The objectives of the European Union are:
• Raising awareness about the right to live freely in the European Union territory.
• Giving better information about the way in which citizens can benefit from the rights and policies of the European Union and encouraging their active participation in their creation.
• Encouraging a debate about increasing cohesion and mutual understanding between the citizens of the Union.
Conferences, seminars and events will be organised at a national, regional and local level to celebrate the European Year of Citizens 2013. The European Comission planned to increase visibility of multilingual websites Europe Direct and Your Europe, as key elements of a single window system for information about the rights of EU citizens and to reinforce visibility and the possibility to defend and exercise their rights in a better way.
From the signing of the Maastricht Treaty on 1st November 1993, the Europeans as consumers have acquired the right to purchase goods and services in other states. As citizens, they acquired the right to education, to have their professional qualifications recognised, to public health and to gain or mantain their rights to social security, among others. However, according to a 2010 survey there are many, almost half of the EU citizens, who believe they are not well informed about their rights and only 43% knows the meaning of the term “Citizen of the European Union”. We have the whole year ahead to participate and get well informed.
What rights does a EU citizen have?
Free movement is the most valued right. More and more Europeans live in another member state; in 2009 approximately 11.9 million Europeans lived in a country different from their own. A year later the number increased to 12.3 million. Nowadays these figures have gone through a surprising rise, due to the deep economic crisis we are facing.
The fundamental rights in the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union are:
• Free movement and residence in the European Union.
• Right to vote and stand in the elections for the European Parliament and local elections.
• Protection of the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State.
• Right to petition to the European Parliament and complain to the European Ombudsman.
The Treaty forbids discrimination based on nationality. But the citizens have more rights:
• Requesting and receiving an answer from any institution of the European Union in one of its oficial languages.
• Access to the documents of the European Parliament, under certain conditions.
• Equal possibilities to work as a civil servant for the European Union.
The main organizations and networks of the European civil society have joined forces and created Alliance EYCA 2013 (European Year of Citizen 2013 Alliance) to present proposals to place European citizenship at the heart or the European Union political agenda. Thanks to the experience and knowledge of its members, who act continously so that citizens constitute one of the cross-cutting elements in decission-making processes, execution and evaluation of public European policies, Alliance EYCA 2013 will promote activities aimed at having an impact to build a more reachable EU that will not only be concerned by economic issues but will also facilitate and supports different ways of expression and active citizenship movements.
We are going to witness and participate in a process of EU citizenship building that adresses the sense of belonging of the European Citizens in a common European future instead of focusing on individual rights.
MANIFESTO – ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP IN THE DEMOCRATIC EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK.
• A democratic citizenship based on legal personality and which includes the key aspects of a democratic society related to issues such as education, culture, sustainable development, no discrimination, inclusion of ethnic minorities, participation of the disabled in society, gender equality, which means the egalitarian representation of men and women in decision-making processes, etc.
• A democratic citizenship that guarantees to voice citizens in norm-creation and decission-making processes by electing their own representatives in the European Parliament.
• A democratic citizenship that supposes European institutions are trusted by its population and can assure the active participation of citizens and members of the civil society organised in decission-making processes at all levels: locally, nationally and at a European level. Therefore, the adoption of a cross institutional agreement for the creation of a structured framework for civil dialogue at a European level would give permanent practical contents to this kind of active and participative citizenship, along with the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon and citizens´ own initiative.
• A democratic citizenship that must work within all the member states so that the structures for the participation of citizens are achievable and become part of their usual experience.
• A democratic citizenship that guarantees the participation of all citizens in common life and in public norm creation processes, including the most disadvantaged sectors that are usually further from the European building process.
WHAT DOES EUROPEAN CITIZENSHIP MEAN 20 YEARS AFTER ITS CREATION?
This legal regulation guarantees freedom of movement and some political rights meant to build a sense of belonging to a community of people, along with the deepening of the single market for goods and services.
ACTIVE CITIZENSHIP: THE ROAD TO FOLLOW.
Participative democracy answers the current necessities of democratic governments throughout the EU, complementing and reinforcing representative democracy. The implication of civil society organised in policy creation and decision-making processes reinforces democratic legitimacy of public institutions, as well as their work and activities. The quality of civil dialogue –which includes social dialogue, its essential element– is an indicator of our democracies´ health.
Article 11 in the Treaty of Lisbon has a decissive potential to be particularly important, as it provides an institutional compromise towards an open, transparent and frequent dialogue between government agencies in Europe and civil society, so that we put an end to the democratic deficit expressed by criticism, and at the same time we promote an active European citizenship. Despite these improvements, there is still a lot to do to transform this compromise into a sustainable specific practice.
Domingo Pérez Auyanet
(President of the Association of retired workers of Caja Insular savings bank of the Canary Islands)