New ‘Europe for Citizens’ funding programme: a role for Churches?
While the European elections are looming large on the horizon, an EU long-term funding commitment ‘for’ its citizens can produce some surprises.
Thematic networks of municipalities from different Member States. Twinnings between EU towns focused on mutual understanding of traditions and cultures. These are positive initiatives to be supported thanks to the future ‘Europe for Citizens’ Programme 2014-2020. But are they the only ones? Certainly not. And Churches, and the organisations representing them, have the opportunity to carve out a place for themselves. The context provided is promisingly broad. Within the overall aim of bringing the Union closer to citizens, the Programme will contribute to citizens’ understanding of the EU, its history and diversity; and foster European citizenship while improving conditions for civic and democratic participation at Union level.
Passing on the torch of European remembrance
The Programme is going to support initiatives on European cultural diversity and on common values, on totalitarian regimes in Europe’s modern history and on the defining moments in recent European history. In this regard, one only has to think of what communism has meant for our fellow EU citizens from a number of Central and Eastern Europe Member States. Or of the values we as Christians would like to see at the basis of the European project, as well as of its original spirit - and the one that animated its Founding Fathers.
The full involvement of our more senior citizens is crucial for credibly advancing this goal (hence the need to cultivate occasions for intergenerational exchange, allowing them to carry out this function effectively and comfortably). The younger generations should also be encouraged to take seriously their roles as inheritors of the historical memory, including its most painful aspects.
Nurturing democratic engagement and civic participation
In this area, the EU will also focus on opportunities for mutual understanding, intercultural dialogue, solidarity, societal engagement and volunteering at Union level. This also entails shoring up the preconditions to allow citizens to engage, while young people have to be made aware of the potential impact of their ideas and actions and confident in their own voices as Europeans. Creating opportunities for citizens to debate EU issues is also paramount, so as to foster a healthy development of EU citizenship.
Churches and their role
Taking into account these described elements, the challenge will be for both Churches and their organisations, with their extensive presence throughout the territory, to come up with creative projects that fit ‘into the Programme’ and can benefit from funding (including structural support). The spectrum of actors the EU sees as partners is varied (e.g. local and regional authorities, think-tanks, civil society organisations, cultural, youth, educational organisations). Such a context provides an entry point for Churches, as well as for strategic alliances on their part with other stakeholders.
Support provided to those who are interested
Complications linked with requirements and other related details can be at times a dis-incentive for interested entities to get involved. However, the EU is making an effort to smooth the process. The Programme anticipates structural support for ‘Europe for Citizens contact points’ active at the national level and Internet tools will provide detailed information for the organisations that are ready to seize the opportunity.
Supporting a valuable agenda
Trying to bring Europe closer to its citizens might sound presumptuous at this juncture, but it does not mean that investments in this direction should not be attempted. Although no EU fund can ever on its own be the answer to an ambitious question, this particular Programme, if used with purpose, can help reverse the tendencies. A big come-back of understanding is sorely needed at a time when closures and stereotypes about ‘other’ European people and nationalities are raising their ugly heads. This can happen only if connections are strengthened between different peoples in Europe.
In the distribution of funds, small scale and local projects should not be put at a disadvantage by the focus being placed on ‘Europe’ and on initiatives that are directly linked to Union policies. The local level is the ‘yeast’ without which European integration and a ‘Europe for Citizens’ cannot truly grow.
Both the EU and the relevant actors (including Churches) have distinct responsibilities to make the potential of the ‘Europe for Citizens’ Programme bear fruit. A new and better Europe could emerge in 2020, thanks also to the relevant actions.