R.L. Valcárcel Siso/ V. Reding
In anticipation of the European Year of Citizens 2013, the CoR today held a Forum focusing on EU citizenship, free movement, voting rights and the active participation of EU citizens. The CoR, together with politicians, experts and practitioners, highlighted the crucial role that cities and regions play in raising awareness about EU citizens' rights and in removing obstacles to their full exercise.
Only two weeks after 2013 was formally designated as the European Year of Citizens, the Forum was one of the first events to mark the build-up to the European Year. About 200 participants took part in the debates which centred around the issue of EU citizenship. Discussions focused on how regions and cities manage the impact of free movement and voting rights, as well as how they can stimulate the active involvement of EU citizens in their territory.
Speaking at the Forum, CoR President Ramón Luis Valcárcel Siso (ES/EPP) was keen to emphasise how EU citizenship is more than a symbolic addition to the European economic integration process: "EU citizenship and EU citizens' rights are a key element to cope with the major challenges that Europe is facing today. I am, for example, convinced that we can only realise the ambitious goals of our Europe 2020 strategy if we succeed in making the right of free movement a reality. On the other hand, the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in local and EU elections can offer a strong response to the rising euroscepticism". Stressing the role of cities and regions in this regard, he added that "Local and regional authorities can do a lot to enable European citizens to enjoy their rights and fully benefit from the opportunities that our common project offers them. The Committee of the Regions will thus continue its efforts as an important link between Europe and the citizens", he added.
Also addressing the event, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, said: "After 20 years of EU citizenship, much has been achieved. It is time to reflect on where we stand and what the future should bring. People expect concrete results from Europe, and they want to have a strong say in the debate about the future of Europe. This is why we are dedicating a full year to those at the heart of the European project – our citizens. The European Year of Citizens is an opportunity for us to listen and learn how we can build the European Union of the future together. I am particularly glad that cities and regions – which are the closest level of government to citizens – want to play a key role in this process."
CoR First Vice-President Mercedes Bresso (IT/PES) insisted on the contribution cities and regions can make in removing the main obstacles to the full exercise of EU citizens' rights: "Being very often the "front office" towards citizens, local and regional authorities have to increase people’s awareness of their status as EU citizens, their rights and duties by developing locally targeted communication. They can offer successful platforms for participatory democracy, giving voice to all segments of society. These responsibilities fall upon us as politicians, but should also permeate our administrations and the services they provide."
The European Year 2013 is a key moment in the European Commission's Citizens' Agenda which includes the publication of the 2013 Citizenship Report and other actions to promote EU citizenship. Roberto Pella (IT/EPP), author of the CoR opinion on the Citizenship Report in 2010, underlined one of his main conclusions which is still valid today: “Statistics demonstrate that a vast majority of citizens do not fully comprehend their EU rights. I believe that all levels of government have a responsibility to involve our citizens more actively in a common project, offering them long term perspectives. In particular local and regional bodies can contribute significantly to the effectiveness and quality of European citizenship”.
More specifically in the field of electoral rights, the CoR is currently drafting an own-initiative opinion, with the working title "Strengthening EU Citizenship: Promotion of EU citizens' electoral rights". Rapporteur Györgi Gemesi (HU/EPP) will present his views at the next meeting of the CoR Commission for citizenship, governance, institutional and external affairs on 4 December 2012, among other things encouraging Member States to open regional elections to EU citizens.
The event was accompanied by the launch of an "EU Citizens Passport" to be widely distributed to EU cities and regions during the upcoming Year of Citizens for awareness-raising purposes. Designed by the CoR it shows Europe's diversity and provides tailor-made information on EU citizenship and citizens' rights.
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