European Year of Citizens 2013: it’s on!
A recent survey revealed that many European citizens are not adequately informed about the rights deriving from their EU citizenship. The European Union intends to address this problem.
The European Union is marking the twentieth anniversary of the establishment of EU citizenship by devoting the European Year 2013 to those to whom it belongs: the citizens of the Union themselves! EU citizenship is conferred on every national of a Member State and is additional to, while not replacing, national citizenship. The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights refers to a number of key citizens’ rights: the rights to vote and to stand as a candidate at EP elections as well as at municipal elections, the right to good administration, the right of access to documents, of referral to the Ombudsman of the Union and to petition the European Parliament, the right of freedom of movement and of residence and the right to diplomatic and consular protection.
The main message contained in the Decision that establishes the European Year of Citizens is that the EU will generate a significant awareness-raising effort and stimulate as much debate as possible on the issue of EU citizenship and its related rights and responsibilities. The challenge lies in the fact that the theme could not be broader: a feature reflected in the number of factors mentioned in the text (e.g. freedom of movement, healthcare, passengers’ and consumers’ rights, product safety, multilingualism, recognition of qualifications).
Freedom of movement: an unavoidable priority
The Decision has rightly placed the spotlight on the citizens’ right of freedom of movement. This also means that initiatives will also focus on all the other rights that derive from Union citizenship when EU citizens exercise their right to move and reside freely in another Member State. Reflections relating to the Year will also tackle the removal of relevant ‘obstacles’. Those difficulties that are being faced by a significant number of citizens when moving across the EU territory especially deserve to be a key point of the Year: the EU insists on the fact that the main obstacle is a lack of awareness, but problems can also be more profound and bring about not just difficulties, but often also distress (e.g. persistent obstacles concerning social security). At the same time, initiatives should also strive to go ‘beyond freedom of movement’, so that the issue does not overshadow other, equally fundamental, questions.
Citizenship and democracy
Following the approach discussed above, focus should also be on the paramount question as to how to make our democracies ‘healthier’. This also concerns the need to further strengthen democratic accountability, as well as the transparency, of the EU institutions vis-à-vis EU citizens. After all, if a citizen of a given Member State has the legitimate right to and is demanding much from the institutions of his/her native country, why should this not also apply to the relationship between each Union citizen and the EU institutions? These demands and expectations would also be justified given the ever-growing impact of the actions of the Union on their lives. Furthermore, the citizens’ interest and trust in politics and in institutions should be rekindled. The EU has taken steps to make it easier for EU citizens to become candidates in the European elections in another Member State. The other side of the coin is participation in European elections, which has shown disappointing trends: the key to this is in the quality of candidates, as well as in the perception of the EU and its institutions by the citizens.
The Year also offers a golden opportunity for the civic passions of those EU citizens who are sincerely concerned with the common good of European societies; bearing in mind that such reflections can also encompass the future of the European project itself.
A chance not to be missed
The quality of the European Year and its impact depends on the way stakeholders and the EU itself invest in ‘making the most of it’ during these twelve months: this requires avoiding both scattering effort in too many directions and ideological drifting, but especially genuine involvement. Luckily, the Year launched has all the potential to lead to some influence on future EU policies (including on the 2013 Citizenship report). Certainly, a crucial element concerns civic duties. The reference to the rights attached to EU citizenship is accompanied in the Decision by the one on relevant ‘responsibilities’, which is very appropriate in this period of grave crisis. However, a balance between the two elements will have to be preserved, also to avoid a déjà-vu (the uneven attention devoted to active ageing and intergenerational solidarity in 2012). This aspect will be instrumental in providing credibility and success for the European Year 2013.