromise and responsibility. This is the moral obligation and challenge to us all.

The Baltic Times thanks the organizers of the Equality Summit and  the European Commission for sponsoring our reporter’s attendance at the event.