Tuesday

5th Mar 2024

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Infographic

What Juncker said. A look at numbers.

"World" and "time" are the words the European Commission chief used the most in his last State of the Union address on Wednesday, amid a far-right surge and Trump's isolationism.

Juncker calls for 'global' Europe

In his final State of the Union address, Jean-Claude Juncker warned of "exaggerated nationalism" in Europe - and said the EU should play a more dominant role in shaping world events, as the US withdraws from the global stage.

Infographic

Citizens' rights: where EU and UK differ

The rights of 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1.2 million UK nationals living in EU countries is one of the key issues of the Brexit talks.

I'll be honest — Moldova's judicial system isn't fit for EU

To state a plain truth: at present, Moldova does not have a justice system worthy of a EU member state; it is riven with corruption and lax and inconsistent standards, despite previous attempts at reform, writes Moldova's former justice minister.

The six-hour U-turn that saw the EU vote for austerity

The EU's own analysis has made it clear this is economic self-sabotage, and it's politically foolish three months from European elections where the far-right are predicted to increase support, writes the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.

The farming lobby vs Europe's wolves

Over the past few years, farming and hunting organisations have waged an unrelenting vendetta against the wolf, culminating in the European Commission's 180-degree policy U-turn, writes the director of the Humane Society International for Europe.

The six-hour U-turn that saw the EU vote for austerity

The EU's own analysis has made it clear this is economic self-sabotage, and it's politically foolish three months from European elections where the far-right are predicted to increase support, writes the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation.

The farming lobby vs Europe's wolves

Over the past few years, farming and hunting organisations have waged an unrelenting vendetta against the wolf, culminating in the European Commission's 180-degree policy U-turn, writes the director of the Humane Society International for Europe.

Latest News

  1. EU agrees rules to ban products made with forced labour
  2. I'll be honest — Moldova's judicial system isn't fit for EU
  3. Rafah invasion — a red line for EU on Israel?
  4. EU must overhaul Africa trade offer to parry China, warns MEP
  5. EU watchdog faults European Commission over Libya
  6. Hungary's Ukrainian refugees in two minds as relations sour
  7. The six-hour U-turn that saw the EU vote for austerity
  8. Defence, von der Leyen, women's rights, in focus This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us