#TheFutureIsYours Strengthening European democracy
Cross-party group on European Citizenship - Launch Event
Event report available
What is really EU Citizenship? How can we frame it and what can be done to strenghten European democracy? These questions will be addressed at the Launch Event of the Cross-Party Group of MEPs on EU Citizenship that will be held in Strasbourg on the 18th June at 18.00 CEST 🕡. It will be a hybrid event, comprising of few in-person attendees and several connecting online, and will provide international and local participants insights into the following topics: 1. Framing European Citizenship; 2. Initiatives for European citizenship education; 3. What opportunities for European citizenship in CoFoE?; 4. Strengthening European democracy. 5 MEPs (Maite Pagazaurtundùa, Yana Toom and Karen Melchior from Renew Europe, Brando Benifei from S&D and Helmut Scholz from The Left) will debate on these themes with 5 representatives and activists of civil society organisations. Participants will have their say in a special section of the event. Such an event represents the perfect setting to discuss about the idea of developing a Statute of European Citizenship 📋. This year the Conference on the Future of Europe allocates to citizens a vital role, granting them a relevant space to engage in conversation with the EU. In the same way, the Cross-Party Group aims to be an open process and become a forum for bringing together policy makers, civil society representatives, students and researchers alike.
Salle Daniel Riot – Lieu d'Europe
Rue Boecklin 8, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Rue Boecklin 8, 67000 Strasbourg, France
Event reportLaunch event of the cross-party group of M.E.P.s on EU citizenship Report The cross-party group of MEPs on European citizenship was launched on Friday 18 June in Strasbourg, the day before the first plenary session of the Conference on the future of Europe (CoFoE), a symbolic date in a symbolic place. The meeting was held at Lieu d’Europe - a centre for promoting European citizenship, kindly provided by the City of Strasbourg and on-line. Five MEPs, four civil society organizations (ECIT Foundation, Europeans Throughout The World, European Alternatives and New Europeans) a wider pan-European coalition (Citizens take over Europe), and a representative of the ECI Voters Without Borders, laid the foundations for the creation of such a group. This will be a platform to foster an open debate between MEPs, civil society organizations, and citizens with three main aims: 1. develop the concept of EU citizenship across political parties; 2. raise the profile of EU citizenship in the European Parliament, the other Institutions and in the CoFOE; 3. make this first transnational citizenship of the modern era more popular. The group has attracted 13 M.E.P.s so far and is developing its priorities and working methods on the basis of a memorandum by the three organisations and a questionnaire which can still be answered. INTRODUCTION In welcoming participants, Povl Henningsen introduced the event, which was a hybrid one, with some participants physically present and many connected online. He explained that the goal of the event is to listen to different voices on the topic of EU citizenship, which had to answer to the following questions: A) Why is it important? B) Why worry about that? C) How is it brought on the agenda of the CoFoE? Before starting the debate, Sophie Coumel, Director of Lieu d’Europe, welcomed organisers and participants and told them about the history of the historical building. The Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg, Julia Dumay, also brought greetings from the city – “the capital of Europe” – and expressed her interest in following-up the activities of the cross-party group. She invited us to go back to Strasbourg again in the near future, especially in view of the up-coming French Presidency of the European Union. The event was structured in two different panels: I. Launch of a Statute on EU Citizenship Rights; II. What opportunities for the Conference on the Future of Europe? 1st session: “Strengthening European Democracy”; 2nd session: “Discussion of next steps for the cross-party group working on EU Citizenship”. Suzana Carp, representing the board of directors of the ECIT Foundation, New Europeans, and European Alternatives, introduced the greetings from the three organizations and opened the event, which she defined as a “double launch”: of the cross-party group working on EU citizenship and of a first draft experimental Statute on EU citizenship. She also made a reflection on how EU citizens’ rights have been affected by the pandemic. In fact, since the freedom of movement was limited all around Europe to contain the spread of CoViD-19, millions of EU citizens, either on the move or with family members on the move, were deprived of the fundamental connections that support their livelihood. As a result of this, for instance, many EU citizens seeking for specialized medical treatment in other member states were not even able to move for the purpose of meeting the health rights, related to freedom of movement, that they currently have, in a small form, under EU citizenship. Moreover, the pandemic also showed a very disappointing reality that we have faced across Europe, which is that the quality of air that we breath across the Union differs greatly and, unfortunately, populations which were more exposed to bad air quality were also more vulnerable to the health impact of the CoViD-19 pandemic. In her opinion, all the above raises huge questions about environmental rights, health rights, and their connection to equality in Europe and create a new context for upcoming discussions on EU Citizenship. Therefore, she expressed the will to bring these topics to the debate and concluded saying that: “It is our duty to dream bigger, bolder, wider, about what EU citizenship actually is”. I. LAUNCH OF A STATUTE ON EU CITIZENSHIP RIGHTS The first panel of the launch event was dedicated to the presentation of an experimental Statute on European Citizenship, drafted by ECIT Foundation. Its founder, Tony Venables, who led this process, began his presentation explaining that the Statute is not an original idea, but it was already included in the final paragraph of a resolution approved by the AFCO committee in 2019, which asked for a Statute on EU Citizenship in parallel to the Pillar of Social Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The reason behind the Statute is that no one knows what EU Citizenship is and hence it is difficult to communicate about it. Therefore, to make it more popular, in his opinion we need to work on the concept and frame it in a way that allows people to teach and communicate it better. He also explained that the draft for such a Statute is just the first step of a long process, which will run until the next Annual ECIT Conference on EU Citizenship on 26-28 October. The first results will be then published on the 1 November 2021, the anniversary of the Maastricht treaty. He observed that: “Citizenship is certainly the right to have rights, but it is also about participation and belonging. These three elements stand or fall together” and formed the structure of the text. He explained that in this Statute there are three levels of ambition: low, medium and high: 1. The first level starts from the consideration the EU citizenship is more than just a limited set of rights (i.e., freedom of movement, voting rights, consular protection, etc.). What we see in the articles 18- 25 TFEU is a very restricted version of EU citizenship. On the contrary, for many (including the Commission in its 2020 Citizenship Report), EU citizenship has to do with all EU policies and therefore is scattered between different legislations, departments, programmes and parliamentary committees. Hence the idea of a Statute on EU citizenship which aims to collect all existing laws and policies under what he defines as the abovementioned three components of citizenship, in order to make it clear and more understandable. 2. The second level of ambition was explained by Tony Venables as follows: “When we started this exercise, we realized that when you put things together, you do see that it is more than a sum of each part, but also that there are some big parts missing”. For instance, he wondered why an EU citizen can vote in the municipal and European elections in the member state where he resides but not in the national ones or in the referendums, the issue raised by the ECI “voters without borders”. Why are some means of access to the EU based on legally binding rules and time-limits, whilst others are much more open-ended? A number of articles were based on the idea that law is not enough, and that it must be supported by policies (i.e., a free movement solidarity fund, EU diaspora policy, etc.). Ultimately, the second level of ambition involves reforms of the existing provisions rather than radical changes; 3. The third level derives from the consideration that from the last year we learnt that perhaps it is time for bolder thinking, which means adding new European citizens’ rights. The focus cannot remain only on the albeit important freedom of movement, because it is not relevant enough to those EU citizens, the majority, who do not move. In fact, the Statute also contains the right to have a direct access to the EU Court of Justice, as well as environmental, health, and social rights. EU citizenship should be for all, and not only for those who are well-educated and able to travel around Europe (“Should not the Erasmus be for everyone?”). He finally expressed the desire of seeing in the treaties right to information and EU citizenship education. There was a proposal for a Citizenship card which would gather well-protected data, social security entitlements, qualifications, professional experience, and allow citizens to easily participate in the democratic life of the EU by signing ECIs, voting in EU elections, etc. Although these proposals are ambitious, they would require changes in the treaties only to a very limited extent, because the implementation of the article 25 TFEU would allow a reform process of EU citizenship, even though it would not be an easy one. MEP Maite Pagazaurtundúa, member of Renew Europe, after thanking all the members of the cross-party group and ECIT Foundation for drafting the Statute, stressed the importance of working on EU citizenship in this particular moment and not lose the opportunity of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Spanish MEP, who first launched the idea of developing a Statute on EU citizenship in her report on the implementation of the Treaty provisions related to EU citizenship, stated that: “We need a clear codification that fully develops the four freedoms, but especially the movement of people, so that citizens have a clear reference of what it means to be Europeans and understand that the status of EU citizen goes beyond the nationality of their Member State." In her opinion, the most relevant proposals are: 1. Guarantee the recognition of professional and university degrees; 2. Include the subject of EU citizenship in educational curriculum of the different Member States; 3. Make the 9th of May a public holiday, a symbol, in order to strengthen the sense of European of belonging. She concluded giving the three organizations full support and availability to work together on the project and with the promise that promoting the Statute will be her priority during the CoFoE. At the end of the panel discussion, there was an exchange of opinion between the two speakers about the functioning of the CoFoE’s Digital Platform. Tony Venables made a reflection on the fact that civil society organizations and citizens, in order to make their voices heard, have to submit hundreds of ideas on the online platform and an algorithm will eventually select the proposals which will go to decision-makers. He wondered: “What an algorithm can make of EU citizenship?” and asked Maite Pagazaurtundúa what she thought about this. The MEP also expressed doubts about this mechanism, saying that “the algorithm is blind”, but that it is crucial to properly use such an online platform by organizing a lot of meetings and discussions on EU citizenship in the framework of the Conference in order to put the topic higher in the agenda. Finally, she stated that her political group, Renew, chose EU citizenship as one of the topics which could be brought to the CoFoE and explained that her idea is to push on it with her colleagues, also from other political groups. II. WHAT OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE CONFERENCE ON THE FUTURE OF EUROPE? STRENGTHENING EUROPEAN DEMOCRACY The 1st session of the second panel of the launch event was moderated by Povl Henningsen. Richard Corbett, former MEP, who currently leads the Secretariat for the Conference on the Future Europe in the European Parliament, joined this launch event in person. He stressed that perhaps Conference is the wrong word to describe the efforts of CoFoE and that instead it should be seen as the biggest exercise of engaging citizens from the EU level. The process was promising but not without risks. By engaging in this process, citizens would effectively be exercising their EU citizenship. And yet, a clear pillar focus on EU citizenship is so far absent from the CoFoE. He also spoke about the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to select the ideas shared on the CoFoE’s Digital Platform. First, he explained that many conclusions, recommendations, and proposals will converge on this vast platform, which is a unique one (“Nothing of such a large-scale have ever been done before in so many languages”). In his opinion, if there will be a large number of contributions, we will need to analyse them, and to do it the help of AI will be necessary to see which ideas are more trending and have more support by citizens. From her experience as a member of the Committee of Petitions, the first door citizens knock when they have a problem, Yana Toom, MEP from Renew, urged the components of the group to find a way to involve in the discussion on EU citizenship also the Council of the European Union, which is fundamental to achieve concrete results. Regarding the CoFoE on-line platform she stressed the need for transparency, which, in her opinion, is crucial for the success of the Conference. The Estonian MEP warned everybody involved in the Conference to be aware of what the algorithms are and how AI selects the ideas, to avoid that some kind of “irresistible temptation” picks out those ideas that suit the most citizens. Then, she raised the issue of the relation between EU citizenship and freedom of movement for non-EU citizens, as Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia: “These people are not entitled to free movement. Despite the fact that they were born in these EU countries, they cannot move freely, they cannot move and follow their business to another Member State”. For this reason, she was happy with the wording of article 7 of the draft Statute, which states: “European citizenship must be inclusive and outward-looking, based on shared values rather than any fixed territory or borders […] Where possible, the same European rights must be enjoyed now by European citizens and all those on the territory of the European Union and neighbouring countries, as a first step towards a more post-national citizenship”. According to Niccolò Milanese, Director of European Alternatives and creator of the coalition Citizens take over Europe, the CoFoE is a great opportunity to reaffirm the centrality of EU democracy and the importance of citizens and MEPs to standing up for that. He expressed appreciation for the way the Statute is being put together because it is built on the idea that EU citizenship is not “set in stone”, but it is something that evolves. He agreed that citizenship is not only rights, but also participation, and for this reason he feels confident that the cross-party group and the Statute can manage to turn the frustration of those people who are not happy of the incomplete nature of EU citizenship into a civic energy to push EU democracy forward. He would like to see a stronger commitment in the statute to fighting racism and the solidarity needed to support people’s struggles at a local level. Pierre-Yves Le Borgn, chairman of ETTW, reminded the participants to be pragmatic when it comes to EU citizenship rights. Even though he agreed on importance of adding new rights related to EU citizenship, especially social and environmental rights, he recommended giving priority to those rights which already exist, especially the right of residence, which is often questioned as he had found when he was a Member of the French Parliament representing those living abroad. One of the three fundamental elements of EU citizenship, participation, was recalled by Yasmina Heuchamps, Member of the ECI Voters Without Borders and EU Sign Day. She stressed the fact that very few Europeans (in fact only 2.4% according to an opinion poll ) know about the participatory tools that they have at their disposal and expressed the desire to ask, through the cross-party group, that EU Institutions strengthen and improve the European Citizens’ Initiative democratic tool with better communication. For instance, making the 9th of May, Europe Day, also a “EU sign day” could be an effective way to get make this instrument more popular and bring citizens closer to EU politics. DISCUSSION OF NEXT STEPS FOR THE CROSS-PARTY GROUP WORKING ON EU CITIZENSHIP The 2nd session of the second panel, which included a debate between 4 MEPs from 4 different political groups (ndr., unfortunately Vice-President Fabio Massimo Castaldo was eventually unable to join the event) was introduced and moderated by Suzana Carp. The first intervention came from Karen Melchior, MEP from Renew, who recalled that EU citizenship has to do with the rights that come directly from EU treaties. These rights reflect our community of values. Among the latter, she referred to political rights and the related issue of disenfranchisement ongoing in the EU. She denounced the absurd situation of citizens living in another Member State than the one of origin, who lose their right to vote by making use of their right to freedom of movement. In her opinion, they should vote in national elections, either in the country of origin or residence and we must bring this topic into the CoFoE, which is exactly about that: “How can we have a CoFoE without looking at what EU citizens want?” She addressed this piece of advice to the cross-party group as well, saying that it has to find a way to listen to citizens and people who are not interested in politics and show them that EU is important for them and their daily lives (“Show it, don’t talk about it”). For that reason, for the next meetings of the group would be a good idea to invite smaller group of people with experts and only then ask politicians what they want and can do to concretely to solve the problems. Helmut Scholz, MEP from The Left, who is also an Observer on the Executive board of the Conference on the Future of Europe, stressed that the EU is more than a single market and that EU citizenship needs to be understood to also mean the cultural understanding of our rights and of our common future. Therefore, citizen dialogue and participation of citizens in the decision-making were the key issues on which he drafted an initiative report for the AFCO committee (ndr., discussed on 24 June 2021), which draws attention, among other things, “to the new Citizenship, Equality, Rights and Values Programme, which is expected to give more visibility and impact to activities that contribute to citizens’ dialogues and engagement in participative democracies”. According to him, such a report is in a certain way dedicated to the aim and the idea that we are presenting with the concrete proposal of a Statute on EU citizenship. In his opinion, the Conference should help but we could also go beyond the current Treaties. The event ended with remarks from MEP Brando Benifei (S&D Group, also President of the Spinelli group in the European Parliament), who stressed that the cross-party group is a platform which can generate thought leadership and can be used to strategically leverage the emerging joint vision into the thematic groups of the Conference, such as the democracy working group. In fact, he observed that some of the MEPs who are members of the cross-party group are also members of the EP delegation for the CoFoE and therefore can bring the topic of EU citizenship into it. However, also the MEPs who are not in the EP delegation could influence their colleagues of the same group to work on our issue (“We need to look at how the groups are composed, we have to understand the power structure”). A key moment to promote ideas for a statute and other proposals would be when the working groups start to shape the agenda after the summer break. The next steps for the cross-party group are the following: • Exchange written contribution between MEPs, academics and civil society to improve the draft Statute on EU citizenship; • Promote the Statute via social media and the Digital Platform of the CoFoE; • Organize the next meeting, probably at the beginning of September 2021; • Discuss the final version of the Statute during next ECIT’s Annual Conference on 26-28 October and present it on 1 November 2021, anniversary of the Maastricht Treaty. Attachments (see below): 1. List of meeting participants; 2. List of MEPs members of the cross-party group on EU citizenship; 3. Useful links. ANNEX 1. List of meeting participants: a) MEPs: Brando BENIFEI (S&D); Helmut SCHOLZ (The Left); Karen Melchior (Renew); Maite PAGAZAURTUNDÚA (Renew); Yana TOOM (Renew). b) Supporting organizations: ECIT Foundation: Tommaso BRATTO, Suzana CARP, Tony VENABLES; Europeans Throughout The World (ETTW): Pierre-Yves LE BORGN; Europeans Alternatives: Niccolò MILANESE; Voters Without Borders: Yasmina HEUCHAMPS. 2. Core group of MEPs: • Damian Boeselager, Daniel Freund and Mikuláš Peksa (Greens/EFA); • Maria da Graça Carvalho (EPP); • Fabio Massimo Castaldo, Vice-President of the EP (Non-attached); • Karen Melchior, Maite Pagazaurtundúa and Yana Toom (Renew Europe); • Brando Benifei, Sylvie Guillaume, Maria Manuel Leitão Marques, Victor Negrescu, Domènec Ruiz Devesa and István Ujhelyi (S&D); • Helmut Scholz (The Left). 3. Useful links. a) Initial proposal for a cross-party friendship group on EU citizenship: https://mcusercontent.com/7519bb38001403f18caef2c18/files/031bdc6c-343c-4a4d-9740-d35605abc1ac/Proposal.docx.pdf b) Draft experimental Statute on European Citizenship: https://drive.google.com/file/d/19b3D_K9dmJ2v-U6XBEu6Nl7wR_ku_Y1e/view?usp=sharing c) Survey: https://fr.surveymonkey.com/r/PY75QJ9
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