As European as we get! Civil Society Day 2013
The purpose of Civil Society Day 2013 was to illustrate how European citizenship can best be conceived and achieved if tied in with the economic, social and civic life of the European project and the policies that underpin it.
Beyond the ideals that have been proclaimed for decades, it is actually in people’s daily lives that active European citizenship must constantly renew itself and assert its relevance.
On the 6th of March civil society representatives from across the European Union came together in Brussels to celebrate European citizenship as part of Civil Society Day 2013: ‘As European as we get! Bringing economy, solidarity and democracy together’.
The Day was a “flagship” event for the European Economic & Social Committee (EESC), involving key civil society organizations, workshops, citizenship solutions against a backdrop of financial and social doubts across Member States.
Staffan Nilsson, President of the EESC, was thekeynote speaker at the event among others, including, Ms Viviane Reding, Vice President of the European Commission and Jean-Marc Roirant, President of the European Civic Forum (FCE) and Co-chair of the EESC Liaison Group.
“Bringing economy, solidarity and democracy together”
“This is the fourth edition of the Civil Society Day, so this initiative is rather young however with a solid ground. And let me tell you why. The Civil Society Day is the living proof of a partnership which is dear to me and to many of us in the EESC, a partnership between the EESC and European civil society expert networks in the form of what we call the Liaison Group. It is in the Liaison Group meetings last year that the civil society alliance for the European Year of Citizens was conceived and took form. This alliance is our partner for this conference and its members, European networks and national networks are here with us today”
Marking the European Year of Citizens 2013, the event illustrated the importance of active participation in the EU for individuals across all Member States. The day was dedicated to debates about what civic participation genuinely means, and how commitment can be improved in the EU by these organisations and individuals.
Delegates explored how the economic, social and civic dimensions of EU citizenship could be reinforced across Member States, with discussion workshops opening important dialogues on issues of interest to stakeholders at a European level.
EPN would like to share their experience at such an event, as active citizenship is one of our main values, this concept defines us as an organisation and we believe that people in professional life need not only to increase their competences for better career opportunities but also be good examples of democratic participation in the societies they live in.
“Without Citizens we can achieve nothing!”
During the first part of the programme, we would like to highlight, Ms.Antigoni Papadopoulou, Member of the European Parliament, Rapporteur for the European Year of Citizens ’13. She talked about what we should expect from the European Year of Citizens’, one year before the European elections. She believes in working together, in bringing voices together to share a common vision. She hopes for more integration and more sense of belonging. Her speech was very friendly and motivating for the participants.
Later on, we had the opportunity to debate on a series of questions placed by the EESC. The main question at stake was – How to make local civil society heard at a European Level? Amongst the speakers there was a general agreement on making citizens more visible. Media is the way to make the government listen. ‘Through media, citizens can make themselves heard’ said: Rob Hopkins from Transition Network.
Important discussion topics during the second part included another round of questions and further debate on exercising rights and engaging in civil society at a national level, strengthening the legitimacy of the EU and its institutions through participatory democracy and engaging youth in civil society.
Anthony Allen, Research Director at TNS Opinion, presented the Flash Eurobarometer of “Europeans’ Engagement in Participatory Democracy” during the conference and these where the results:
“Even against the backdrop of the crisis, with growing unemployment and austerity in most parts of Europe, the Flash Eurobarometer shows that people are involved in and/or trust their community organisations. Relatively few people are, on average, members of civil society organisations. Yet the survey shows that there is a high-level of trust towards civil society among Europeans, who are confident that non-governmental organisations can play a political role and influence policies. However, civil society organisations are regarded in the survey as more likely to influence decision-making at local and national level (75% and 70% respectively) than at the level of the EU (53%).”
This subject created interest during theQ&A session between speakers and participants.
“Creating the conditions for citizens to participate, a change of culture in the institutions’ to meet the challenges of the crisis”
Amongst the speakers of the second workshop we would like to refer toCarlotta Besozzi, Director of the European Disability, Diogo Pinto, Secretary-General of the European Movement International and Ylva Tivéus, Director of Citizens’ Directorate, DG Communication, European Commission for their presentations on active and participatory citizenship for a more legitimate Europe. They were very inspiring and created a very energetic debate.
Overall, EPN team highly enjoyed the opportunity to participate in this event; we were overwhelmed with the amount of participants and the engaging interaction among the panel speakers. There were more than fifty major European civil society networks and EPN was one of them.