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Document 52006IE1173

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Making European citizenship visible and effective

OJ C 318, 23.12.2006, p. 163–172 (ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, NL, PL, PT, SK, SL, FI, SV)

23.12.2006   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 318/163


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on Making European citizenship visible and effective

(2006/C 318/28)

On 19 January 2006 the European Economic and Social Committee decided, in accordance with Rule 29(2) of its Rules of Procedure, to draw up opinion on Making European citizenship visible and effective.

The Section for Employment, Social Affairs and Citizenship, which was responsible for preparing the EESC's work on the matter, adopted its opinion on 13 July 2006 (rapporteur: Mr Vever).

At its 429th plenary session of 13 and 14 September 2006 (meeting of 14 September 2006), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted this opinion by 111 votes for, 22 votes against and 13 abstentions.

1.   Summary

1.1

The formal inclusion of European citizenship rights in the recent treaties has not been enough to stop the rise of euro-scepticism in public opinion. Europe suffers from an accumulation of defects in the way that Europeans themselves perceive it: defects as regards visibility, appropriation, information, dialogue and effectiveness are the main ones in an over-long list. All in all, there is a lack of confidence. The process of ratifying the constitutional treaty has paid the penalty, and this logjam is itself likely to fuel this euro-scepticism even further.

1.2

It is therefore urgent to react; the priority now must be not so much issuing new declarations of rights, but taking concrete steps to enable this European citizenship to be used fully. This will require a militant and ‘re-tempered’ commitment in this direction from the Commission, a code of conduct for better governance from the institutions, an end to the growing gap between the ambitions placed in Europe and the limited resources provided, more cooperation between states that are ready to move forward together, and more pressure and initiatives from stakeholders in civil society.

1.3

Firstly, the EESC proposes to put right particularly unjustified deficiencies in Europe, i.e.:

re-start work on and adopt rapidly a European statute for associations;

do the same as regards a European statute for mutual societies;

create a simplified European statute open to SMEs;

implement the Community patent between the Member States which have ratified it;

remove all double taxation, at least in the eurozone;

ensure non-discriminatory portability of social security benefits.

1.4

Secondly, the EESC proposes to develop a more citizen-oriented governance of the Union, i.e.:

put right the media's failure to make people aware of Europe by encouraging best practices, with the support of a European audiovisual agency;

upgrade the consultation phase in preparing projects, by ensuring they have more added value for citizens;

identify and justify publicly the reasons for proposals concerning European citizens' rights being blocked at the Council or withdrawn by the Commission;

promote socio-professional self-regulation and co-regulation in all areas of direct relevance to civil society;

set out the ground rules, in liaison with the various single market support agencies, for a concept of European public service, ultimately including a Europeanised customs service at the EU's external frontiers;

develop more interactive methods of providing information about Europe;

involve socio-professional players in the interventions of the Structural Funds on the ground.

1.5

Finally, the EESC proposes to promote joint initiatives with a strong identity content, such as:

giving greater priority to EU budget funding of particularly significant major European projects (trans-European networks, research, advanced technology);

investing in ambitious European education and training programmes, not least in the field of languages, including a European non-military voluntary service scheme that is attractive to young people;

getting celebrities to talk about their sense of having a ‘European’ identity;

investing in equally ambitious European cultural and media programmes, with a common statute for foundations and sponsors;

making particular progress in economic and social integration in the eurozone;

adopting decisions of major political significance, such as electing the European Parliament on the same day, making 9 May a European public holiday and bringing forward a European right of popular initiative.

1.6

All in all, the EESC is convinced that such initiatives would enable Europeans to feel their EU citizenship more deeply, exercise the freedoms that this gives them more effectively and thus give Europe the renewed identity, dynamism, competitiveness and cohesion that the Member States are having trouble providing today.

1.7

To help achieve this objective, the EESC should set up a permanent ‘Active European Citizenship Group’ and organise a symposium on this theme soon.

2.   Introduction

2.1

Despite a prevailing euro-scepticism, Europeans are deeply attached to the essential achievements of European integration, which they regard as both natural and irreversible:

peace and cooperation between the Member States;

the full exercise of their democratic rights;

freedom of movement and trade; and the

will to unite to face world challenges.

2.2

Europeans also have expectations of European integration. They expect it to provide a real added value, and in particular:

better political, civil, participatory, economic and social rights;

better support for their identity and quality of life as they undergo major changes;

more growth, jobs and economic and social development;

more effective promotion of their common interests in the world.

2.3

For many Europeans, these expectations are far from being met today, as regards their everyday concerns and the future. The double ‘no’ vote on the draft Constitutional Treaty by the French and Dutch voters was symptomatic of this unease and soul-searching, even if reasons other than European ones probably came into play also.

2.4

However, real progress on European citizenship rights, inaugurated by the Maastricht Treaty, has been made in the recent treaties (cf. Amsterdam, Nice), the Charter of Fundamental Rights and in the Constitutional Treaty (which, among other things, gave the Charter the force of law by incorporating it into the Treaty). The preparatory Convention on the Constitutional Treaty, which was truly innovative in that it included members of parliament and was opened up to civil society, worked to consolidate these rights in the political, civil, economic and social fields. The European Economic and Social Committee, in addition to its participation in the Convention, has not let up at all in recent years in its efforts to push for full recognition of European citizens' rights and get their concerns taken into account. But it must be admitted that the formal incorporation of such rights into the treaties has hardly been enough to stop the rise of euro-scepticism in public opinion. Jean Monnet's words that ‘we are not merging states, we are uniting peoples’ are hardly felt today as being the dominating feature of the EU's way of operating.

2.5

There is now a risk, for a number of reasons, that these concerns of public opinion will grow even stronger:

2.5.1

The non-ratification of the Constitutional Treaty will place a severe strain on the operations of the EU: the unwieldiness and complexity of the Nice Treaty, which the new treaty was intended to correct, will quickly have a negative impact.

2.5.2

The gap between Europe's ambitions and the weakness of its management resources is growing, both in the political field (i.e. the difficulties of 27 members coming to a decision) and in budgetary matters (low level of the resources planned for 2007-2013).

2.5.3

The new rights of European citizens set out in the Constitutional Treaty, which incorporates the Charter of Fundamental Rights, cannot be made official.

2.5.4

This unfavourable context may very well prevent the situation from improving, and confirm Europe in the highly damaging role of scapegoat that too many of its citizens are already giving it.

2.6

As the EESC has already emphasised in its contribution to the European Council of 15 and 16 June 2006 (1), the pause for reflection decided upon following the current blockage of the Constitutional Treaty should not be used as an excuse to adopt a wait-and-see policy as regards getting people more involved in Europe. On the contrary, there is an urgent need to boost Europe's image in the eyes of public opinion; otherwise there is a danger of getting dragged into a downward spiral of suspicion, giving up and blocking moves forward, which would have incalculable repercussions. Moreover, it would be complete nonsense to claim, in any way, that the current failure to ratify the Constitutional Treaty can be sorted out without first trying to get Europeans to feel more strongly that Europe belongs to them. This means analysing right now where and why today's Europe is lacking in visibility and attractiveness for too many Europeans.

3.   Lack of appreciation of European citizenship

3.1

People feel they are citizens intuitively and even emotionally before they start thinking in terms of rights and duties. ‘European’ citizenship should itself be seen as an added value, enriching national citizenship without suppressing it, and as a ‘new frontier’, opening up more rights, more freedoms and more responsibilities. In all these areas, and despite real progress on the trade front, European citizenship has a long way to go to prove its worth. One even has the impression sometimes that almost everything has been done to discourage it. We need only look at a few simple cases. For all Europeans, starting with ‘the European man in the street’, Europe clearly lacks four things:

3.1.1

There is a lack of visibility: today it is not clear what the objectives of European integration are and what form they should have, including in the geopolitical sense (which borders?); this is due both to political differences over the very aim of integration and a lack of clear criteria for continuing the apparently permanent enlargement process.

3.1.2

There is a lack of closeness and proximity: despite freedoms and acquired rights, Europe seems to be as a business primarily for politicians, diplomats and experts, citizen involvement is only secondary and very limited; national and local administrations themselves have not got away from this idea of Europe being something ‘out there’, often perceived as foreign.

3.1.3

There is a lack of information and dialogue: Europeans know little about their rights, their freedoms, and the way their common market works; their questions about Europe are themselves often badly perceived, badly dealt with and badly answered; governments, for their part, tend to present an image of Europe which suits them and to denounce or conceal those things which place constraints on them, even at the risk of endangering Europe's credibility; the major media (radio, TV), which are primarily national, give the distinct impression that they are not very familiar with such things, which are considered complex by the journalists themselves due to their lack of training in this field; they provide hardly any information about them, except for one-off items that are often summarised and frequently inaccurate; the absence of any ‘European’ opinion other than an awkward lumping-together of national opinions does not make it any easier to develop European media and vice versa.

3.1.4

There is a lack of economic and social effectiveness: faced with globalisation, Europe is felt by many to be neither an effective motor, because of its inadequate results as regards growth and jobs, including in terms of quality, nor an effective protection against increased external competition, which is often felt to be excessive or even unfair, and relocation (with tensions also being heightened by the unprecedented increase in the production costs differential within the enlarged EU).

3.2

Europeans who are more familiar with the way Europe operates, because of their contacts, their jobs and their journeys, are not only aware of these same four areas, but feel there are others that are just as noticeable:

3.2.1

There is a lack of cohesion, which has inevitably increased with the enlargements: administrative, cultural and social disparities have greatly increased and differences in development have sometimes trebled; there are also disparities in economic and monetary integration, with a eurozone currently limited to twelve members.

3.2.2

There is a lack of completion in the operating of the single market, where there is still considerable compartmentalisation in the services sector (which accounts for 2/3 of GDP), public purchasing (16 % of GDP) and taxation, as well as the freedom of movement of citizens of the new Member States, which is still subject to transitional restrictions: at best, the single market is only running at half speed.

3.2.3

There is a lack of simplification, which is obvious to all European citizens in their capacity as users of regulations: all too often, the EU directives and other provisions that are supposed to simplify their lives are superimposed on to ever-increasing national rules.

3.2.4

There is a lack of resources, together with a lack of general interest and European public authority, which is just as clear to all observers: in the area of finance, the EU budget — which is approximately 1 % of GDP (compared with the figure of 20 % for the USA's federal budget in an admittedly very different context) and which at the time of its most recent planning for the years 2007-2013 was the subject of protracted and conflict-ridden negotiations — is hardly up to handling all the extra tasks assigned to Europe; at institutional level, it is generally difficult to reach decisions because of the number of partners involved and, in many cases, the persistence of requirements or practices that requiring the unanimous agreement of the Member States.

3.2.5

Coupled with the lack of budgetary resources, there is a lack of trans-national infrastructure (transport, energy, telecommunications): the agreement of December 2005 in the European Council even reduced by half the envelope proposed by the Commission for 2007-2013 (barely 2 % of the budget, instead of almost 4 %) even if later talks with the European Parliament have led to these restrictions being moderated slightly.

3.2.6

Commission reports show that too many Member States lack discipline in transposing EU directives and punishing infringements of EU law.

3.2.7

Lastly, to complete the list, let us add a lack of communication about and implementation of the Lisbon strategy: far from triggering renewed European investment renewal in research, innovation, joint infrastructure networks and training, this strategy has in fact fallen far short of the mobilisation required and the objectives pursued (a classic example here has been the planning of the budget for 2007-2013, which is restrictive in all these areas).

3.3

Finally, for many EU citizens, a feeling emerges which is rather logical in view of this impressive accumulation of shortcomings noted in the operation of Europe: a lack of confidence. To put this right, there has to be a determined attack on all the cases of malfunctioning that have been noted. To help achieve this, it is no longer the time to carry on amending a list of European rights which, while being remarkable in its content, is little known and badly implemented. The thing to do now is to clarify and simplify the way that Europeans approach Europe, by giving them the keys to a more visible and effective common citizenship.

3.4

It will not be possible to achieve significant initial progress unless the main players in Europe give this approach better support. This will require:

3.4.1

a militant and ‘re-tempered’ — i.e. more daring or even more intransigent — commitment around these demands by the European Commission, in particular through its power to make proposals and its methods of consultation;

3.4.2

improved functioning of the European institutions through a genuine commitment to serve citizens, such as a code of conduct for better governance and a willingness to acknowledge that Europeans themselves should have more responsibilities in matters that concern them directly;

3.4.3

language that is more complimentary towards Europe from political leaders, who should stop projecting an unnecessarily sacrificial or wrongly technocratic vision of Europe while unilaterally attributing the best role to themselves — which would also mean the media playing more of an educational role;

3.4.4

an equally responsible attitude by these leaders, who should agree to give Europe — which they are building together — the minimum resources it needs (in terms of decisions, budgets and discipline) to measure up at last to the hopes officially placed in it;

3.4.5

‘enhanced cooperation’ between states that are ready to move forward with each other to provide a way forward — under conditions that do not call into question the primacy of the Community method — when the unanimity requirement is too big an obstacle to progress that is considered essential by Europeans;

3.4.6

more pressure and initiatives from the social partners and other civil society players: without their active and constant assistance, there would be no point in envisaging the development of a visible and effective European citizenship.

3.5

As the EESC stressed in its opinion on the Active citizenship action programme  (2), the ‘Citizens for Europe’ programme (2007-2013) presented by the Commission is handicapped by the extreme modesty of its field of intervention and its budget (EUR 235 million cut back in the meantime to EUR 190 million, i.e. less than half a euro per person for this period). Despite its laudable intentions, it has no means of achieving its objective of ensuring ‘a central place for citizens’ in European integration. At best, it will only be able to play an accompanying role.

3.6

The priority now must be not so much issuing new declarations of rights or granting a few one-off subsidies, but taking specific steps to allow this European citizenship to be exercised fully. To move forward along this road, the European Economic and Social Committee proposes the development of new initiatives in three areas:

put right particularly unjustified inadequacies in Europe;

develop a more citizen-based governance for the Union;

promote joint initiatives with a strong identity content.

4.   Putting right particularly unjustified inadequacies in Europe

4.1

The citizens of Europe can justifiably be amazed at the absence of common tools and European freedoms in key areas that should, on the contrary, illustrate their membership of the Union. This particularly applies to the particularly unjustified lack of a European statute for associations, mutual societies and small firms, a single Community patent, or European tax protection against all cases of double taxation, including social security benefits and pension schemes. These various inadequacies are gone into later.

4.2

It is a paradox that, half a century after the creation of the Common Market, the thousands of associations that were set up to defend the European interests of their members do not have a legal status in European law, and are forced to opt for the national law of their place of establishment, which is generally Belgian law.

4.2.1

The draft text proposing such a European statute was withdrawn by the Commission in October 2005, along with about sixty other texts, on the grounds that this would simplify regulation or that there was little prospect of the texts being adopted. By withdrawing this draft statute without consulting the interests concerned, the Commission unfortunately ‘put the kibosh on it’.

4.2.2

The first thing that the Commission needs to do to mollify the citizens of Europe would be to admit its error and re-submit its draft. Obviously, Parliament and the Council should undertake to adopt it quickly after explaining, or even justifying, the reasons for the hold-up.

4.3

The same approach should also be followed as regards a European statute for mutual societies, the draft of which has also wrongly been withdrawn by the European Commission. Such a statute would, however, help to promote new European initiatives, while consolidating recognition of the variety of entrepreneurs in Europe.

4.4

Another paradox is the absence of a unified and simplified legal European statute to facilitate the life of small and medium-sized enterprises, when multi-annual programmes, declarations and even a SMEs Charter have been piling up without producing any noticeable changes for entrepreneurs.

4.4.1

In 2002 the EESC unanimously adopted recommendations calling for just such a statute (3). Up to now there has been no Commission proposal to follow them up. Although one official statement has followed another, calling more a more enterprising and competitive Europe, this situation is becoming more and more unjustifiable with each passing day.

4.4.2

The EESC therefore repeats its request to the Commission to submit a draft regulation for such a statute as quickly as possible.

4.5

One particularly symbolic failure has been that of the Community patent, which has still not been ratified by all the Member States since it was signed in 1975.

4.5.1

The repeated calls from the European Council to the Member States — i.e. to itself — to come up with a solution at last have been in vain. European inventors are still subject to a complex and expensive system to protect their rights on an effective scale. For a European Union that has set itself the objective of becoming the most dynamic and the most competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, this blockage is an illustration of a deplorable impotence.

4.5.2

If a unanimous agreement should still prove to be out of reach, the EESC suggests that this Community patent should be implemented already between those Member States which have ratified it, using effective, simple and competitive procedures.

4.6

The elimination of double taxation between Member States is still managed by a complex and incomplete tangle of hundreds of bilateral conventions between states, leaving the citizens subject to the discretion of the tax authorities, who themselves are often not very well-informed as regards the provisions applicable.

4.6.1

The draft for a single and simplified regulation submitted by the Commission to settle this problem was unsuccessful, due to the lack of unanimous agreement between the states.

4.6.2

It would be a useful step forward if these provisions were approved now and implemented by those Member States in a position to do so. It would be particularly logical if all the Member States of the eurozone agreed to adopt the text.

4.6.3

The EESC would also stress the need to ensure effective portability of social security benefits, without tax discrimination, as part of intra-Community mobility. The EESC would particularly recall its recent opinion on the Portability of supplementary pension rights  (4) calling for a harmonisation of the tax rules on supplementary schemes, which is missing from the draft Directive: differences between the tax rules applied in the Member States represents a serious obstacle to mobility, as workers may be subject to double taxation on contributions and on benefits.

5.   Developing a more citizen-based governance for the Union

5.1

European integration is still too often seen as a matter for states, where citizens only have a secondary role. To put this right, a more citizen-based governance for the Union should be developed, i.e. the way the EU operates needs to be tailored more overtly to the service of its citizens: it should promote a more European approach in the media, analyse the impact of projects on citizens more fully, make better use of dialogue and consultation procedures, set out the reasons for blocking or withdrawing proposals, promote self-regulation and co-regulation more, encourage the development of cross-frontier collective negotiations between the social partners, implement a concept of European public service supporting the single market with a Europeanised customs service at the EU's external frontiers, develop more interactive European information, involve the social partners and other representative civil society stakeholders on the ground in the implementation of programmes receiving EU aid. These various demands are expanded on below.

5.2

While the media today are treated as a ‘fourth power’ alongside the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, it is noticeably unaffected by the European dimension of issues, unlike the other three, although it is the most visible and most familiar ‘power’ of all. There are no big radio or TV stations that are European in nature and scope, and multilingualism is still a poor relation in the media. There are comparatively few European political programmes and debates in the media. There is hardly any comment on the business of the EU institutions, except for the odd event such as summits, crises and new members joining, and coverage remains confidential. For example, a recent Eurobarometer reported that barely 30 % of the people who said they were interested in European affairs (so the figure would be much lower for EU citizens as a whole) would be able to give three correct answers to three basic questions (number of Member States, whether MEPs were elected or appointed, whether all nationalities were represented in the Commission or not). Steps should therefore be taken to put right this chronic disinformation, such as:

5.2.1

emulating the national media on European issues, with incentives to make more room for information on the EU politics; and

5.2.2

promoting and coordinating such initiatives in the media; support could be provided by a European audiovisual agency operating with similar bodies that might exist in the Member States.

5.3

As regards the operations of the EU institutions, the most recent treaties have been more concerned with co-decision procedures — which rightly give increased powers to the European Parliament — than with consultation methods, where many improvements could be made.

5.3.1

In practice, and in particular following the White Paper on better European governance submitted by the Commission in 2002, real progress has already started to be made: there is more use of Green Papers, public consultations on the Internet (even if their operational scope remains unequal) and requests for exploratory opinions sent more upstream to the EESC.

5.3.2

Among the steps which still need to be taken, one worth mentioning is the more systematic use of preliminary analyses of the impact of drafts prepared by the Commission; these should focus on whether the drafts add value and mean real simplification for citizens and users and on whether it is feasible to adopt alternative approaches to traditional regulations, with these approaches always being submitted along with the drafts. In particular, there cannot be effective simplification of regulations unless users' representatives are involved upstream, and unless there are parallel simplification programmes at national level.

5.3.3

Steps should also be taken to improve the quality of consultations: in particular, the Commission should justify the action taken to follow up debates and give the reasons why certain options and arguments were adopted in preference to others. In any event, the consultation phase should remain quite distinct from the decision or co-decision phase, which is often far from being the case. Apart from the case of the exploratory opinions previously mentioned, the effectiveness of the Economic and Social Committee's consultations is too often hampered by parallel and simultaneous referrals from the decision-making bodies.

5.3.4

The European Council of March 2006, quite pertinently, asked that the social partners and other civil society players directly concerned by the Lisbon strategy should have more control over the process. The EESC is also pleased that the European Council renewed its mandate to contribute, along with the Committee of the Regions, towards evaluating and promoting implementation of this strategy. The exchange networks that the EESC has developed for this purpose with economic and social councils or similar representative bodies in the Member States are making a useful contribution towards this more citizen-based governance of the EU.

5.3.5

At national level, governments and parliaments should consult the social partners systematically before the autumn and spring European Councils, so as to involve them in the broad economic policy guidelines, the guidelines for employment and the implementation of the Lisbon strategy. The national reports of the Member States should be based explicitly on these consultations.

5.4

The European institutions should not only feel responsible for carrying out appropriate consultation of citizens and their representative organisations before adopting proposals or guidelines concerning them. They should act in the same way if a proposal is persistently blocked or withdrawn, so that it is possible to:

know the exact reasons, arguments and responsibilities for a blockage within the Council or a withdrawal by the Commission;

sound out the views of civil society representatives on the prospects of an alternative approach to remedy the most negative consequences of such a blockage or withdrawal.

5.5

One major step towards a visible and effective European citizenship would be to promote co-regulation and self-regulation more, whereby the socio-professional actors themselves are not only consulted but are actually involved in defining economic or social rules which concern them directly.

5.5.1

It was not until the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that the ability of the European social partners to conclude contracts within the framework of an autonomous dialogue, both at interprofessional and sectoral level, was recognised officially. Another decade was necessary before a European inter-institutional agreement, concluded in December 2003 between Parliament, the Council and the Commission, gave full recognition to self-regulation and co-regulation involving civil society players and other areas, and laid down definitions and procedures.

5.5.2

These practices have already developed significantly, especially as regards, in addition to the social dialogue, technical standards, professional rules, social dialogue, services, consumers, energy saving and the environment (5). However, they still need to be developed much more, even if all EU citizens are already concerned by them in one way or another.

5.5.3

It would be particularly useful, in order to support the best possible exercising of European citizenship in border regions, to promote the development of cross-border collective bargaining, as envisaged by the Commission in its communication of 2005 on the social agenda.

5.5.4

In particular, the development of self-regulation and co-regulation should make it possible, as a complement to legislators' actions, and if necessary under their control, to promote Europe and the rights of European citizenship in a very large number of areas, for instance:

many aspects of work relationships that may concern employment, working conditions, initial and ongoing vocational training, participation and social protection;

the creation of a genuine European market in services;

the strengthening of consumers' rights in the single market;

improvement of the environment.

5.5.5

The EESC, for its part, has adopted a systematic approach of compiling and encouraging alternative regulation practices, such as the settlement of disputes, particularly through its hearings and its modernised PRISM 2 database, which is the main reference work on the state of self-regulation in Europe.

5.6

Both traditional European regulation (directives, regulations) and co-regulation and self-regulation should contribute towards consolidating the single market and improving the way it operates. European citizens should be able to treat this single market as a natural dimension of their initiatives and activities.

5.6.1

While being a natural framework for emulation and competition for economic operators, the single market should not be placed in direct and systematic opposition with concepts of public service and general interest, which also deserve to be developed at European level. The various European agencies that were set up in various Member States to help several aspects of the functioning of the single market should set themselves genuine ‘European public service missions’ when performing their duties, to help the single market to operate better. Such guidelines could play a useful role in the debate on opening up public services in Europe. They would help outflank the opposition made up of those who conceive public service only in national terms and those who automatically equate the opening-up of Europe with more privatisation.

5.6.2

Similarly, the external frontiers of the EU should eventually be managed by an EU customs administration, with an identical visual symbol, rather than by national administrations. A first step would be to create, in cooperation with the European Border Control Agency, a body of European inspectors and border guards, while ensuring that all customs officers followed a common basic training course, and by developing mutual exchanges more, which at the moment are too irregular. Offences and sanctions should also be harmonised, and Member States should recognise and enforce decisions taken by each other's courts, as well as administrative decisions.

5.6.3

Europe should also equip itself with a mobile and efficient common civil protection body for providing the Member States and their peoples with rapid and effective support in the event of natural disasters or acts of terrorism.

5.6.4

As regards informing citizens about their rights and the opportunities within the single market, steps should be taken in all the Member States to provide information — which currently is all too often non-existent — about the Solvit Centres and other contact points on Europe, which were set up in all the Member States to help citizens to sort out the problems that they can still encounter in their trade. The European agencies mentioned previously themselves have hardly made themselves known to the public since they were set up. Information campaigns should put this right.

5.6.5

Information on the operation of Europe and the single market, like that on the rights and freedoms of citizens on this scale, should also be suitably adapted to the expectations and language of interlocutors. It is often necessary to start from the questions and aspirations of the latter, particularly when young people are concerned, rather than provide them with ready-made answers ‘handed down from on high’. The development of contact and information points on Europe should thus go hand in hand with a real capacity to incorporate fully the language, approach and viewpoint of interlocutors through an interactive dialogue allowing better appropriation of European information according to the characteristics of everyone involved. Using the Internet fits in nicely with these specifications and should be utilised fully, both by the EU institutions and civil society associations, to make European citizenship more effective.

5.7

In addition, there is still a lot to do to involve European citizens in the interventions of the Structural Funds. Although the provisions governing EU aid for the ACP countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific expressly prescribe the close involvement of civil society (cf. the Cotonou Agreement), paradoxically there is no such thing about the involvement of the social partners and other players representing organised European civil society in EU cohesion policy.

5.7.1

The strategic guidelines proposed by the Commission for 2007-2013 make only an informal reference to such involvement and consultation, without laying down explicit provisions in the texts proposed, whether these be guidelines or regulations concerning the Structural Funds.

5.7.2

This should be put right and these texts should stipulate such an involvement, with provisions that are directly applicable by the EU institutions and by the Member States.

6.   Promoting joint initiatives with a strong identity content

6.1

The citizens of Europe, who expect Europe to add value to their national, regional and local identities, have too often noted that this added value is modest, if not superficial. Admittedly, significant and increasingly important steps forward have gradually been decided by those who govern Europe: a European anthem and flag, a European passport, mutual assistance between embassies and consulates and, of course, a single currency, with the euro already being used in twelve Member States.

6.1.1

However, such advances have only been made very gradually and are accompanied by series delays as regards a common identity in other, often closely related, fields. To put this right, the subsidiarity concept should be defined not in a systematically downward graduation, but in a way that is adapted to the case under consideration, which may often call for European intervention.

6.1.2

In this spirit, initiatives with a strong identity content should be promoted, such as: giving priority to the financing of major European projects, investing in ambitious European education and training programmes, including a non-military European voluntary service scheme for young people, getting celebrities to talk about their sense of having a ‘European’ identity, investing too in ambitious European cultural and media programmes, with a common statute for foundations and sponsors, pursuing particular progress in economic and social integration on the scale of the eurozone. Decisions of major political significance should also be adopted, such as holding the European Parliament elections on the same day, having official celebrations to mark Europe Day or implementing right now the European right of popular initiative. These various recommendations are developed below.

6.2

The paucity of European budget resources should be one more reason to devote a bigger share to financing authentic European projects.

6.2.1

Such financing should particularly benefit frontier regions, which are the ‘glue that binds Europe’ and which, more than any others, have their cohesion affected by the lack of harmonisation between Member States. Socio-professional interests in these cross-border regions should themselves be given a key role in designing and operating such cross-border programmes. They should be given a significant percentage of the EU budget, which should be increased over several years. In particular, the EURES programme should be given increased budgetary appropriations and its activities should be reported in regional publications and by regional radio and TV stations.

6.2.2

Such EU funding, with effective support from public/private partnerships, should also promote the development of trans-European networks (transport, energy, telecommunications) to serve a more efficient and better connected Europe. However, the current trend is against this, such as shown by the decision of the European Council of December 2005 to cut by half the 2007-2013 envelope initially proposed by the Commission for such networks, although these cuts were offset slightly by a later arrangement with the European Parliament.

6.2.3

More major industrial and technological European projects should be developed through the Community budget or with special contributions from the Member States wishing to take part in them. The successes already achieved in the aerospace industry show the way ahead. Such successes consolidate the image of Europe and a common sense of belonging a great deal in public opinion, while at the same time strengthening competitiveness. There is still huge scope for industrial and technological integration and cooperation, particularly in the defence and security sector.

6.3

Ambitious initiatives should also be undertaken to consolidate European citizenship through education and training, not least about Europe.

6.3.1

A common European core should be ensured at all levels of education: primary, secondary and university. The learning of languages should be strongly encouraged, on the basis of a common reference of acquisition levels (cf. generalising the Council of Europe initiative setting up a European languages ‘portfolio’). Making people more aware of Europe should be done not through lectures but through exchanges, training periods and life experience stays. European twinning schemes and school and university courses should be given priority. Courses in journalism should themselves include a substantial European element.

6.3.2

Young people should be able to carry out a period of attractive and educational non-military European voluntary service on a much broader scale than the initial experiments, which to date have concerned only a few thousand people. Such an opportunity would be a useful complement to the Erasmus and Leonardo student exchange schemes, which have already achieved real success, with several million beneficiaries.

6.3.3

To promote a sense of European identity, celebrities from the world of sport or the arts could be presented in information campaigns as authentic ‘Europeans’, using their personality to highlight this expression of identity.

6.4

Similarly, one should also promote ambitious initiatives to develop European culture and promote its dissemination in the media.

6.4.1

Better use should be made of the richness of European culture to emphasise both the strength of its common core and the great diversity of ways to express it. The use of subtitled original versions of films, works and broadcasts from other Member States should be promoted, as this would make it easier for Europeans to acquire and maintain a knowledge of languages other than their own.

6.4.2

The European Union should encourage the setting-up of a European film school and promote its own prizes, like the Oscars, to reward its best creative people and artists.

6.4.3

The success of an ambitious European cultural programme with many economic and social effects itself would itself be greatly facilitated by a joint promotion of foundations and sponsoring. The development of an attractive European statute in these areas would contribute directly towards intensifying such cooperation.

6.5

Finally, special thought should be given to the euro. At the moment the states which have adopted the euro seem to feel that they have arrived somewhere, rather than that they have started out on something. Citizens in the eurozone could ask themselves questions about such an attitude.

6.5.1

In the economic field, just what are these states waiting for to consolidate their integration, step up financial trade and start moving towards better tax harmonisation? Why is the Eurogroup, which brings together the twelve finance ministers, still so far today from setting up an embryonic economic government of the eurozone vis-à-vis an already federal European Central Bank? Why is no thought being given to having a single economic and financial representation of the euro states (in the IMF, G7, etc.) to provide greater weight vis-à-vis the dollar in particular? Why have the euro states not already started close mutual cooperation on their respective budgets?

6.5.2

As the need for a more effective and convergent implementation of the Lisbon strategy is growing, why is the Eurogroup still limited to the ministers for economic affairs and finance, and why has it not created an equivalent for social affairs ministers? With such a dual structure economy-finance and social affairs, to which the ministers for industry could also be added, could the Eurogroup not develop more effective approaches on economic and social reforms, set an example in promoting research and implementing the Community patent, and submit a joint report on the implementation of the Lisbon strategy in addition to the national reports?

6.5.3

The citizens of the eurozone states should be consulted and closely involved in such choices, particularly through their representative associations. They should also be encouraged to develop their own initiatives on a eurozone scale. By doing so, the eurozone, as a laboratory for greater economic and social integration, would also become the laboratory for a more concrete European citizenship.

6.5.4

Obviously, at the same time care should be taken not to harm EU cohesion as a whole: those states which do not use the euro should be properly informed, consulted and, as far as possible, involved in this increased cooperation, which they will have to practise fully in any case as soon as they adopt the euro.

6.6

At the purely political level, certain measures would definitely help moves towards a more visible and effective European citizenship, such as:

6.6.1

choosing the same day for the direct elections to the European Parliament: the genuine European electoral evening which would follow would give a whole new dimension to the debates, remarks and comments which would be made; it would place political issues in their true European context, instead of limiting them, completely wrongly, to their national context, which is largely the case at the moment;

6.6.2

holding dazzling official celebrations to mark Europe Day on 9 May, which would be worth making a public holiday throughout Europe; if the Member States so chose, this could replace another date that had hitherto been a public holiday; it should be marked by cultural and other events and programmes with a distinctly European theme;

6.6.3

enacting a European right of popular initiative pending fulfilment of the provisions laid down in the Constitutional Treaty (one million signatures gathered in several Member States); the European Commission could pledge right now to examine and, if necessary, pass on any popular initiative proposal that had achieved such a threshold; it could also undertake to explain publicly exactly why it might decide not to follow up such an initiative.

7.   Conclusions

7.1

When all is said and done, after all the declarations and charters, a more visible and effective European citizenship is not laid down by decree. It is deserved and it is exercised. It evolves and is a driving force. It will only be consolidated by standing up for itself. And it is only by developing a ‘horizontal’ participatory dimension to European integration that European citizenship will ensure that the ‘vertical’ dimension of this construction is fully accepted and will last.

7.2

Such an active European citizenship today needs tools that are operational, and not simply empty words; up to now, such tools have too often been lacking. Europeans should now be given the tools that they expect and which they will be able to put to good use. No-one doubts that they will then manage to give Europe a new identity, a new dynamism, competitiveness and cohesion that the Member States are struggling to provide it with today.

7.3

To follow up these recommendations and help promote real progress for EU citizens, the EESC should set up a permanent ‘Active European Citizenship’ group. The key aims of this group should be to:

follow the development of progress and delays in this field;

promote public dialogue with civil society players; and

encourage initiatives and best practices and make them better known.

7.4

To mark and direct the launch of such a follow-up, a symposium on active European citizenship will be organised by the EESC, as already envisaged by it in its previous opinion on the Active citizenship action programme  (6).

Brussels, 14 September 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND


(1)  EESC opinion: Contribution to the European Council of 15 and 16 June 2006Period of reflection (rapporteur: Mr Malosse).

(2)  EESC opinion of 26.10.2005 on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing for the period 2007-2013 the programme ‘Citizens for Europe’ to promote active European citizenship, rapporteur: Mr Le Scornet (OJ C 28 of 3.2.2006).

(3)  EESC opinion of 21 March 2002 on a European Company Statute for SMEs, rapporteur: Mr Malosse (OJ C 125 of 27.5.2002, p. 100).

(4)  EESC opinion of 20.4.2006 on the Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving the portability of supplementary pension rights, rapporteur: Ms Engelen-Kefer.

(5)  See the information report on the Current state of co-regulation and self-regulation in the Single Market adopted on 11 January 2005 by the Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, rapporteur: Mr Vever.

(6)  EESC opinion of 26.10.2005 on the Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing for the period 2007-2013 the programme ‘Citizens for Europe’ to promote active European citizenship, rapporteur: Mr Le Scornet (OJ C 28 of 3.2.2006).


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