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Viviane Reding: "More than half of Europeans think that their voice doesn’t count in Europe – that has to change"

As the European Year of Citizens was officially launched on Thursday 10th of January in Dublin, our partner Sport and Citizenship interviewed the Vice-president of the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding.

What are the tools available for European citizens to take part in the debate on the future of the Union?

This think tank founded in 2007 focusses on the role of sport in European societies. It publishes a quarterly review on issues related to sport and citizenship.Viviane Reding: President Barroso announced in his speech on the state of the Union that the time has come to hold a big debate.

The present crisis is above all a crisis of confidence - confidence in the ability of the Member States within the Euro zone to put their finances back on a stable basis, of course. But also confidence in European policy in general. And just as we are gradually regaining the confidence of the financial markets, we need to regain the confidence of our citizens. In order to do that, there needs to be a big debate everywhere in Europe - a frank discussion with citizens about the path to follow.

In the past, politicians - at the national level and the European level - have never explained enough. We now have the means to do this - I am thinking in particular of our communication and information services which work throughout Europe to communicate with citizens about Europe in their own languages in their own area. I am also thinking of the “Europe for Citizens” programme, which enables the Commission to fund meetings between citizens from different countries within the EU, for example, or to create a network of twinned towns so that they can work together on themes of common interest. This programme has also set up a structured dialogue with civil society to consult representative associations on topics relating to European citizenship, such as, for example, intercultural dialogue or the link between participative and representative democracy.

It’s a star, but there is still a long way to go. More than half of Europeans (68%) think that their voice doesn’t count in Europe - that has to change.

Is that actually the aim of 2013, the European Year of Citizens?

Viviane Reding: 2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of the creation of European citizenship in the Maastricht Treaty, which came into force on 1st November 1993. Citizenship of the Union, and the rights which go with this, represents a basic pillar of the EU.

The best-known is perhaps the right to free movement - but it is far from being the only right. Citizens often don’t know that it is thanks to European, laws that they can drink clean water and that they are so well protected as consumers. The first task of the European Year of Citizens will be to explain. Another task will be to listen. To do this a debate needs to be established with citizens in the Member States - that is why we are organising “Citizens’ Dialogues” , the first of which was held in September. Politicians will be on the ground to listen to citizens and answer their questions. A few weeks ago I was in the south of Spain at Cadiz and I have also been to Graz in Austria and Berlin in the heart of Germany.

The public consultation launched by the Commission last May reflects the keen interest in these questions. It is encouraging to note that most of the replies came from young Europeans. We received over 11,500 responses. The message is plain: Europeans want to take part in the debate and want to be heard. It is our duty as European and national politicians to listen to them.
Some of the events and debates will be organised by the European Commission and its offices in the Member States, or by other European institutions. We are cooperating with the Irish Presidency of the EU, for example, to hold the official launch of the European Year during a big public debate in Dublin on 10th January 2013.

Hundreds of other activities will be organised by civil society. We are working closely with representative organisations at the European level which have grouped together in an “Alliance” (EYCA). I am pleased to be able to say that some sporting organisations form part of it!

The Commission will provide a calendar of events, debates and shows on the official Year website: www.europa.eu/citizens-2013

The EU is in the process of defining the framework for the period 2014-2020. Will the “Europe for Citizens” programme be undergoing any changes?

Viviane Reding: On 14th December 2011, the Commission adopted a proposal for a Council regulation, establishing the “Europe for Citizens” programme for the period 2014-2020. This proposal is based on the current programme and anticipates measures to reinforce civil participation on three levels. It intends to:

  • develop civil society capacity to participate in the Union policy making process;
  • develop supportive structures to channel the results to policy-makers at the relevant levels;
  • offer additional opportunities for individual citizens to participate in debates and discussions on Union-related issues.

If it is adopted in the from proposed by the Commission, the two parts of “Europe for Citizens” , will enable cross-border activities such as town twinning, the creation and implementation of civil society projects, support for organisations of general European interest, debates on key moments in the History of Europe and shared European values and studies on themes related to citizenship and civic participation through the two components “European memory and citizenship” and “democratic engagement and civic participation” . It will thus give citizens new ways of making their voice heard.

One thing demanded by associations is the adoption of European statutes. What do you think of this proposal?

Viviane Reding: This request was the subject of a European Parliament resolution in 1984. The initiative never became part of the legislation, and in 2005 the Commission decided to withdraw the Statute for an association or mutual society from the list of pending legislative proposals, on the grounds of simplifying the administration. This year the Commission adopted a proposal for a “European Foundation Statute” .

Civil society organisations are important economic and social actors in the Union. Implementing a European statute would be a way of recognising their role in European development and construction and their contribution to the dialogue with the institutions. It is certainly a political element which should be taken into consideration.

Interview from December 2012 - European civil dialogue in sport

Find out more

Sport and Citizenship

European Commission

European Year of Citizen

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