On the occasion of Europe’s Day and of this year of the European citizen, I found it useful to share some thoughts on the topic of the European citizenship.
Initially founded on economic integration, the European Community – now European Union – has tried to give more importance to the citizens from the 1970s on. A first step was the establishing of the election of MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) at direct universal suffrage, with the first European elections being held in 1979. Another significant progress was then the institution of the European citizenship by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.
The citizenship is the basis of the political link between an individual and a State. It creates rights and duties, e.g. the right to vote. In order to legitimate an ever deeper integration, it was important to enable the European citizens to identify themselves with the novel construction that is the European Union. Let us remember that the European citizenship is added to the national one, it does not substitute it.
This article aims at recalling and discussing these “rights” and “duties” of the European citizen.
The rights of the European citizen
Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) defines several rights that European citizens enjoy.
First, the European citizenship allows moving freely within the Union. While, at the beginning, it was only foreseen for economic agents (i.e. workers or self-employed persons and their families), the Treaty of Maastricht, Directive 2004/38 and the case law of the European Court of Justice have extended this freedom to the other nationals of Member States, e.g. pensioners and students.
Moreover, the European citizenship gives the right to vote and to be elected at European and local elections in the Member State of residence under the same conditions as nationals of that country.
Furthermore, European citizens can benefit from diplomatic protection granted by any Member State in a third country where their own country of origin is not represented.
Finally, the European citizenship gives the right to petition the European Parliament and, more generally, to address the European institutions and bodies (in any of the official languages of the EU) and also to apply to the European Ombudsman.
Thinking as a European
It is indispensable that citizens become aware of their rights and of the link that unite them with the EU.
One of the instruments that, according to me, has most contributed to the emergence of a sense of belonging to a European community is the university exchange programme Erasmus, which celebrated its 25th birthday in 2012. Other similar programmes for other categories of people were created on Erasmus’ model. It would be desirable that university pathways include as much as possible a term or a full year abroad so as to enable students to broaden their cultural horizon. And it is absolutely necessary that the European institutions and the Member States guarantee the financing of this very popular programme which truly contributes to the diffusion of the European citizenship. A European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) called “Fraternité 2020” (click here for more details and to sign) wishes to obtain the perpetuation of the financing of exchange programmes, considering that they have positive economic, social and cultural effects.
Moreover, it would be appropriate to develop truly European media. There is already the French-German TV channel ARTE or Euradionantes, based in the West of France, but there is a lack of fully pan-European media discussing European issues and providing the main news from the 27 Member States. Indeed, the European democracy needs a European media and debating space to fully assert itself and develop.
Finally, in order not to be too long, I will just mention a third point: European elections have to be truly European; they must cease to be an occasion to sanction the political party in power on the national stage. To achieve this, various ideas can be put forward: give more importance to the European parties (so that they would not be just a “confederation of national political parties”), “give a face” to the European parties by requiring that they designate before the elections their candidate to the Presidency of the European Commission, or better focus the electoral campaign on European-wide topics and challenges.
Acting as a European
Acting as a European is, in a way, the logic consequence of thinking as a European.
So, it would be desirable that the participation in the European elections increase considerably. The improvements suggested above should contribute to it…
The new opportunities for the civil society, such as the ECI, should also represent an opportunity to better focus on and generate more interest for issues concerning the citizens of various Member States.
Finally, let us hope that better information and an increased contact with European citizens coming from other Member States would enable to overcome stereotypes and a certain resurgence of nationalism that we have been observing for many months, and would also contribute to the emergence to some kind of “European fraternity”…