Speech on the EU Citizenship Report on the AFCO Committee




During today’s meeting of the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO), I spoke about the report on European Union citizenship – EU. I am the rapporteur of this report on behalf of the EPP – European People’s Party.

We have a great opportunity to make a progress on one of the most significant but overlooked challenges that confronts the European Union. Why significant? Because citizenship is a relationship between an individual and his political community. And this relationship is now in crisis (growing anti-EU sentiments, Brexit, anger against Brussels elites, low turnout in European elections). Why overlooked? Because the dominating, overly legalistic definition of EU citizenship as “an addition to national citizenship” which gives citizens the four freedoms and voting right in European elections was too uninspiring to attract popular interest.

 

  • We should aim to bring the Union citizenship from obscurity and neglect. We can try to redefine it in a way that will make it relatable to our fellow European citizens – in a way that will make it a consciously cherished value. This task has been neglected for far too long. It is time we reopen the debate.    

 

  • Citizenship is something much more profound than a membership in a club, however prestigious the club may be, and whatever advantages it may offer. So far, we have tried to present the EU citizenship as a membership in a club – were members are awarded a set of benefits. But the benefits became taken for granted or are not appreciated by all equally. What is missing, is the real emotional and moral bond.

 

  • Yes, citizenship is about privileges, but it is also about responsibility (or duty) and identity. It is the latter two that create the strongest bond between a citizen and a community – responsibility and identity. We have to make more effort on redefining these two elements in the context of the European citizenship.

 

  • On duty: The Union citizenship will only be a cherished good if the Union is regarded as an individual and collective responsibility. This in turn will only be possible if we allow for a real civic participation in Union policy making – from agenda setting to policy implementation. This remains a very big challenge. We have to go far beyond just giving the citizens the currently available very limited avenues for input and participation.

 

  • On identity: the EU has been more effective on this count, with Erasmus being perhaps the most important identity-building instrument. To foster common identity further, we have to establish bridges with the civil society which is the natural defender and promoter of European values. Here again – we need to make a structural alliance with the civil society.

 

  • There is also a great identity-building potential in the EU’s power as a guardian of democracy, rule of law, civil rights and other European values in Member States, including its power to shield citizens against abuse of their rights by governments. We should take closer look at this topic in the context of the EU citizenship.

 

  • When working on this report, our duty is to go beyond an account on how the four freedoms were implemented in the past year. We have to propose a real vision for the future. A vision that will be a point of reference for debates, which I hope will gain momentum soon, and for concrete policies.