On 11 August 2011, the European Commission proposed to designate 2013 as the “European Year of Citizens” to mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the European Union Citizenship under the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. European civil society organisations and networks members of the EESC Liaison Group have created a civil society Alliance aiming to advocate on MEPs for a broader understanding of European citizenship within the proposal to designate 2013 the European year of Citizens. The Alliance benfits from the support of the European Economic and Social Committee and is aiming, in the long run, to mobilise and coordinate wide civil society engagement in the activities which will be scheduled during the European Year of Citizens 2013, to initiate a European-wide debate on issues relating to the exercise of European citizens rights and to citizens’ participation in the democratic life of the EU.
EYCA campaign with MEPs to broaden the scope of the European Year 2013
European Civil society organisations and networks members of the EESC Liaison Group welcome Commission’s proposal to put Union citizenship at the heart of the political agenda. For a long time, we have been advocating for citizenship to become a transversal dimension of European policies and a key priority in all areas of Union action. This proposal is an important step forward in the building of a citizen-friendly European Union that would no longer be reduced to merely economic preoccupations. Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned that, in the framework of the European Year of Citizens 2013, the EU citizenship tends to be confined to an individual rights-based approach and does not tackle the Europeans’ sense of belonging to a common European Union.
Considering that the main objective of Commission’s proposal to designate 2013 as the “European Year of Citizens” is to raise awareness on Union citizens’ rights, with a view to facilitating the exercise of the right of free movement and residence, we call on MEPs:
- to broaden the focus of the European Year 2013 and give European citizenship its full meaning and scope by taking into account the new prospects opened up by article 11 of the treaty on the European Union for citizens’ participation in the democratic life of the European Union.
- to ensure that the preparation and implementation of the European Year 2013 is given appropriate financial means, since the current budget proposal of one million euro would only allow for top-down communication measures and not for tangible actions and does not foresee co-financing for citizens’ and civil society organisations’ initiatives;
- to call on the Commission to closely involve civil society organisations in the preparation and the implementation of the 2013 European Year, since they have a key role to play in carrying forward the European project so that it fully meets the expectations of its citizens.
For us, active citizenship means primarily active involvement of citizens as participation in the life of their communities, and thus in democracy, in terms of activity and decision-making. Active Citizenship is more than giving to charity, voting at elections or volunteering. Definitions of participation that focus on political participation or a narrow understanding of volunteering fail to capture the diversity of people’s engagement across Europe. To give active European citizenship its full meaning and scope, and to help downsize the gap between citizens and the EU institutions, it is necessary to take account of the new prospects opened up by Article 11 of the Treaty on the European Union for citizens’ participation in the democratic life of the European Union. For us, active citizenship is:
- a democratic citizenship which is based on citizens’ legal status and includes all aspects of life in a democratic society relating to a vast range of topics such as, inter alia, education, culture, sustainable development, non discrimination, inclusion of ethnic minorities, participation in society of people with disabilities, gender equality including the equal representation of women and men in decision making, etc;
- a democratic citizenship which guarantees that citizens and civil society organisations have a say in the EU policy-shaping and decision-making processes by electing their representatives to the European Parliament. With the prospect of the upcoming elections in 2014 and at a time when we are facing an ever growing gap between the European Union and its citizens, as confirmed by the turnout in the latest European elections and by surveys which repeatedly show citizens’ lack of awareness of European citizenship and identity, the stakes could not be higher;
- a democratic citizenship which implies that European institutions enjoy public confidence and can secure active involvement of citizens and organised civil society players in the decision-making processes at all levels, from local and national to European one; therefore, the adoption of an inter-institutional agreement for a structured framework for European civil dialogue would give a permanent practical substance to such an active and participatory citizenship alongside with the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, besides the European Citizens’ Initiative.
- a democratic citizenship which perforce must also operate at Member States’ level, so that the structures for citizens’ engagement are accessible and form part of every citizen’s experience. While benefiting of their rights and taking their responsibilities, EU citizens as well as all residents from acceding, candidate countries and beyond, should be fully involved in the activities of the EU2013 that should foster their involvement in local governance issue, through enhancing cooperation also with local authorities as one of the main stakeholders of the EY2013;
- a democratic citizenship that guarantees that all citizens can participate in the life of their communities and the shaping of public policies, including the most disadvantaged groups which are more than often the most remote from the European building process. One cannot exercise her/his civic and political citizenship rights unless in capacity to enjoy the social and economic citizenship rights and the European Union should not miss out the contribution of the most disadvantaged.