Fabian Demicoli

Europe must listen to its citizens in 2013


The European Commission has designated
2013 as the European Year of Citizens. The legal basis of the Commission's
proposal is article 21 (2) of the Treaty which states that "every citizen of
the Union shall have the right to move freely within the territory of the
member states, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down …"

At an EESC meeting of the Coordination
Group: European Year for Citizens, GRTU's Director General and EESC Employers`
representative, Vincent Farrugia stated that he supports the Commission's
intention to base the year on the first right of the European citizen to move
freely within the territory of the Union. "The focus of the European year of
the citizen should not only be about Union citizenship as it is now and how it
has evolved over the last twenty years, but also how it should develop in
future. A Charter or declaration should provide clarity and a framework within
which Union citizenship should develop."

Mr Farrugia said that he supported also
the objectives put forward for the year in article 2 and which correspond to
this first ever transnational citizenship of modern times. The 3 objectives
cover what are considered as the main component of any true citizenship:
rights, access and belonging.

The objectives are focused rightly on
European citizens' rights in cross-border situations. There are other European
rights and policies which are not limited to free movement. There should also
be more emphasis on listening to citizens, not just a top-down awareness
raising campaign. He suggested that the objectives should be modified as
follows:

to raise awareness of
European rights starting with the right to move and reside freely within the
Union by explaining the economic, social and political rights attached to Union
citizenship within the broader context of the Charter of Fundamental Rights ;

to listen to
citizens' concerns, especially in this time of economic and social crisis and
give them the opportunity to participate in civic fora on Union policies and
issues;

to stimulate a debate
about the meaning, impact and potential of Union Citizenship in particular to
strengthen mutual understanding and support among European citizens.

The key issue is whether a straight
forward centralised information and communication campaign which the Commission
makes the main focus of the year is enough to meet such objectives. This is not
just a question of resources, although it is clear that the one million euro
proposed is insufficient. Opinion polls suggest that there is a paradox with a
high percentage of people recognising that at some level they are European
citizens and greatly appreciate the free movement attached to this status,
whilst having a low knowledge of what European citizenship rights actually are.
This situation has not changed. No amount of awareness-raising will resolve
this paradox, which in reality reflects the deeper problem the year should
address: there is no clear consensus about the meaning of European citizenship.
By the end of 2013 there should be a clearer consensus of European citizenship
around a Charter or declaration, even if this is an evolutionary citizenship
which should not be set in stone. This is not just a communication gap.

I conclusion Mr Farrugia stated that he
supports the objectives of the year and proposes that activities are organized
around 4 strands:

An action plan to remove barriers to free movement and
other European citizenship rights

An outreach programme for civil society involvement in the
year

Bringing civil society together to create a European
citizenship Charter or declaration in partnership with the Institutions

Involving national parliaments and governments in the
European Year of citizenship.

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