Is the Iron Curtain back?
As you read in Sunday’s 20th March Financial Times the following, you understand something important occurred during the EU Council meeting held two days earlier. “The deal with Turkey is as sordid as anything I have seen in modern European politics. On the day that EU leaders signed the deal, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, gave the game away: “Democracy, freedom and the rule of law… For us, these words have absolutely no value any longer.” At that point, the European Council should have ended the conversation with Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish prime minister, and sent him home. But instead they made a deal with him — money and a lot more in return for help with the refugee crisis.”
When this summer, Germany opened its borders to welcome the refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war, with no set limits, many could feel proud about the European values in action, even if the last decades were not so conducive in making Solidarity at the heart of public policies (we all remember Greece, not to mention other recent events).
We then witnessed the surge of border closure inside the Schengen area. Regressive populism, not exclusively handled by the far-right, was making its way through, finally reaching the EU Council.
From the 20 March onwards, refugees and migrants arriving in Greece will be sent back to Turkey after an express procedure – a few hours – while a serious study of an asylum request usually takes weeks, if not months. Throughout Europe protesters criticised EU leaders, pointing out at major legal issues, including the fact that Turkey can hardly be considered a safe third-country for refugees.
As a reminder, Turkey has extended records of temporary border closures, violation of international asylum-seekers law… some sine qua none conditions for being declared a safe country. Moreover, the Asylum Procedures Directive considers a country of origin as safe, when there is “no threat by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of international or internal armed conflict”, which obviously is not the case with Turkey in the current context.
Knowing this, the agreement foresees up to 72 000 refugees to be sent back from Greece to Turkey. European leaders claim without shame that they expect these expulsions will discourage refugees to claim asylum in Europe. And, to hide this ignominious goal, the EU accepts to resettle one Syrian refugee from Turkish camps for each refugee sent back from Greece to Turkey. 18 000 should be distributed along an agreed repartition between Member-States, the other 54 000 on a “voluntary” basis. Today, even for marginal numbers in consideration of the number of people seeking safety, the EU leaders cannot agree for a sustainable and cohesive approach to the refugee crisis.
A chance for a clear migration policy based on European shared values of Solidarity and Equality has been torpedoed during the March 2016 European Summit. The relocation policy for 160 000 refugees drafted in September 2015 is now totally abandoned, victim of national egoisms and xenophobic attitudes towards refugees.
Europeans leaders just decided on their own to raise a new iron curtain, this time not imposed by the outside. As Ms Merkel was putting it some weeks ago, that is not the Europe we want to live in!
News from the Forum
Update about the Working Group on Participation
The European Civic Forum and Volonteurope are joining forces through a new working group on participation. This new working group met for the first time in Amsterdam on March 17th in parallel with Volonteurope conference on rural isolation.
Members of the working group discussed the first draft of the ‘active citizenship scorecard’. The active citizenship scorecard is a tool designed at understanding enablers and obstacles to active citizenship as well as citizens’ perception of their own engagement.
Once the scorecard is ready, it will be disseminated to collect answer from citizens from all backgrounds. On the longer term, the working group is exploring the opportunity to apply for funding through the Europe for Citizens programme in order to pursue its work further.
Hearing Union Citizenship in Practice: Our common values, rights and democratic participation
The ECF took part in the hearing on Union Citizenship in Practice: Our common values, rights and democratic participation organized by the European Commission and the European Parliament on 15 March 2016 in Brussels. The key objective of this hearing was to present the outcomes of the public consultation and recent flash Eurobarometer surveys, gather further input and reflect, with all actors concerned, on concrete avenues to advance EU citizenship and promote European common values and democratic participation.
Through panel discussions and open debate with the audience have been addressed specific issues related to the exercise of free movement and consular protection rights, as well as ways to enhance participation in the democratic life of the EU. While EU citizens seem to become more aware of their rights and the ways to exercise them (87% say they are familiar with the term “citizen of the EU” but only 56% claim to know what it means…), they also claim more efforts to get a stronger say on EU policy making (88% of the respondents in the public consultation), mainly through consultation and dialogue mechanisms.
The ECF welcomes both the consultation and open hearing opportunity as a step forward towards shaping a holistic and more inclusive citizenship policy, which should no longer be reduced to fostering “individual mobility rights” but should tackle citizens’ participation in policy making, both individually and through civil society associations.
From this perspective, the ECF deplores that this later dimension of citizens’ participation has been completely missing in the debate and strongly hopes the 2016 EU citizenship report will take good account of citizens’ expectations to see their right to have a say on European policies reinforced both by better use of existing consultation and the creation of new dialogue mechanisms.
For us, citizenship and the common good should become a cross-cutting dimension of European policies and a key priority in all areas of the Union’s action, by means of:
measuring the social and environmental impact of all EU policies and legislation,
giving citizens and civil society organsiations the opportunity to voice concerns about those policies and the extent to which they reflect the EU founding values,
taking these into account when discussing political strategies, framing policy proposals, implementing policies.
Click here for more information on the hearing and here to see ECF response and proposals for the public consultation.
EU info days in Pula (Croatia)
The regional foundation for civil society development and partnership in Istra organised it annual EU info days, from 14 to 18 March, in Pula. The European Civic Forum was invited to speak in a panel and present the most recent updates when it comes to organised civil society. Facing numerous questions about the way to actively involve citizens and civil society organisations in the decision-making processes at the local and regional level, ECF representative detailed how – at the European level – networks of organisations decided to work together on the implementation of a cross-disciplinary civil dialogue. After a presentation of the European Year of Citizens Alliance, which emerged during the EYC2013 and resulted in the creation of Civil Society Europe, participants were keen on discovering how, through thematic working groups and a cross-cutting approach, the networks involved in the process managed to build upon concrete recommendations and urge European institutions to settle a genuine and transparent dialogue with civil society organisations.
Being asked how to deal with citizens’ disengagement from local and national politics in Croatia, the ECF tried to emphasize the need for a common advocacy work from all involved civil society organisations, which have a necessary intermediate role between citizens and decision-makers. Tens of participants were also keen on knowing more about successful advocacy campaigns led at the European level and their keys to success.
A complete report of the discussions (in Croatian) can be found on the organisation's website.
Time to declare a state of Democracy! Towards citizen rights across the EU
The Citizen Rights toolkit has been produced by the European Civic Forum and European Alternatives as part of the Citi-Rights project. The report addresses recommendations and inputs to European Institutions, aimed at better protecting rights enshrined in EU Treaties and including citizens in EU level decision making.
Introducing it to different policy-makers (Mr. Nemitz from the DG Justice, Waltraud Heller from the FRA Agency and Tanja Fajon, MEP), European Alternatives and the European Civic Forum proposed something new in the way to address the democratic challenges and the threats to fundamental rights in the EU – more participation, more dialogue and placing the citizen at the heart of European policy making.
The discussion also gave the floor to several activists from various EU countries, where threats to fundamental rights were a daily issue civil society organisations have to deal with. From Hungary to Spain, France, Croatia and recently Poland, attempts to reduce civil liberties by the governments illustrate the current challenges for EU institutions, which either lack of efficient tools or are unable to put into practice existing ones, as explained by Tanja Fajon, a Slovenian member of the European Parliament (S&D). However, all participants agreed on the urgency for appropriate actions by EU institutions to ensure that democratic principles and Fundamental rights be respected in all member states.
A more in-depth analysis of the situation can be found on ECF website and Activizenship #2.
Save the date for 2016 European Civic Days, 29-30 May, Amsterdam
The European Civic Forum organises its annual General Assembly and Conference on 29 and 30 May in Amsterdam, with the support and in partnership with its Dutch member Netwerk Democratie, an NGO that tries to raise a resilient democracy in which citizens are more involved and are being enabled to actively contribute.
ECF event will be part of a broader series of events on democratic and cultural renewal in Europe from a citizen’s perspective, organized by Netwerk Democratie and their partners in the frame of the Dutch EU Presidency. This debate series explores different city policies and alternative practices which are reinvigorating democracy and transforming our cities and regions for the common good. We will meet people who are part of a growing movement of urban citizen co-development who are tackling issues on urban planning, cultural community initiatives, safeguarding and preservation of public space and participatory governance. The series is part of the Europe by People programme in the framework of the Dutch Presidency from January – July 2016.
On 30 May the ECF conference “Democracies in Transition” will be part of the City Makers Summit organised by Pakhuis de Zwijger, a cultural organisation working on urban challenges of today and engaging “city makers” from active citizens, to (creative) entrepreneurs, urban professionals, civil servants, scientists, residents’ initiatives, SME’s, government, NGO’s, research and educational institutions in shaping the city in transition. The working day will start with The Wall walking tour and continue with many workshops and roundtables exploring the multiple challenges facing our democratic societies today and the urgency to redesign democratic frameworks for the common good and more just and sustainable societies.
More info on programme and registration will follow soon.
News from the Network
Must we wait until 23 June? – by Democracy International
On 23 June the Britons will vote not only on UK’s membership in the EU, but on the very future of the European Union. Though they have every right to vote, the referendum is yet another warning shot fired against European democracy.
Millions of people across Europe want more democracy in the EU, but these voices have been utterly ignored during the EU reform negotiations. Our political elites are taking decisions over our heads, thinking more about their own re-election than about the needs of us, the citizens. Instead of building a stronger European democracy, they are offering ad hoc piecemeal solutions that are meant to appease us.
We do not want to be silenced, we want to have a say on Europe!
We now have a window of opportunity until 23 June. Things shall not go back to “business as usual” after the referendum, we need real change! We must show our leaders that we need a constitutional debate about Europe, to lay new foundations for a representative, participatory and direct democracy in the EU. A debate that involves all citizens from right across Europe.
The Lisbon Treaty opens the way for such a debate: Article 48 allows for the assembling of an EU Convention. We call for an EU Convention - involving politicians, civil society and citizens - to consider proposals for a true democratisation of the EU, to define what is to be dealt with at which level, and to strengthen civic participation. We want citizens to have the chance to vote on the proposals at the end in a European referendum.
Sign your support for a democratic Europe now!
We have until 23 June to show we stand for a democratic Europe. Please sign now!! Until the British will vote on Europe, we must mobilise for European democracy. After the referendum, the political elites will again try to silence the debate and exclude the citizens. With your support we can prevent this from happening.
Final conference of the WOW for Youth project - IDC Serbia
Since October 2014, IDC is implementing a project called ‘WOW for Youth’, together with partner organisations FIC Solidar (lead applicant), CGIL Filcams, IDEAS Institute, and SOLIDAR, aiming to improve employability of NEETs and encourage their active participation in social and democratic processes in their respective countries.
The continuous crisis has claimed a lot of victims, with young people being particularly vulnerable and resulting in 14 million young people who are not in employment, education or training. In the course of the project young NEETs, youth workers, and volunteers became empowered through peer-to-peer learning to engage in social and democratic processes in their local communities to better advocate for youth rights and access to quality employment opportunities.
During the final conference the results of the project World of Work for youth (WOW project) were presented to the policy makers and stakeholders. Youth representatives as well as the young trade unionists also presented their testimonies about the situation on the labour market in Denmark, Ireland, Italy and Serbia, which will then be underlined by the screening of the video on youth activism in these countries. Furthermore, we will host a debate on the perspectives for decent work for youth, measures to fight with youth unemployment and support NEETs in transition from education to employment.
The invited speakers representing policy makers and youth will discuss measures how to reach out to NEETs and equip them with skills, competences and knowledge needed in the labor market, how to support their personal development and participation in the society and how to increase the quality employment and lifelong learning for youth. You can find the draft program.
Democratic Participation in a Citizen’s Europe: What Next for the EU? Collaborative conference organised by the ECI campaign in Liverpool, 5th May 2016
As the European Union faces multiple crises, this timely event will explore current challenges and future opportunities for enhancing the participation of citizens in shaping the policies and direction of the EU. It will build on learning from diverse approaches to participation including citizens’ initiatives and petitions, deliberative forums, referendums, campaigning and citizen lobbying, stakeholder consultation, protest movements and more. Participants will together imagine new ways and means to develop a more participative and democratic European Union.
This collaborative conference will bring together democracy activists, campaigners, academics and policy makers to explore current challenges and future opportunities for EU public participation. It will build on learning from citizens’ initiatives and petitions, deliberative forums, citizen lobbying, social movements and more. Participants will together imagine new ways and means to develop a more participative and democratic European Union.
For more information and to register, click here.
Conference on Sustainable Development Goals & Value-based Investors - by Permanent Forum of Civil Society
It is impossible to “jointly” develop a common environmental policy among 195 sovereign states without establishing a supranational institution entrusted with its implementation. The resulting improvements will not be the result of measures included in the Paris Agreement but of the individual initiatives of states, the logic of events and the action of market forces.
It is no coincidence that the Permanent Forum of Civil Society will propose that a World Environment Agency be created under UN auspices at a higher level than the COP states. Such an agency would be endowed with real powers and financial autonomy and managed by an independent High Authority with the task of creating a World Plan to reduce CO2 emissions as well as of adapting its objectives to the evolving situation, providing financial aid to the most disadvantaged countries, implementing structured actions to combat global environmental emergencies, developing new technologies in the energy sector and transferring them to industrialising countries. This agency should be subject to the democratic control of the UN General Assembly and, in the future of the UN Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA), according to the principle of “no taxation without representation”. The conference will take place on 14 and 15 April 2016 in Rome.
For further information, please contact the European Movement Italy’s secretariat.
New Democracy events in the Netherlands – by Netwerk Democratie
Netwerk Democratie, the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) and Pakhuis de Zwijger organise a series of events on democratic and cultural renewal in Europe from a citizen’s perspective. More and more urban communities are confronted with urgent challenges on a daily basis. Many European cities are losing their cultural identity to gentrification processes due to commercial interests. Migration puts new pressures on cities but also offers opportunities to re-think themselves. This debate series explores different city policies and alternative practices which are reinvigorating democracy and transforming our cities and regions for the common good. We will meet people who are part of a growing movement of urban citizen co-development who are tackling issues on urban planning, cultural community initiatives, safeguarding and preservation of public space and participatory governance. The New Democracy series is part of the Europe by People programme and FabCity campus, in the framework of the Dutch Presidency from January – July 2016.
Sabir Festival, Pozzallo, 13-15 May 2016 - by ARCI
After Lampedusa in 2014, Sabir arrives in Pozzallo, a landing place and cultural crossroads in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. Sicily was chosen as the Festival’s geographical location to highlight the collective responsibility for the 2015 migration massacres in the Mediterranean Sea where over 3,500 men, women and children lost their lives. Such responsibility is mainly ascribable to Italy’s and Europe’s political choices in terms of immigration policies, to a paradigmatic idea of international relationships and democracy that has so far shaped a EU identity that is against many principles set forth by the Charter of Nice and the Constitutions drawn up from 1945 onwards.
The Festival will repeat the same formula that marked the 2014 edition. It will showcase an alternation of cultural events, interactive, musical and theatrical workshops and International meetings – a highly dynamic formula that aroused a great deal of interest among the local population as well as international participants. Indeed, the aim is to continue to put inhabitants, migrants living in the region and participants in the limelight.
The presence of representatives of European and African civil societies will make it possible to carry on the debate on the European derailments in the Mediterranean context. A derailment that increasingly intertwines different social emergencies more and more, from regional conflicts, to National extremisms arising, from environmental and democratic urgencies to cultural rights and freedom of thought and of speech that are all the more at risk.
Click here for more information.
Solidarity for All: building alternative institutions in Greece
In June 2014, the ECF member had the opportunity to meet activists from the solidarity economy movement Solidarity for All in Athens. Two years later, the movement is well-organised and providing a substantial help to citizens and grassroots movements. One of its members, Christos Giovanopoulos, has recently been interviewed by Counterpunch, a US magazine. In the text, Christos summarises the current situation in Greece, when it comes to effects of the imposed austerity measure on the population, notably pointing out that the youth unemployment rate raised to 59% in 2013, in comparison to 21% in 2008, i.e. before the crisis. Through a report entitled Building Hope: Against Fear and Devastation, Solidarity for All intends to illustrate the “the devastating effects of the radical neoliberal experiment on Greek society.” Though, as Christos says, the report showed another side of the coin: Greek society’s action through self-organisation and solidarity, of people standing up and resisting their economic and political ‘saviours.’
News from the Institutions
Eurobarometer on European Union Citizenship
The European Commission has published new Eurobarometer statistics on EU citizenship and the electoral rights that come with it. The survey shows that more Europeans (87%) than ever are familiar with their status as EU citizens. The report also shows that a similar number (88%) thinks that the EU should give citizens a stronger voice in democratic decision-making, an advocacy long defended by the European Civic Forum and other civil society organisations.
The respondents also showed their interest in playing a more active role in the European political life, which would not be limited to European elections. Online consultations and other dialogue mechanisms were notably quoted several times.
The Flash Eurobarometer on EU citizenship was conducted in October 2015 among 26,555 citizens in all 28 Member States. The European Commission took the opportunity to reiterate its commitment to ensuring that EU citizenship rights translate into concrete added-value for European citizens. In the perspective of the 2016 EU Citizenship Report, the Commission and the European Parliament organised a Hearing on EU Citizenship in practice: our common values, rights and democratic participation on 15 March 2016.
The complete report can be found here, with a detailed analysis of the findings.
Towards an EU Mechanism on Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights?
On 16th February 2016 the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) met to discuss a proposal to create a new EU mechanism on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights (DRF) to better monitor and enforce the EU's common values.
This proposal, which comes from the European Parliament (EP), relates to the EU's commitment to effectively protect and promote fundamental rights. It is wide in scope and builds on past initiatives of the European Commission and the EP; for instance the Commission's EU framework on the rule of law, presented in 2014. This framework, however, was seen as largely inadequate by MEPs because it would not hold governments to account if they breached fundamental rights. This is why the EP is considering establishing a binding mechanism that would make a regular assessment of Member States' compliance with EU's values, given that they are enshrined in its treaties. The EP proposal goes in the direction of AGE and other NGOs' proposal for an internal human rights strategy that would ensure the EU and its Member States consistently take into account fundamental rights.
Treaty change could be required if this proposal were realised, so to ensure diverse viewpoints were taken into account, the EP's Rapporteur, Sophie Sophie In 't Veld (the Netherlands, ALDE Party), requested input from seven other MEPs, each of whom focused on a specific area. The initial working document presented by Mrs. In’t Veld notably outlines the lack of foreseen action against a Member State in Article 7 TEU. Developments in this area would likely mean that fundamental and human rights would play a more prominent and enforceable role in EU legislation.
Promoting Citizenship through Education
One year after the adoption of the Paris Declaration on promoting citizenship and the common values of freedom, tolerance and non-discrimination through education, the Commission continues to support its objectives for inclusive education. The Paris Declaration was adopted by the Informal Meeting of EU Education Ministers in Paris on 17 March 2015, as a reaction to the terror attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in 2015. In particular, it invites Member States to pursue a series of national and local level objectives and identifies four overarching priorities for EU-level cooperation:
- Ensuring young people acquire social, civic and intercultural competences, by promoting democratic values and fundamental rights, social inclusion and non-discrimination, as well as active citizenship;
- Enhancing critical thinking and media literacy, particularly in the use of the Internet and social media, so as to develop resistance to of discrimination and indoctrination;
- Fostering the education of disadvantaged children and young people, by ensuring that our education and training systems address their needs; and
- Promoting intercultural dialogue through all forms of learning in cooperation with other relevant policies and stakeholders.
The objectives of the Declaration go much beyond a narrow focus on violent radicalisation. They also cover issues, such as inclusive education, citizenship education, anti-discrimination and fundamental values in a broad sense. As a follow-up to the Declaration, the Commission has adapted its policy framework on education, training (ET2020) and youth. Moreover, a dedicated Working Group composed of Member State experts, representatives from civil society and international organization was launched on 22 February. The objective of the working group is to promote the exchange of good practices on issues, such as enhancing social and civic competences, critical thinking and media literacy, combating discrimination, enhancing intercultural understanding and enhancing inclusive education.
EESC opinion on the European Agenda on Security
Cristian Pirvulescu, ECF vice-president and a member of Group III in the European Economic & Social Committee, recently was the rapporteur of an opinion about the European Agenda on Security. In the document, the Committee notably argues that “it is possible to be both secure and free in Europe, and considers it dangerous for any democracy to legislate against anticipated crimes”.
The first article in the opinion notably states that:
"The Committee encourages the Member States to pool resources to combat both trafficking in firearms and ammunition and terrorism. However, increasing the number of European and national safeguards can have a cumulative effect and harm fundamental rights. If fundamental rights are harmed, the EU will fail to achieve its fundamental task".
To consult the complete opinion drafted by the EESC, please click here.
04-07.04.2016 / EU Youth Conference: ‘Ready for life, ready for society’ / Amsterdam, Netherlands / Public event/ The EU Youth Conference will be organised by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the Dutch Youth Council (NJR) and the Netherlands Youth Institute.
06-07.04.2016 / European Migration Forum - 2nd meeting / Brussels, Belgium / Upon invitation. The European Migration Forum – the civil society dialogue platform on migration, asylum and migrant integration – will meet for the second time in April 2016.
07-10.04.2016 / ESN Annual General Meeting / Warsaw, Poland / Conference. From 7th to 10th April 2016, Warsaw will play host to the Annual General Meeting, the largest student conference of its kind in Europe, organised by Erasmus Student Network.