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|EUROPA > The EU at a glance > Europe in 12 lessons > Lesson 9|
A citizens' Europe
I. Travelling, living and working in Europe
The EU has passed a directive establishing a system of mutual recognition of higher education qualifications. This directive applies to all university courses lasting three years or more and is based on the principle of mutual confidence in the quality of national education and training systems.
Any person who is a national of an EU country can work in the health, education and other public services anywhere in the Union, with the exception of activities covered by the prerogative of public authorities (the police, armed forces, foreign affairs, etc.). Indeed, what could be more natural than recruiting a British teacher to teach English in Rome, or encouraging a young Belgian graduate to compete in a civil service exam in France?
Since 2004, European citizens who travel within the EU can obtain a European health insurance card , from their national authorities which helps cover medical costs if they fall ill while in another country.
II. How citizens can exercise their rights
Europeans are not just consumers or participants in economic and social affairs. They are also citizens of the European Union, and as such have specific political rights. Under the Maastricht Treaty, every citizen of the Union, regardless of nationality, has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in local elections in his or her country of residence and in elections to the European Parliament .
This brings the EU closer to its people. Citizenship of the Union is now enshrined in the Treaty which states that ‘Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship’.
III. Fundamental rights
The Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force in 1999, strengthened the concept of fundamental rights. It introduced a procedure for taking action against an EU country that violates its citizens’ fundamental rights. It also extended the principle of non-discrimination so that it covers not only nationality but also gender, race, religion, age and sexual orientation.
Finally, the Amsterdam Treaty improved the EU policy of transparency and allowed citizens greater access to the official documents of the European institutions.
The European Union’s commitment to citizens’ rights was reaffirmed in Nice in December 2000 with the solemn proclamation of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union . This Charter was drawn up by a Convention composed of members of national parliaments, MEPs, representatives of national governments and a member of the European Commission. Under six headings - Dignity, Freedoms, Equality, Solidarity, Citizens’ Rights and Justice - its 54 articles set out the European Union’s fundamental values and the civil, political, economic and social rights of EU citizens.
The opening articles cover human dignity, the right to life, the right to the ‘integrity of the person’ and the right to freedom of expression and of conscience. The chapter on solidarity brings together, in an innovative way, social and economic rights such as:
The Charter also promotes equality between men and women and introduces rights such as data protection, a ban on eugenic practices and the reproductive cloning of human beings, the right to environmental protection, the rights of children and elderly people and the right to good administration.
IV. Europe means education and culture
A sense of belonging together and having a common destiny cannot be manufactured. It can only arise from a shared cultural awareness, which is why Europe now needs to focus its attention not just on economics but also on education, citizenship and culture.
The EU’s educational and training programmes are one element in this. They promote exchange programmes so students can go abroad, participate in joint school activities across borders and learn new languages, etc. It is still decided at national or local level how schools and education are organised and what the exact curriculum is.
The EU programmes for lifelong learning: estimated figures for the period 2007–13.
V. The Ombudsman and the right to petition
To help bring the EU closer to its citizens, the Treaty on European Union created the post of Ombudsman. The European Parliament appoints the Ombudsman, who remains in office for the duration of the Parliament. The Ombudsman’s role is to investigate complaints against EU institutions and bodies. Complaints may be brought by any EU citizen and by any person or organisation living or based in an EU member country. The Ombudsman tries to arrange an amicable settlement between the complainant and the institution or body concerned.
Another important link between citizens and the EU institutions is the right of any person residing in a member state to petition the European Parliament.
VI. Involving the citizens
The idea of a ‘citizens’ Europe’ is very new. Some symbols that represent a shared European identity already exist, such as the European passport (in use since 1985), the European anthem (Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’) and the European flag (a circle of 12 gold stars on a blue background). EU driving licences have been issued in all EU countries since 1996. The EU has adopted a motto, ‘United in diversity’, and 9 May has been made ‘Europe Day’.
Since 1979, the European Parliament has been directly elected by universal suffrage. This gives greater democratic legitimacy to the process of European integration, linking it directly with the will of the people. Europe could be made even more democratic by giving the Parliament a greater role, by creating genuine European political parties and by giving ordinary people a greater say in EU policymaking via non-governmental organisations and other voluntary associations.
The use of euro notes and coins since 2002 has had a major psychological impact. More than two thirds of EU citizens now manage their personal budget and savings in euro. Pricing goods and services in euro means that consumers can compare prices directly from one country to another. Border checks have been abolished between most EU countries under the Schengen Agreement (to which all EU countries should eventually sign up), and this already gives citizens a sense of belonging to a single, unified geographic area.
‘We are not bringing together states, we are uniting people’, said Jean Monnet back in 1952. Raising public awareness about the EU and involving citizens in its activities is still one of the greatest challenges facing the EU institutions today.
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