ECIT Foundation (on European Citizens’ Rights, Involvement and Trust) was established as a public foundation under Belgian law on 3 June 2015. In the world of European think-tanks, it fills a gap being the only one to concentrate solely on European Citizenship. ECIT is becoming a resource of know-how, research, and contacts, but also one of support for civil society organisations, academics and policy makers when they work on this theme. So far, the Foundation has to its credit a book: Piecing together Europe’s citizenship, published in English and French.
Although 60% of people recognise that they are both national and European in some sense, the concept of European Citizenship itself remains elusive. By bringing together its scattered elements in the ECIT Statute, we aim to improve an understanding of what it is and what it could become. This matters because the European Union is crisis-ridden, torn apart by centrifugal forces over the management of the Euro, asylum and immigration, free movement within the EU and the rise of extreme nationalism and xenophobia. What else but a stronger transnational citizenship can hold the EU together? The dilemma is that European Citizenship as a shared concept. It will take a generation to build… However, there is no option but to start.
Frequently Asked Questions about ECIT
ECIT is a public foundation established in 2015 under Belgian law. ECIT stands for Citizens’ rights, Involvement and Trust, and is a think-tank with the sole mission of developing European Citizenship. As such, the organisation fills a gap in the world of civil society organisations around the EU Institutions. Many devote part of their activity to this first transnational citizenship of the modern era, but no others do so as their sole main activity. This is surprising since the Maastricht Treaty added Union Citizenship (Articles 18-25 TFEU) and there is a substantial body of EU regulatory activity and case law in the Court of Justice of the EU.
Our first activity was to bring together civil society activists, academics and policy-makers at an annual conference which is now in its 7th edition. The aim is to examine the “state of the art”, and discuss recent events in workshops on rights, participation and belonging — the components of citizenship at any level. The approach of the annual event is multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral, twice attracting the patronage of the European Parliament. At each event, there is output with demands to the EU Institutions. A striking feature of these events has been the participation of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) which has encouraged us to start setting up in 2021 a cross-party group of MEPs on European Citizenship.
It is a starting point. At each annual event, ECIT has updated a set of guidelines bringing together — like the event itself — the scattered elements of European Citizenship. This has been developed into a full-blown 30-article draft statute and is an idea which has now gained the support of the European Parliament and the citizen-lead Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE). This shows that with persistence and in particular an alliance between civil society interests and MEPs, a good idea can make it on the agenda of the EU. To carry it through and persuade the European Commission and the 27 governments is, however, a tall order, so we are looking for funding and support as you can gather from the programme proposing a series of activities leading up to the European elections in 2024
The chances are high, but the real question is what will be in the Statute and how legally binding and enforceable it will be. There is value in concentrating on what exists and bringing together across different departments and committees the scattered European rights, policies and programmes, so that European Citizenship becomes more visible and easier to teach to young people for example. However, European Citizenship is also unique and an aspiration, which we hope will be reflected too in any statute. This reform should be the opportunity to introduce new environmental, health and social rights, and to implement many proposals coming out of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE). How far we can go will depend ultimately on citizens themselves taking their status as European citizens into their own hands and not just taking it for granted.
At our annual events, the conclusion was drawn that full political rights for mobile EU citizens to vote where they live — not just in European and local, but also in regional and national elections — was the key to make this citizenship more responsible and real. We therefore set up a taskforce of young people and launched a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), which, whilst failing to gather enough signatures, succeeded in putting the question on the agenda, backed up by research and fact finding, the results of which can be found on this website under political rights. Now that the ECI is over, we are bringing together the interests of 13.5 million EU citizens, with those of the 23.5 million third-country nationals, and planning activity such as symbolic elections in the run-up to the 2024 European Elections. Our taskforce ‘Voters Without Borders’ should continue because it is a good example of young people taking over responsibility for European Citizenship, and one which has achieved recognition.
Now that the ECI on political rights is over, we are planning a new one demanding a European law for Member States to guarantee that every child should receive an education in European Citizenship, so that this ceases to be associated with those fortunate enough to have the knowledge and resources to take advantage of what Europe has to offer. It should become a European Citizenship for all. The proposed ECI is the result of collaboration with NECE (Networking for European Citizenship Education) and preparatory work, particularly on the legal basis. Our aim is to bring together those campaigning for the rights of the child with those in civil society and the educational system aware of the need for more education in European values.
Yes, our annual event taking place on 29 November 2022 in Brussels will begin with three parallel workshops on 1) campaigning to bring about a Statute on European Citizenship, 2) following up on the ECI ‘Voters Without Borders’ in the run up to the 2024 European Elections, and 3) launching a new ECI ‘Making European Citizens’ – a guarantee of the freedom of Europe for every child. We will focus in the main, more political part of the event on how to relate the Statute to the need for a more inclusive European Citizenship reaching beyond the borders of the EU in the new Europe being fashioned by the Russian war on Ukraine.