22nd Mar 2019

Parliament approves plan to promote EU citizenship

MEPs have hammered out a plan to spend around €200 million on promoting EU citizenship.

In a symbolic move, MEPs changed the title of the programme, which will be included under a separate budgetary heading for 2007-2013, from 'Citizens for Europe' to 'Europe for citizens.'

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"We wanted to point out that it is citizens that create Europe in the first place, not the institutions," commented Finnish liberal MEP Hannu Takkula.

The EU's attempt to get closer to its citizens - particularly following the rejection of the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands last year - is the key goal underlining the initiative.

Active citizenship promoted at European level should develop into "a sense of belonging to the EU and of a European identity," culture commissioner Jan Figel told MEPs in Strasbourg.

According to Czech centre-right MEP Tomas Zatloukal, "this initiative makes people think that we want to push for a prototype of a European citizen or a federalist," but he argues it is not the case.

"It is about people from different countries getting to know each other better. Like small towns or local sport clubs participating in twinning projects. This could help them see how their foreign colleagues are living and what they have in common," he said.

Mr Takkula also believes the major part of this programme is its focus on grassroots organisations.

"In the past, we tended to be quite elitist in the EU and support elite bodies but this proposal highlights the possibilities for a broader group of people," said Mr Takkula.

But British eurosceptic MEP Thomas Wise does not see the point in the initiative arguing "It is yet another example of how the EU seeks to use citizens' money for blatant propaganda."

"Low euro election turnouts, vocal opposition to enlargement and a rejected constitution are all apparently to be remedied by throwing €235 million at various 'projects' to persuade the people that the EU is actually doing something good for them", he said.

Earmarked to support citizenship

As part of the citizenship programme, seven pan- and pro-European think tanks and NGOs have been earmarked to participate in the big projects it will cover.

The commission reduced an original list of organisations previously co-operating in similar activities from 40 to six, including the Jean Monnet Association or the Robert Schuman European Centre, and MEPs have added one extra - Maison d'Europe.

"In order to achieve a higher degree of transnational activity in the civil society sector, the setting-up of European networks should be supported," argued Mr Takkula.

Mr Takkula also suggested a separate chapter under the citizenship programme - providing support for memorials to victims of Nazi and Stalinist regimes.

This proposal sparked a heated discussion in the European Parliament, with some MEPs pressing for similar support for memorials of other European dictatorships - but the idea was eventually rejected.

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