The European Commission has designated 2013 as the European Year of Citizens, which is dedicated to the rights that come with EU citizenship. Over this year, the EC will encourage dialogue between all levels of government, civil society and business at events and conferences around Europe to discuss those EU rights and build a vision of how the EU should be in 2020. In fact, the year will focus both on what has already been achieved for citizens and on meeting citizens’ expectations for the future. The Year will provide an opportunity for people throughout Europe to:
• learn about the rights and opportunities open to them through EU citizenship – particularly their right to live and work anywhere in the EU
• take part in debates about the obstacles to using these rights and generate specific proposals for addressing them
• participate in civic fora on EU policies and issues
• prepare to vote in the 2014 European elections and engage in the EU’s democratic life
To prepare the ground for the European Year, the Commission held a broad public consultation in 2012 asking citizens what problems they have encountered in exercising their rights as EU citizens. The contributions, which are currently being analysed, will feed into the Citizenship Report to be published on 9 May 2013.
For the opening of the European Year of Citizens 2013, EPN attended to the Forum on Civil Dialogue Participation on the 28th of January 2013 at the European Economic Social Committee. During the conference, the speakers stressed that citizens play a central role in securing Europe’s future and pointed out that the concept of active and participatory citizenship includes consolidation of the fundamental values of democracy, discussion of respect for citizens’ political, economic and social rights and their obligations, and strengthening the feeling of belonging to the EU. The European Year should also focus on the diversity of society’s needs and the fight against discrimination and inequalities, giving special attention to women, migrant, elderly and people with disabilities.
Some interventions were particularly significant for us and we are glad to report some key concepts:
Roundtable 1 – European Year of Citizens : main issues and challenges
Ariane Rodert is a Member of the EESC since 2010. She gave a general presentation of the European Year of Citizens. Ms. Rodert expressed the importance of this year and the primary roles that citizens have for the future of Europe. She asked “What does it mean today to be a European citizen?” and shared statistic results of the participation of citizens in Europe in terms of votes, knowledge of their rights, knowledge of their influence on the situation of Europe. She explained that:
• 42% know what it is to be a EU citizen
• only 32% are well informed of their rights
• 40% took part in the past elections
• and that only 30% know they can influence EU policy
She also underlined that these percentages are decreasing. That is why, this year is about bringing citizens together in order to build a better European community. The key poles of the project are:
• Easy accessible information for everyone
• Dialogue agreements
• Common values and principles
• Mechanisms to evaluate
• Matching the EU Policy with the European values for all Member States
• Better communication with Member States
Mr Rodert concluded stating that freedom of movement does not stand for citizenship! European citizenship means education, economic solvency, youth employment and social communication.
Riva Kastoriano – as the Director of CNRS Paris – spoke about the sense of belonging in the EU. She explained that << […] when we speak about Europe we speak about diversity – a linguistic, cultural ans social diversity. We have a dominant culture which is the majority culture and the minority culture, so we should ask ourselves what we mean for European identity or what identity do we refer to? Migrants, extraeuropean migrants, intra-european migrants develop new belongings and look for new points of references. In the context of migration and European integration, the concept of citizenship changes and evolves. >>.Ms. Kastoriano elucidated that the practice of citizenship is based on the practice of the common good which, nowadays, distances itself from the conception of national identity. Identities become transnational finding a way to work around the the single souveregnities. In this context, the consolidation of transnational communities lies upon a paradoxe: transnationalism does not eliminate national societies in the sense that states have a strong interest in maintaining their sovereignty. Their sovereign status remains the foundation of the state identity. The States fear the loss of souvereignity. And it is actually this fear that encourages populist discourses.
Moreover, populism often mobilise hostility against immigration with the justification that immigrants invade our territory and take advantages of our welfare. In this way, the immigration issue has become a matter of security and of border control.
Ms Kastoriano stated that, today more then ever, Europe needs to build another image. Another vision of itself and of its culture. She pointed out that the European Union needs new forms of political negotiations and of participative democracy, that the notion of citizenship needs to be more inclusive: << The universalism demanded from a global culture is confronted to particularisms, regional governance and individualistic societies. So in order to develop a political commun culture, citizens need to go through a most comprehensive process of acculturation, a multi-dimensional process involving languages, cultural beliefs and values exchange between cultures. We need a society where the integration of members of the minority group into the social structure of the majority group goes beyond the concepts of “multiculturalism” and “assimilation” (both much criticized). We should be asking ourselves this crucial question: has free circulation, pillar of the European Union, become a conflict itself? >>. She concluded by encouraging the European citizens to be responsible of finding different contents for a new European legitimacy.
Gabriella Civico, member of European Year of Citizens Alliance, presented her organisation which represents more than 3000 organizations in Europe and called on the EU institutions to:
• give European citizenship its meaning by fully taking into account article 11 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) dedicated to the citizens’ participation in the democratic life
• ensure that the implementation of the European Year of Citizens 2013 is given appropriate financial means since the current budget proposal would only allow for top-down communication measures and not for tangible actions
• closely involve the civil society organizations in the preparation and the implementation of the European Year of Citizens 2013 She also reminded us that EYCA prepared a “Manifesto” on EU citizenship that can be consulted at: http://www.eurolocal-cas.com/?p=6304
Roundtable 2 : socio-economic integration as the prerequisite to civic participation?
Marie Arena, Senator and Former Federal Minister of Social Integration, Equality of Chances and Intercultural Dialogue, made some political comments on the national perspective. She said: << We can’t talk about citizenship unless Europe defends us. Europe is guilty for the financial situation and citizens are paying for it. We need politicians to participate and fight for more socialization in Europe … From now on every aspect should be solved at a European level! European citizenship is everywhere, at a local, regional and national level! >>.
Bruno Amoroso, Docent Emeritus at the University of Roskilde, gave us his insight on the socio-economic integration and participation. He stressed that in order to give content to the general principle of citizenship, the EU needs to motivate and educate people and migrants on the functioning of the european democracy. He says: << Is it understanding the EU an obstacle? No. It is the lack of information and interest which represents an obstacle. We cannot speak about “interculture” without establishing clear terms for such a big project. We should also review and give strenght to the EU institutions. The European Parliament should be a real parliament and the European Commission should consist of commissioners elected by the people. >>.
Commission should consist of commissioners elected by the people. >>. He also presented a case study concerning the Romanian community in Italy. He explained how the Romanians are very close to the italian culture although they face some intercultural problems in this country. Misperceptions on the role of their clan and their family system make integration difficult for this group, even if – in his opinion – integration should be “pluirsided” and not “unisided”. In fact, Romanians are mainly active in the informal sector and the illegal one. Italy’s challenge is to bring out this community from the “grey” sector by recognizing their skills. In fact, they have strong experience in social entreprises. They actually know how to establish business activities in different sectors and they know how to work in groups. The problem is that the EU wishes to resolve this problem through individualistic solutions but they are not appropriate. Romanians more than other groups, act in a cooperative way and build their communities on family structure.
Mr. Amoroso concluded by saying that we are not just individuals. We leave in groups and work together. The European Union should find new solutions about how to educate this community on our values in terms of solidarity (not on how to read the European constitution!). They deserve to emerge from the sector of informal economy to join the official one because they have qualifications and the EU has just to find a way to recognize their know-how.
Elzbieta Kuzma, Researcher at ULB, presented her research on the role of immigrant associations in socio-economic integration by focussing on the Polish community. She specified that a particular element caracterising the Polish community in Belgium is that it developed in an informal way, at least until the 1st May 2009, when Belgium suppressed any mobility limitation for Polish migrants and their real integration started.
As regards political participation in the context of migration, Ms. Kuzma underlined that it remains still low and weak due to the general lack of trust and the need of people to deal with daily problems. In Belgium, we have just seen two very inclusive “communes”during the municipal elections : Saint-Gilles and Etterbeek which have involved concretely migrants of different nationalities. She called for politics to decostrunct stereotypes and be closer to the citizens.