Fabian Demicoli

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

IV. Europe means education 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, film-makers, 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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