ECIT is a public foundation set up to work exclusively on the concepts of European citizenship. This citizens’ think tank will bring together civil society activists, academics and policy makers to develop a clearer consensus about how this scattered transnational citizenship should be developed. The aim is to provide first a web platform on European citizenship seen as a multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder project bringing together the elements of citizens’ rights, involvement and trust, which are the components of any citizenship. As this develops we will be aiming to house this resource centre in a physical space which will also become a centre for citizen participation.
Anyone who has worked in the area of European rights to free movement, or who has explored how to strengthen the voice of citizens within the EU could have had the idea of setting up ECIT! Everything one does relates in some way to European citizenship but the concept itself remains elusive, despite its considerable potential to counterbalance the forces of euro-scepticism and excessive nationalism. There is a critical mass of people working on different aspects of European citizenship, but meaning different things to different people, it can end up as an abstraction, a kind of Cinderella status. ECIT can be seen as a follow-up to the Alliance for the European Year of Citizens in 2013, which made a start by bringing together a significant range of civil society organisations round a common platform.
However, the Year overall failed to make an impact not just through lack of resources but also a minimum of shared concept of European citizenship was lacking within and between civil society, policy makers and the research community. The fragmented approach continues in the new Commission with responsibilities divided among portfolios for justice, migration ,employment and social affairs. Where European citizenship should be, it is somehow missing!
Our Guidelines for European Rights, Involvement and Trust attempt to both bring together the scattered elements and propose how European citizenship should be developed. Again there is nothing new or original in this approach since several major scholars identify citizenship at any level as comprising in various ways elements of rights, democratic participation and belonging. They also show how in the struggle for rights and democracy over centuries these elements are related and stand or fall together. A rights-only citizenship which has tended to be the main EU focus cannot succeed on its own. Any citizenship also includes duties, including the duty to further and enforce such rights through the democratic process, which in turn requires a developed sense of common purpose and civic education. We do not expect people to agree with every word of the guidelines, so much as with the general approach. Over the next year we will be fundraising and assessing the chances of success for a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to collect over one million signatures asking the European Union to develop this first transnational citizenship of modern times. This could be one objective for the citizens debate circles we are proposing to set up in different university centres across Euro
Whilst there is an impressive research output on European citizenship, it is hardly taught as such in universities. On the other hand more and more students cover European rights to free movement when they study European law. Issues related to European citizenship such as the democratic deficit, the notion of a European public sphere, multiculturalism and migration are increasingly prominent in political science, sociology and European studies. The circles will be primarily of benefit to the students themselves by encouraging cross-fertilisation among different disciplines to get to European citizenship as such. A start is being made at the University of Maastricht because this was the town where the Treaty was signed in 1991 adding the chapter on Union citizenship. How the circles will be organised will be decided by the students themselves, with ECIT having a supporting and coordinating role which will include highlighting recommendations towards the EU Institutions. This is still at the ideas stage and we must wait to see if it will take off.
This idea came from a brainstorming meeting held in Paris last July and hosted by Fondation Léopold Meyer. It brought together a number of protagonists for European citizenship and a different Europe sharing experience in the areas of defending European rights, participatory democracy and civic education. In such a complex area as citizenship creating a virtual resource centre is not enough: there also have to be more opportunities to meet , discuss and compare ideas across different communities of interest , institutional national and other barriers. The aim of such a a summer university could be to provide an annual rendez-vous among civil society activists, researchers and policymakers. There is a need for this-a sense that European citizenship is under threat from the very forces of excessive nationalism and xenophobia, it is there to combat. So a scattered community needs to join forces to defend the status quo of rights, which can no longer be taken for granted. In turn however this is not enough-European citizenship has developed to a point where more and more people are beginning to search for what it should become. If the summer university gets off the ground, hopefully it will help create a community of interest of the scattered communities of interest and a coalition of civil society organisations as the advance guard.
That depends ultimately on how prepared people are to invest in a concept which remains elusive. There has certainly been impressive investment by the research community. Maybe this a crude generalisation, but the volume and quality of the research greatly exceeds its take up by civil society and policy makers. The academic community and their funders may therefore have an interest in initiatives, which can increase the impact of their findings.
More specifically for ECIT, we are exploring three potential sources of revenue: