A Europe for its citizens

The European Commission has designated 2013 as the European Year of Citizens under the slogan 'It’s about Europe, it’s about you: Join the debate'. To mark the European Year, the Commission is set to organise a range of national, regional and local level events across Europe to feed the debate about EU citizenship.

In 2010 a survey conducted by the Commission showed that close to half (48%) of citizens were ‘not well informed’ about their rights. In response to these results, the ‘year of citizens’ aims to raise awareness of the rights associated with European citizenship in order to facilitate citizen’s engagement in EU policy making and to encourage debate about removing any existing barriers to citizens exercising rights enshrined in EU’s various treaties.

Ensuring that people have access to information about their rights is the first step in creating active citizens who are willing to participate in the decision-making process about policies which directly affect them. Well-informed citizens are also better able to defend their rights and identify any obstacles in the way of exercising them. In line with this last issue, the Commission has recently issued a public consultation asking citizens to submit their experiences on the cross-border mobility of social security benefits for older people and people with disabilities.

The social dimension of citizenship

“A community that has social discrepancies within it cannot create a collective problem-solving capacity for the Union, and cannot reinforce democracy. The social dimension of citizenship means, among other things, fighting social exclusion, investing in social cohesion and fostering respect for human rights”, argued Staffan Nilsson from the European Economic and Social Committee during his speech at the opening conference of the European Year.

Social cohesion is an important aspect of every society and it also carries weight at the European level. At a time of economic and financial crisis across the continent, values such as tolerance, solidarity and cohesion are perhaps more important than ever when it comes to how Member States and indeed EU citizens interact with each other.

ESN supports a European Year dedicated to raising awareness about the rights of European citizens. We believe that having active citizens, who are informed about their rights and are empowered to participate in decision-making about policies and practices which directly affect them, is an important issue that increases the legitimacy of European policy-making process.

The European Year provides an excellent opportunity for stakeholders at local and regional level to start a debate about European citizenship in their member state. To feed into this debate, the Commission is likely to adopt a policy document on EU citizenship in May 2013.