2013 did not bring only the new EU Presidency, this time chaired by the Republic of Ireland, but also the new „European Year“. 2013 we have the „European Year of Citizens“. The main website summarizes the goal oft he year as this:
„The European Year of Citizens 2013 will focus on rights that every EU citizen has. All 500 million Europeans benefit daily from these rights – as does the European economy. The European Year will encourage dialogue at all levels of government, civil society and business, to. The European Year of Citizens 2013 will focus on rights that every EU citizen has. All 500 million Europeans benefit daily from these rights – as does the European economy. The European Year will encourage dialogue at all levels of government, civil society and business, to explore where you – as citizens – want the EU to be by 2020 – in terms of rights, policies and governance.“
Just two days ago the Irish presidency launched the European Year with the first Citizens’ dialouge in Dublin. Severel meeting like this are planned throughout the year in Ireland and across the Union. But this is just what happens on the surface, the background looks dim.
The European Year setting agendas
You can easily argue that just „one“ European Year of Citizens is not enough. Better have an on-going Citizens’ dialogue on European level and engage the people as much as possible on a daily basis – true. But such a year can refocus on topics like volunteering or solidarity between generations like in 2011 and 2012 done. In this case to have European Years dedicated to a special topic does make sense. Civil society can concentrate actions, projects and education on the current topic to promote it.
The lack of European knowledge
In the case of this years’ European Year the topic is even more important as one of the biggest deficiencies of the EU itself is the dialogue and the interaction between the EU as a political body and the people. The old but lately flamed up debate about the relationship between the UK and the EU does show this crystal clear. People do not know much about the EU, the decision making process, the advantages, the rights as a EU citizens. Moreover a lot of misinformation and myths are buzzing around the European project – heated-up by mainstream media and national politicians behaving ambiguous about European policy.
Education should be the way, but… money matters
Therefore the task for civil society organisations dealing with European matters and European-orientated NGOs is a permanent battle via education-based enlightenment. There is no need to say that the money provided for (non-formal) European education is small throughout the Union and is getting less every year. Just think about the negotiations for the MFF from 2014 onwards where some member states are eager to reduce the money proposed by the European Commission. If the EU including the member states does want a long-term success in convincing citizens about the need for European integration they should not solely focus on economic strategies. Even if those are successful who knows whether citizens do connect the success with the work of the EU?
So if we go back to the European Year of Citizens one have to wonder why we have this year and the big opportunity to set sustainable impulses and the EU budget offers just one million Euros for the whole EU – 27 member states, 500 million citizens and for one long year. See the budget draft for 2013 “CHAPTER 16 05 — FOSTERING EUROPEAN CITIZENSHIP”.
How can we promote a European Year of Citizens with such a short amount of money? And moreover only tiny 0,5 % of the MFF from 2006 to 2013 are determined for Citizenship.
We often hear the political will about a Union of Citizens and soap-box oratories about how important it is to bring the people close to the European Union. To gain a sustainable success you need to pay the bill. This will not shift easily. Think about France defending the CAP payments or MEE countries fighting for the cohesion funds. It is a mess that the European budget looks in the 21st century like it looks. You can have recurrent European Years of Citizens from now onwards. You will never bring the Citizenship where it belongs – to all the citizens of Europe.