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European Commission Vice-President responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
Speech: EU Citizenship: A new impetus – towards the 2013 EU Citizenship report
Hearing at the European Parliament: "Making the most of EU citizenship"/Brussels
19 February 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be here with you today.
“Making the most of EU citizenship”: This hearing is timely and very topical:
We are well into the European Year of Citizens.
We are celebrating the 20th birthday of Union citizenship
This is the right moment to take stock of achievements and discuss new perspectives.
EU citizenship: if not a leap, a major step
Maastricht was probably not the leap many of us had hoped 20 years ago, but its achievements must not be underestimated. By creating a status common to all Europeans and by attaching to this status a series of additional rights as fundamental as free movement and voting rights, a clear signal was given: the EU is more than a common market. It is more than an area of free trade between nations. The EU developed into a common area of equal rights and opportunities for each and every European citizen. Before Maastricht Europeans were mere economic actors in the European Economic Community. 20 years ago the Union citizen was born: "Civis Europaeus sum". If not a leap, this was a major step towards political integration.
The Court of Justice of the European Union has confirmed this new dimension by stating in several rulings since the turn of the millennium that "Citizenship of the Union is intended to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States".
EU citizenship: A cornerstone on which to build our Union
It is our responsibility to build on this major step and take a number of others to further enhance Union citizenship, for the benefit of the citizens of Europe. This is a very timely endeavour. The 20th anniversary, the European Year of Citizens but also the upcoming European elections and the pan European debates called for by President Barroso in his State of the Union address, give us the political frame and impetus to move forward.
What then, should be the next steps?
Very concrete actions, close to citizens' lives. That is my answer.
Using tangible examples, we must highlight to citizens, what their EU citizenship rights are. These rights have a beneficial impact on people's lives and open new opportunities, such as the right to move freely within the whole territory of the EU, to work, do business, study and train, and the right to participate in the political life of the EU, notably through the European elections.
These fundamental rights for citizens are at the core of EU integration. European citizens will carry the project further if they see its concrete benefits for them and their families and if they identify with its goal and vision.
This is why it is so important to focus our efforts on making citizens aware of the importance of their status as EU citizens. It is equally important that we make sure they can enjoy the rights and opportunities it offers in their daily lives, without being confronted with unnecessary administrative obstacles or red tape.
This was my intention when launching the EU Citizenship Report in 2010. I wanted it to provide 25 concrete and workable measures to make citizens’ lives easier in the EU. In its report of March 2012, the European Parliament underlined the importance of this work and called for close cooperation with the Commission on EU citizenship. I would like to thank the Parliament and all the Parliamentarians who worked on this file, for your support. I wanted this joint hearing to be a response to the call made by the Parliament and I am grateful to all of you for your positive response.
I would now like to mention a few examples of actions achieved since 2010 to illustrate what I mean by "concrete and close to citizens' lives":
Healthcare: Generally speaking, people prefer to receive their healthcare closer to home. However, sometimes the need for certain treatment leads patients to go abroad. Another reason could simply be that the nearest hospital lies across a border or that the citizen needed medical assistance while travelling. The cross border healthcare directive, that Member States will have to transpose in their legislation before the end of the year, provides a clear and coherent set of rules on cross-border healthcare.
It will bring about closer and improved health cooperation, including the recognition of prescriptions, between Member States.
Consumer protection: We are taking steps to ensure correct transposition of the Consumer Rights Directive by the Member States before the end of the year. These new rules will strengthen consumer rights by outlawing Internet fraudsters who trick people into paying for services that appear to be offered for free. Shoppers will no longer be trapped into buying unwanted travel insurance or car rentals when purchasing a ticket online. And everyone will have 14 days if they wish to return goods bought at a distance, whether by internet, post or phone.
Consular protection: I presented a proposal on which the Parliament rendered its opinion and which is now being discussed in Council, to improve assistance for EU citizens caught in crisis situations and day-to-day emergencies when travelling abroad. EU Member States' representations need to ensure assistance to EU citizens who do not have their national embassy or consulate in a given third country – under the same conditions as they grant it to their nationals. The right to non-discrimination in consular protection can be a great example of European solidarity all over the world.
In crises such as the ones in Japan, Libya, Egypt or Syria – or in individual emergencies such as the loss of a passport or belongings – EU coordination rules will make it clearer what citizens can expect, and will ease the work of consular officials.
Free movement and fundamental rights: In 2012, the Commission continued to pursue a rigorous enforcement policy with a view to achieving the full and correct transposition and application of the EU free movement rules across the EU. In doing so, I am keen to use the full potential of the Treaties, including the very strong anchoring of EU citizens' rights in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
EU citizenship and fundamental rights policies are indeed closely inter-linked, to the extent that the rights attached to EU citizenship form an integral part of the rights enshrined in the Charter. Both help enable EU citizens to enjoy their rights under EU law.
Information to citizens: A lot has been done to improve citizens' awareness of their rights, notably through Europe Direct and Your Europe and – as was underlined this morning – the situation is improving. We should, however, pursue our efforts and make the best of the European Year of Citizens to improve citizens’ knowledge of their EU rights. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Parliament once more for the support in making this European Year a reality.
We must build on these achievements, and take further steps to deliver further benefits to citizens.
Promoting free movement: cutting red tape
Moving and living freely within the EU is the EU right citizens associate most directly with EU citizenship. A specific Eurobarometer on EU citizenship was published today. It shows that almost nine in ten EU citizens know that they have the right to free movement.
However, as reflected in your discussions this morning, too many citizens still face problems when using this right, notably due to excessive red tape. This is something we need to work on.
I am sympathetic to the ideas voiced in the public consultation, which the Commission launched on 9 May last year, and in today's discussions to develop means, for example training toolkits, to help staff in local administrations master free movement legislation and enforce citizens' rights smoothly.
I also heard your comments on further reducing administrative burden for citizens when it comes to the civil status documents they need when they move to another country. Under my responsibility, the Commission plans to present a proposal, around Easter, to simplify administrative formalities related to the use and acceptance of certain national public documents within the EU – for example relating to birth, death or marriage. This will not harmonise the underlying national laws, for example on marriage, rather it will help to simplify the lives of citizens. It will do away with outdated and burdensome authentication requirements and reduce costs and hassle for citizens. At the same time, this proposal will simplify certification requirements for copies and translations between the Member States and establish, gradually, EU multilingual standard forms for the most frequently used public documents in cross-border situations.
As voiced in this morning's discussions, concrete solutions could perhaps be explored in relation to other documents, such as residence and identity documents, in order to make citizens' lives easier when travelling or living in another EU country.
Today, peoples' overriding concern is the crisis. Nine out of ten Europeans cite unemployment or the economic situation as one of the most important issues currently facing their region.
According to last spring's Eurobarometer, Europeans' foremost expectation of the EU is that it should fight the crisis which also means fighting unemployment, and notably youth unemployment, which is more than twice as high as for adults– 23 % against 9 % in the third quarter of 2012.
This is also what I hear in the dialogues I am having with citizens of all walks of life in towns and cities across Europe.
The Commission recently launched a Youth Employment Package with concrete measures to reduce youth unemployment, such as a Youth Guarantee, to ensure that all young people up to the age of 25 receive a quality offer for a job, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed.
We need to build on these positive developments and, as raised in the discussions today, explore ways to achieve a true EU labour market by removing obstacles and making it easier for citizens to look for a job in another EU country.
The Eurobarometer on EU citizenship published today shows that more than two thirds consider that free movement of people within the EU brings economic benefits, not only for them but for the economy as a whole.
Labour mobility can be a powerful adjustment mechanism to address imbalances, while restoring dynamism, reducing frictions and alleviating social suffering of EU citizens. Labour mobility can also contribute to better matching between the labour force and the skills needed by the labour market. It increases chances for citizens of a positive transition into employment and opens opportunities for personal and professional development.
Fostering citizens' participation in the democratic life of the EU
Ladies and gentlemen;
Turnout in the European elections (and in other elections as well) has become a challenge for European democracies. In the 2009 European Parliament elections, general turnout reached 43%.
According to a post-elections survey by the European Parliament, in the 2009 elections there were genuine divisions between the various types of voter profiles. For example, there were considerably fewer young voters than elderly voters.
Last December, the European Parliament and the Council endorsed our proposals making it easier for EU citizens to stand as candidates in European elections. These measures to cut red tape for citizens are perfectly timed to pave the way towards the European elections in 2014 and I thank all concerned for their support in making this happen.
We need, however, to go further.
As highlighted in your discussions this afternoon, the dominance of national topics in the European elections negatively affects voter turnout. It is therefore essential to enhance the European dimension of the upcoming elections, by helping EU citizens better understand the connection between the national and EU political process and by focusing national debates on issues of European relevance, thus also increasing national media attention to such issues.
In this context, the Commission will soon make recommendations to further enhance the transparency of the European elections, for example by inviting Member States to promote electors' awareness on the affiliation of national parties to European political parties.
Another way to foster citizens' participation in the democratic life of the EU, which of course includes the national level, is to tackle the issue of disenfranchisement. I appreciate the open nature of your discussion on this issue this afternoon. Your conclusions converge with those of citizens voiced in the public consultation.
The fact that we have designated a session to both these issues shows how seriously we take them. We now need to reflect on the very rich discussion we heard this afternoon.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Your discussions here today will help us shape proposals for the EU Citizenship Report which I will present around Europe Day.
We cannot make the EU without citizens, we can only make the EU with the citizens and with their ideas. European citizenship is the cornerstone of EU integration. It should be to Political Union what the euro is to the Economic and Monetary Union. The European Year of Citizens together with the European elections in 2014 will give a new impetus to EU citizenship and put the citizen at the heart of European integration.