Fabian Demicoli

Lesson 7A: What does it mean to be a European citizen?

Citizenship of the European Union is enshrined in the EU
Treaty: ‘Every person holding the nationality of a member state shall be a
citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not
replace national citizenship'. But what does EU citizenship mean in practice?

I. Travelling, living and working
in Europe

If you are an EU citizen you have the right to travel, work
and live anywhere in the European Union.

If you have completed a university course lasting three years
or more, your qualification will be recognised in all EU countries, since EU
member states have confidence in the quality of one another's education and
training systems. You can work in the health, education and other public
services (except for the police, armed forces, etc.) of any country in the
European Union.

Before travelling within the EU you can obtain from your
national authorities a European health insurance card, to help cover your
medical costs if you fall ill while in another country.

II. How you can exercise your
rights as a European citizen

As a citizen of the European Union you are not just a worker
or a consumer: you also have specific political rights:

Regardless of
your nationality, you have had the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in
local elections in your country of residence and in elections to the European
Parliament.

You have the
right to petition the Commission to put forward a legislative proposal –
provided you can find a million people from a significant number of EU
countries to sign your petition.

III. Fundamental rights

The Charter of Fundamental
Rights of the EU contains six headings – Dignity, Freedoms, Equality, Solidarity,
Citizens' rights and Justice under which fall 54 articles that set out the EU's
fundamental values and the civil, political, economic and social rights of EU
citizens.

The opening articles cover human dignity, the right to life,
the right to the ‘integrity of the person' and the right to freedom of
expression and of conscience. The chapter on solidarity brings together, in an
innovative way, social and economic rights such as:

the right to strike;

the right of workers to be informed and consulted;

the right to reconcile family life and professional life;

the right to
healthcare, social security and social assistance throughout the European
Union.

 

The Charter also promotes equality between men and women and
introduces rights such as data protection, a ban on eugenic practices and the
reproductive cloning of human beings, the right to environmental protection,
the rights of children and elderly people and the right to good administration.

IV. Europe means education and
culture

A sense of belonging together and having a common destiny
cannot be manufactured. It can only arise from a shared cultural awareness, which
is why Europe needs to focus not just on economics but also on education,
citizenship and culture.

The EU does not say how schools and education are to be
organised or what the curriculum is: these things are decided at national or
local level. But the EU does run programmes to promote educational exchanges so
that young people can go abroad to train or study, learn new languages and take
part in joint activities with schools or colleges in other countries. These
programmes include Comenius (school education), Erasmus (higher education),
Leonardo da Vinci (vocational training), Grundtvig (adult education) and Jean
Monnet (university-level teaching and research in European integration).

In the field of culture, the EU's ‘Culture' and ‘Media'
programmes foster cooperation between TV programme and film-makers, promoters,
broadcasters and cultural bodies from different countries. This encourages the
production of more European TV programmes and films.

 

One of Europe's essential characteristics is its diversity of
languages – and preserving that diversity is an important EU objective. Indeed,
multilingualism is fundamental to the way the European Union works. EU
legislation has to be available in all 23 official languages, and every MEP has
the right to use his or her own language in parliamentary debates.

 

V. The Ombudsman and your right to petition Parliament

 

To help bring the EU closer to its citizens, the Treaty on
European Union created the post of Ombudsman. The European Parliament appoints
the Ombudsman, who remains in office for the duration of the Parliament. The
Ombudsman's role is to investigate complaints against EU institutions and
bodies. Complaints may be brought by any EU citizen and by any person or
organisation living or based in an EU country. The Ombudsman tries to arrange
an amicable settlement between the complainant and the institution or body
concerned.

 

VI. A sense of belonging

 

The idea of a ‘citizens' Europe' is very new. Some symbols of
a shared European identity already exist, such as the European passport, in use
since 1985. EU driving licences have been issued in all EU countries since
1996. The EU has a motto, ‘United in diversity', and 9 May is celebrated as
‘Europe Day'.

 

However, people cannot feel they ‘belong to' the European
Union unless they are aware of what the EU is doing and understand why. The EU
institutions and member states need to do much more to explain EU affairs in
clear and simple language. People also need to see the EU making a tangible
difference to their daily lives. In this respect, the use of euro notes and
coins since 2002 has had a major impact.

 

More than two thirds of EU citizens now manage their personal
budget and savings in euro. Pricing goods and services in euro means that
consumers can compare prices directly from one country to another. Border
checks have been abolished between most EU countries under the Schengen
Agreement, and this already gives people a sense of belonging to a single,
unified geographical area.

 

A sense of belonging comes, above all, with feeling
personally involved in EU decision-making. Every adult EU citizen has the right
to vote in European Parliament elections, and this is an important basis for
the EU's democratic legitimacy. That legitimacy is being increased as more
powers are given to the European Parliament, national parliaments have a
greater say in EU business and Europe's citizens become more actively involved
in NGOs and political movements. If you want to help shape the European agenda
and influence EU policies, there are many ways to do so. There are, for
example, online discussion forums dedicated to European Union affairs where you
can join in the debate, and you can post your views on Commissioners' or MEPs'
blogs. You can also contact the Commission or Parliament directly, online or
via one of their offices in your country. Europe Direct offices near you can help
you do this as well.

 

The European Union was set up to serve the peoples of Europe,
and its future must be shaped by the active involvement of people from all
walks of life. The EU's founding fathers were well aware of this. ‘We are not
bringing together states, we are uniting people', said Jean Monnet back in
1952. Raising public awareness about the EU and involving citizens in its
activities is still one of the greatest challenges facing the EU institutions
today.

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