PRESS RELEASE: European Citizenship at the Crossroads

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At a conference in Brussels on 3 July, stakeholders discussed the future of EU Citizenship in the next legislature. They emphasised the need to prioritise European Citizenship, particularly for the younger generation who view it as a key part of their identity. EU Citizenship, established by the Maastricht Treaty, has strong roots and does not threaten Member States’ nationalities. Despite its potential, there have been no new rights added in 31 years, and greater recognition of the EU Commission’s role in protecting citizens’ rights is needed. The rise of extremist parties and their challenges to equal treatment and freedom of movement requires a more proactive defence of EU Citizenship and its integration with fundamental rights and transparent administration.

The 2024 European elections saw no significant increase in turnout and were too nationalistic, so European Citizenship must be given more priority in the next European legislature. This unique transnational citizenship has stronger legal, historical, and cultural roots than generally thought, and is very real, especially to the young generation as an expression of their shared European identity and values. EU Citizenship is additional to and in no way threatens the nationality of Member States. It is an overlooked constitutional asset — for all its imperfections­­ — to combat the dangers of resurgent nationalism, but which dares not speak its name.

For the last 31 years, since the Maastricht Treaty brought EU Citizenship into legal existence, over-caution has prevailed and there has been no initiative to add new rights to this evolving status, even though that is possible without Treaty reform. There should be more recognition of the role played by the Commission, for example in defending rights to freedom of movement during the pandemic and ensuring that they were restored in the return to normal. The pandemic also showed how much everyday services are dependent on cross-border transport and low-skilled workers, whose rights to a European minimum wage and fair contracts should be defended. However, there is now a new crisis of a very different kind with the growth of extremist parties questioning equal treatment between EU citizens and nationals, downgrading the value of dual citizenship and seeking the renegotiation of European freedom of movement. To defend existing rights and combat discrimination now demands more than technical behind-the-scenes responses. EU Citizenship has to be bound more closely to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the rule of law, and the right to a transparent and fair administration. There should be a shift in administrative culture by all EU Institutions to take on visible responsibility for European rights and Citizenship: political support, resources, co-ownership by citizens themselves.[1]

The Conference issued a wake-up call reflected in the Conference Background Document.

Make EU Citizenship:

  1. The responsibility of a senior member of the Commission. This should be a coordinating role so that EU Citizenship is taken into account in all policies of the EU and is not just everyone’s and no one’s responsibility. Backed by a team and the necessary resources, the Commissioner should be the person to contact with complaints, appeals, or initiatives which should, in turn, be followed up in policy making. The Commissioner should have a mandate to conceive a European Citizenship that is more inclusive and outward-looking. The Commissioner should be shadowed by a Cross-Party Group of MEPs.
  2. A citizenship more clearly understood in a Statute. This was demanded by the Conference on the Future of Europe, and has been proposed repeatedly by the last European Parliament, while the Commission has produced a guide to a more limited set of rights. Bringing all the rights scattered across different policy areas together will make citizens more aware of the meaning of EU Citizenship and identify where enforcement can be improved, and gaps filled.[2] EU Citizenship should be developed to become relevant not just to those on the move but also to those who stay at home.
  3. A full political and democratic citizenship. Political rights are the hallmark of citizenship. While the Maastricht Treaty gave EU citizens the right to vote and stand in municipal and European elections where they live, these partial rights are underused, and should be reformed and extended to regional and national elections. It is still necessary to combat disenfranchisement linked to freedom of movement. At the same time, national authorities should make efforts to close the gap between EU citizens and other residents. Efforts to extend the franchise should include lowering the voting age to 16, provided this is accompanied by an increase in citizenship education.
  4. A citizenship for all, not just the few. This should be done by introducing a right to European citizenship education added to national citizenship education in and out of school. This should not be just theory. Everyone — and not just relatively privileged young people — should have an opportunity at some time in their life to experience what Europe has to offer. These new benefits should be included in a European citizens’ card linked to one’s ID, making the application of one’s status, and rights moving around Europe or engaging with the EU much more accessible and automatic. A European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) called “Teach Me Europe” should be supported, building on repeated demands by the European Parliament and the Conference on the Future of Europe.
  5. A citizenship owned by citizens themselves. The background document proposes making European citizens co-owners of their own status, so that it becomes less a top-down EU creation and more a fundamental status which people themselves have a responsibility to develop further. Choosing citizens at random to be representative of the population and bringing them together in European Citizens’ Assemblies has been shown to work in the Conference on the Future of Europe. There are national models and other examples, such as the transnational Democratic Odyssey. This powerful participatory democracy instrument should be applied to supporting and implementing the above agenda.

The ECIT Foundation urges newly elected MEPs to take up this plan and ask future Commissioners to implement it in the parliamentary hearings this autumn.

[1] To signal the need for a change in administrative culture, the ECIT Board of Directors decided on 3 July to appeal to the European Ombudsman against the failure of the Commission to launch a public consultation on the tri-annual report on EU Citizenship under Article 25 TFEU.

[2] The Renew Europe group in the last legislature produced a statute. The ECIT version can be found here.

Contact for the press: Tony Venables, ECIT Founder, [email protected].