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Our Director’s Intervention at the EU Citizenship Hearing

Our Director, Assya Kavrakova, was invited to intervene in the hearing on EU Citizenship jointly organised by the European Commission and the European Parliament on 15 March 2016.

During the hearing the preliminary findings of the Commission´s  2015 public consultation “EU Citizenship: Share your opinion on our common values, rights and democratic participation”, as well as the 2016 Flash Eurobarometer on EU Citizenship and the 2016 Flash Eurobarometer on Electoral Rights were presented and discussed. The findings of these studies show that while progress has been made, as just under 9 in 10 Europeans are now familiar with the concept of “EU Citizenship”, only a little over half of them understand what being an EU citizen actually means. When it comes to awareness of the rights that come with the EU citizenship and the mechanisms in place to have them enforced, the figures are less positive. That being said, an improvement has been registered since the last survey carried out in 2012. Across the EU, just over 4 in 10 respondents say they feel informed about their rights as citizens of the European Union, and close to 6 in 10 feel that they are either not very well informed or not at all informed, which shows that there is still significant room for improvement. In these studies EU citizens have been found to be the most familiar with their right to free movement and their right to petition key EU institutions. There is also notable awareness about the right to equal treatment when residing in another EU member state, as well as the right to participate in a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI).

Assya Kavrakova participated in the fourth panel of the hearing, which focused precisely on the citizens’ right to address the EU. In her intervention, she drew the attention to two tools in place for citizens to enfore their rights and to engage in EU policy-making, respectively:

  1. The Your Europe Advice Service run by ECAS on behalf of the European Commission, through which over 22,000 EU citizens and their family members yearly obtain legal advice for free on their rights when moving across Europe;
  2. The “Lighten the Load” online tool, recently established by the European Commission under the Better Regulation Agenda in order to collect the views of citizens on how to make EU Laws more effective and fit for purpose. As a member of the REFIT Platform set up by Commissioner Timmermans to support the simplification of EU Law, Assya explained that the feedback collected through this online tool is taken into consideration by the REFIT Platform and may be used to identify actions for simplification and administrative burden reduction.

In addition, she pointed to the fact that while the Commission’s usual public consultations are a useful tool to engage with organised interest groups, they are not suitable to engage with citizens. Therefore she urged EU policy-makers to put parallel tools in place for that purpose. When seeking the views of the young generation in particular, she stressed that policy-makers should not ask them to start using specially-designed tools, but rather that policy-makers should engage with them in the ecosystems in which they already interact. Assya referred to ECAS’ new project Digital Ecosystem for E-Participation Linking Youth (DEEP-Linking Youth), which precisely aims to use e-participation as an instrument to foster young people’s empowerment and active participation in democratic life – the ultimate goal being to develop a pilot for crowdsourced legislation at EU level on a specific topic.

In her final remarks, ECAS Director confirmed that it is high time for a substantial revision of the ECI Regulation and advised policy-makers to concentrate first on improving success in the registration rate, which has been identified as a main pitfall leading to much frustration among EU citizens.

More information about the hearing and agenda

Watch ECAS’ Director intervention (from minute 2:12:30)

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