Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Opinion

'Big on Big Things, Small on Small Things' – how about citizens?

  • The key ingredient to the EU's future legitimacy and sustainability – EU citizens – did not feature prominently in Juncker's State of the Union speech (Photo: European Commission)

On Wednesday (12 September), European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker set out his priorities for the coming year, promising to be "big on big things and small on small things".

Again, the key ingredient to the EU's future legitimacy and sustainability – EU citizens – did not feature prominently in his vision and narrative.

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In a speech of almost 5,000 words, covering the EU's priority to be a strong global actor, the eurozone and security union, EU citizens were only referenced five times during a period when the legitimacy of the Union is being questioned by the departure of a member state from the EU and the rise of Eurosceptic populist movements.

ECAS believes in an inclusive, transparent, citizen-centric and democratic European Union in which citizens' rights are at the heart of decision making at all levels and in which citizens are informed, consulted and actively participate.

Fundamental rights

European citizenship rights are fundamental to the development of a shared sense of belonging of citizens to a Union based on the rule of law in order to counter the growing threat that populist movements and nationalists pose to its sustainability.

Still, free movement, family reunification, access to healthcare and basic services are often denied to EU citizens by member states, jeopardising their fundamental rights and freedoms.

Member states and the European Commission need to commit to the consistent application of EU rights and the implementation of rulings from the European Court of Justice to ensure that all citizens can fully enjoy their rights as members of the European community.

ECAS is documenting rights violations, taking action at Union level and engaging with EU policy-makers to ensure that EU citizens' rights are safeguarded, but political will and leadership are essential at EU and national level to ensure that these rights are upheld.

Digital democratic opportunity

As the president of the commission pointed out in his speech, citizens want the Union to act, "they want to see it happening for real. And they are right".

But what channels are there for citizens to not only voice their concerns but also see that their voices are being accounted for in the EU policy-making?

Regrettably, the word "digital" was mentioned only once in Juncker's speech, even though we live in times of huge technological advancement, which is having a significant impact on our European democratic society.

Today's highly developed Information and Communication Technology (ICT) offers the potential to reach out to millions at a time and allow decision-makers not only to be mere representatives of the people but to co-decide with them.

Giving citizens the opportunity to work together with their policy-makers would be a concrete step towards the innovation that could safeguard and renew our democracy.

Furthermore, while protecting our democracy also means protecting our journalists, as Juncker rightly mentions, it also means understanding that because of new digital platforms, there is a media environment that has radically changed and is allowing citizens to form opinions in a very different way.

The European Elections are taking place next year and there is a high risk that populist and extremist parties will gain even more ground in the only directly elected European institution if they are excluded from the future of Europe debate and their concerns are ignored.

If Juncker wants, as we do, citizens to "all take responsibility for the Europe of tomorrow", the EU needs to give its citizens a stake in Europe's future and reassert EU rights and democracy.

Huw Longton is training and outreach coordinator at the European Citizen Action Service

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