A year on: Juncker Commission, less bureaucracy, more politics?
A year ago, newly appointed Commission President Juncker set out the “last chance EU Commission”, with a top-10 of EU priorities under his term. Last position in this top-10, but not least importance, one would say, comes the battle for democratic change, in a context when Europe has been going through a crisis of democratic legitimacy of its decisions for several years now.
In order to reverse the negative spiral, Mr. Juncker proposed an increased transparency in lobbying and EU institutions’ work, a better collaboration between the EU institutions in the decision-making process, as well as a stronger role for national parliaments in this process. Vice-President Timmermans has been handed the hot potato of making European institutions less bureaucratic, closer to citizens and the public interest.
From the Commission’s perspective, Citizens’ dialogues, transparency and better regulation seem to be the panacea. The REFIT platform aims at engaging state experts, businesses, social partners and civil society with assessing the impact of legislative acts and “cleaning out” inefficient or useless laws. If it’s highly ironic to see the “partial disclose” of the content of a letter from British American Tobacco to the European Commission in relation to TTIP negotiations…, TTIP has also illustrated some first changes in transparency. European positions have been made public ahead of the discussions with US negotiators. This also illustrates how far we still are from regaining public trust if the Commission agenda is limited to access to documents. Public trust is about policy, you stupid! to use a famous snowclone.
And the series of gaps and contradictions in European politics is even more striking within the content and the management of the Greek debts crisis this summer, when the EU functioning was brought onto the edge of a post-democratic era, where “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties”, as President Juncker himself has claimed.
And while the EU institutions have proven quite successful in sanctioning non-compliance to economic rules, they fail to sanction non respect of democratic standards inside the Union, as shown by the sadly emblematic Hungarian case of systematic crack down on democratic values, rule of law, Human rights and civil liberties. Not to speak about the shameful answer given at European level to the refugees’ need for asylum.
If we have now to look at the 2016 work programme recently published by the Commission, despite the ambition to deliver on major challenges faced by European societies under the incentive “No time for business as usual”, proposals for democratic change remain under the sign of an unsatisfactory continuity…, mostly limited to functioning institutional aspects. No new measures are proposed as the Commission will only finalise existing work for the adoption of the interinstitutional agreement on the transparency register and on better regulation and will maintain national dialogues of commissioners with citizens. There is no plan to implement the provisions of article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty on civil dialogue and no follow-up to the European Year of Citizens Alliance - EYCA recommendations which tackle the issues of how to restore legitimacy of the European project by putting citizens and the values of Equality, Solidarity, Inclusiveness and Democracy at the centre of its policies.
European civil society can concede that Commission’s motto playing “big on big things and small on small things” is quite respected so far, although many important big things are missing from Mr. Juncker’s agenda, such as the social impact of European policies. As long as these core issues for the defenders of a democratic and inclusive Europe are not correctly dealt with, we missed the train for a democratic change.
News from the Forum
A feedback from the European Civic Days
The European Civic Forum gathered civil society representatives, European institutions’ officials, academics and others to its annual European Civic Days, which contribute not only to give voice to grassroots initiatives and concerns, but also bringing the European debate to national and local level and reach out to people often remote from current European agendas.
The opening session was marked by the interventions of Mohammed , Mustafa and Mohammad, three refugees from Irak and Syria, who shared their difficult decision to flee their native countries and try to find a more secure and stable environment in Europe. Beyond these moving moments, several ECF member organisations working on the ground with refugees also harshly criticised the decisions made by some European leaders to close their border and so make the routes even more dangerous for refugees.
Solidarity was at the heart of discussions, with a general incomprehension among organisations’ representatives about the European member states’ attitude and their management of the refugee crisis, fuelling xenophobia and racism, according to them. The debates also moved to the need for a paradigm shift at the political level, some arguing that time has come to set up new participatory mechanisms, which should enable to place citizens at the same level as politicians.
Eventually, this edition ended with thematic workshops around distinct topics (sustainable, inclusive, connected and collaborative societies), all giving time and space for participants to build together new paths for a collective work. This is precisely what urged us to find a way to keep up the momentum and look for a tool which will enable all participants to stay connected and continue building bridges between their different activities and initiatives. First videos and pictures can already be found online, while a complete report should follow very soon.
European Democratic Citizenship Awards ceremony
Alongside the European Civic Days, the ECF organised the official awards ceremony for the European Democratic Citizenship, aimed at promoting citizens’ engagement and rewarding outstanding initiatives and civic actors whose day-to-day struggles give real substance to European values, create ownership of the public space and improve the lives of our communities in terms of democracy, social justice and universal access to rights.
After a selection process by an international Jury and online public voting which triggered nearly 10 000 voices recorded, four laureates were finally nominated, each rewarded for their genuine commitment for a more democratic society. Thus, the 100,000 against the Internet tax campaigners from Hungary were given the Campaign of the year award, for having enabled a huge and unprecedented mobilisation against Viktor Orban’s controversial legislative proposal to tax internet service providers. Their success inspired ARTE TV and its journalist Vladimir Vasak, who decided to follow them to Budapest (video can be found here).
In the NGO of the year category, Greek activists from Youthnet Hellas were rewarded for their support and help to young people facing the aftermath of the crisis in Greece. As for the personality of the year, young PhD student Marsida Bandilli (Albania) succeeded to Joao Labrincha and the Citizenship Academy founders. She is notably involved in many European training sessions for empowering young people.
Last but not least, the Comics for Equality initiative was given the Media of the year Award, aimed at fostering intercultural dialogue in order to combat racism, xenophobia and discrimination in Europe through the active involvement of second generation migrants in the creation of comic strips.
Participate in the EU Citizenship survey launched by the European Commission
Citizens’ participation is one of European Civic Forum key targets. By promoting a broader concept of European citizenship, beyond the sole mobility and electoral issues, the ECF wants to enable an inclusive and equal participation of all citizens and residents in EU political life and its decision-making process.
Recently, the European Commission launched a new EU Citizenship survey, open to all until 9 November. This survey will notably contribute to the shaping of the next EU Citizenship report, to be published in 2016. It is now time to give your opinion and your experience on matters relating to your rights as an EU citizen as well as on what more the European Commission could do to make your life easier when you exercise your EU rights. Beyond that, the survey has now introduced a specific part linked to the democratic life in the EU and this is also where your voice counts. We are inviting all NGOs, individuals, activists, academics, to share their thoughts (advantages/failures) of the current state of EU citizenship.
Create / React training session in Budapest, 16/18 October 2016
As part of the European project Citi-rights led by European Alternatives, looking at how, when and where people in the EU can individually and collectively protect and advance rights, the European Civic Forum participated in a training session in Budapest organised by the Hungarian Europe Society.This event in Budapest comes at a juncture in time where fundamental rights and the European Union’s founding principles of human dignity, freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, solidarity, non-discrimination, and equality are at the centre of debate and yet at the periphery of policy-making.In April and June 2015, the Hungarian Europe Society organised two discussion workshops with a number of civil society organisations, including European Alternatives and European Civic Forum, to hear views and express opinions on the issue of illiberal democracies, on the decline in the protection of fundamental rights, the weakening power of the rule of law and the deterioration in the functioning of constitutional check and balances in the political settings of some EU member states. With this public event in October in Budapest, we wanted to take this one step further and theme the session around how we as civil society go beyond proposing actions at the European level and can act to enforce and use the law to build a Europe based on fundamental rights and values.
News from the Network
Together in Europe – 2015 events with EU partners
Together in Europe was intended to promote democratic engagement and civic participation amongst transnational EU citizens and migrants and the three nations involved in the project are very much paving the way in terms of free movement and transnational citizenship within the EU; Germany, Poland and the UK can all claim well over half a million citizens living and working in other EU member states.
From Cologne to London and Warsaw, the trainings gathered thousands of participants, willing to debate about capacity building, refugees’ accommodation, and social change. These trainings also saw extensive consultations, which showed that housing, the environment, transport and education to be issues affecting most people.
The final launch event of the Together in Europe Toolkit website took place at a specially organised conference with speakers, such as Zrinka Bralo of Citizens UK and executive director of the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum, Roger Casale, director of New Europeans, Ewa Winnicka, author and columnist for the Polish weekly ‘Polityka’ and Artur Banaszkiewicz, member of the Steering Committee of Forum Polonia in Ireland. Titled “Nothing about us without us: Do we stop being citizens when we emigrate?” the debate covered the issue of civic participation by migrant communities.
The TIE project will report on the work of the project and pose questions to an audience of mobile Europeans in Brussels on 1st December, at The EU Citizenship –Where Next? Seminar which will be held at the EESC , between 14.00 and 16.30. Register here.
They know what you did last Summer. Privacy vs. Security
What would you think if you see your neighbour opening your mail box, or if a colleague would enter in your Facebook account? Imagine also if some secret police would ransack your home without permission or a mandate? Through internet, public space cameras or data registers made on our everyday life paths, privacy is nowadays jeopardized. Lack of privacy is equal to lack of liberty and Citizenship Academy (CA) is determined to fight this form of oppression perpetrated by governments and companies against citizens, assuming a position next to personalities like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden.
In that sense, CA is organising a series of actions where the right to privacy is the core issue: a public screening of Citizenfour (a documentary about Edward Snowden, followed by debate, integrated in the documentary cycle “Transatlantic Cinecaffe”), organised in partnership with Lisboa Vadia and the Portuguese Stop TTIP Platform; a mini-workshop about privacy, in partnership with Opus Gay, which will also work as a warm-up session for the big workshop called “They know what you did last Summer”; and finally a series of workshops with students in secondary schools, integrated in the international project partnership CitizenRights in which one of the topics is Digital Privacy.
Through these events, we hope to raise awareness and create conscience about the importance of privacy as maintainer of our fundamental freedoms, providing also practical tools to defend ourselves from privacy attacks.
Institute of Public Affairs’ new publication about geopolitical choices of Ukraine and expectations of Ukrainians towards the West
Ukrainians Look to the West – Policy Assessment and Expectations is a new report published by the Institute of Public Affairs (Warsaw) and Bertelsmann Stiftung (Berlin). The publications is based on a representative face-to-face survey conducted in Ukraine in July 2015. The results of the survey shows, among the others, the following facts:
To learn more about the attitudes of Ukrainians towards the EU and Eurasian Union, their assessment of EU’s policy and expectations towards the West we encourage you to read the full version of the report J. Kucharczyk, A. Łada, Ł. Wenerski, Ukrainians Look to the West – Policy Assessment and Expectations, Institute of Public Affairs/Bertelsmann Stiftung, Warsaw 2015.
- Ukrainians are oriented pro-European and tend to see closer ties with Russia negatively.
- The pro-European orientation is combined with expectations that Ukraine will profit from closer relations with the EU economically and on the international stage
- Ukrainians do not expect Western countries to send their soldiers to Ukraine. They hope to receive humanitarian help for refugees and economic support.
- They also support tightening or maintaining sanctions imposed towards Russia by the EU
News from the Institutions
European Parliament approves end of roaming charges, but leaves concerns about Net Neutrality
On 27 October, the European Parliament adopted several legislative texts, among which the end of roaming charges for telecom operators, a measure to be implemented in June 2017. On the same day, MEPs rejected amendments which were supposed to bring more transparency in Net Neutrality regulation, transferring the burden on European regulators from the BEREC (Body of European regulators for Electronic Communications). Following this vote, Matt Carthy (GUE/NGL, IE) said the defeat of the amendments showed that "corporate interests come first".
Now, the BEREC will have the responsibility to prepare guidelines, aimed at interpreting the text adopted by the Parliament, as explained on savethenetneutrality’s website. This concretely means that it will be up to the BEREC to decide on the regulation of online freedom of expression and innovation, but also on the manoeuvre room for telecom operators for applying (or not) a two-speed Internet.
Metropolitan Community Clinic of Elliniko rejects the European Parliament Prize
In a press release published shortly after the European Parliament’s announcement, the Metropolitan Community Clinic of Elliniko rejected the Prize for the 2015 European Citizen, given by MEPs to reward the clinic’s struggle “for a fairer society for the unemployed – uninsured people who have been neglected by the Greek state during the Greek crisis”.
Explaining in details their denial of this popular Prize granted by the European Parliament, the Elliniko Clinic representatives stated that “Europe is [their] home: a home full of people of understanding and solidarity. This is the Europe that [they] believe in and wish for.” Though, given the recent developments of the Greek crisis and the severe austerity measures imposed to Greek people, among which unbearable spending cuts in the healthcare system, its members decided to “turn [their] back to all the institutions and their politicians, who treat people as numbers in accounting files”.
This statement and the reward come a year after the European Civic Forum met several volunteers from the Social Pharmacy in Patisia, where ECF members were explained that this movement is part of a greater mobilisation of the Greek society for solidarity, justice and human dignity. Back in that time, volunteers were urging European institutions to stop the spending cuts, which lead to the abolition of basic fundamental rights. With this rejection, the message sent to European Institutions now seems very clear.
Refugee Crisis: European Union to send 400 … border guards in the Balkans
Winter is coming, some fans of a well-known US series may say. This is also true for the refugees entering every day Europe via the Balkan routes. Yet, among high tensions between neighbouring countries (Croatia, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia, to name but a few), the European Union proposed to send 400 border guards in the countries facing the arrival of refugees. In an additional effort, EU officials announced that they would “speed up repatriations of Afghans, Iraqis and other Asian nations if asylum claims are rejected”, meaning that those fleeing from war and insecurity and not fitting into member states’ requirements for asylum will have to go back there very quickly. In a period when the conflict seems far from done in Syria and other countries, and when some European member states are reconsidering their initial commitments towards the reception of refugees, this move appears as a compromise with reluctant and often anti-refugees governments, against all claims and demands made by civil society organisations working on a daily basis on the ground and trying to offer a decent welcome to thousands of people.
In the same time, the European Parliament adopted the addition of extra funds for handling the unprecedented flow of refugees inside and outside the EU in the vote on the EU budget for 2016. In total, more than 1.16€ billion were added to the management of the refugee crisis.
FRA research about access to Justice in Member States
Presented during the European Day of Justice 2015 (25 October), FRA research shows that access to justice remains problematic in a number of EU Member States. Many reasons explain this negative trend, from low rights awareness to public funding cuts having an impact on the judiciary and legal aid – but also other bodies than courts, such as national human rights institutions. In this report, the FRA implicitly mentions the overall austerity measures taken throughout Europe as a cause in weaker access to Justice for many citizens.
To counter this, FRA continues to provide evidence-based advice to EU and national policy makers to improve awareness of and access to justice. This includes investigating how to remove existing obstacles that hinder people’s ability to access justice, including groups such as children and migrants.
European Parliament awards Sakharov Prize to Raif Badawi
Following a decision made public by EP president Martin Schulz and political group leaders, the European Parliament awarded the 2015 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Saudi blogger Raif Badawi. Badawi has been sentenced to a 10-year jail sentence for insulting Islam on his website, which promotes social, political and religious debates. In his speech delivered in front of many European and international journalists present for the EP Plenary meeting, Martin Schulz described the young blogger as “an extremely good and exemplary man”, also calling King of Saudi Arabia to “immediately stop the execution of this sentence”. Earlier this year, MEPs adopted a resolution calling on the Saudi Arabian monarch to respect the right to freedom of expression of his subjects.
10.11.2015 / The Economy for the Common Good / Madrid, Spain / Public event. The conference is around the merits and the applicability of a concept for a new sustainable economic model based on core values such as solidarity, human dignity, social justice, environmental sustainability, transparency and democratic participation.
18-20.11.2015 / World Forum for Democracy - Freedom vs control: For a democratic response / Strasbourg, France / Conference
. The Strasbourg World Forum for Democracy is an annual gathering of leaders, opinion-makers, civil society activists, representatives of business, academia, media and professional groups to debate key challenges for democracies worldwide. Read more here.
19-22.11.2015 / European Education Fair (Salon Européen de l'Education) / Paris, France / Fair
. Throughout the years, the European Education Fair has become a milestone showcasing the cooperation within the educational system. More information here.
01.12.2015 / European Citizenship - Where Next? / Brussels, Belgium / Conference, Roundtables
. Together in Europe partners warmly invite you to join us for an afternoon exploring the challenges mobile EU citizens share in today's Europe. More information & registration here.