The Malta Independent 14 December 2018, Friday

European citizenship – It’s about You

Meusac Saturday, 23 November 2013, 08:52 Last update: about 5 years ago

Maltese citizenship, just like citizenship of any other EU Member States, automatically confers upon the holder citizenship of the European Union.

Article 9 of the Treaty on European Union states that: In all its activities, the Union shall observe the principle of the equality of its citizens, who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies. Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it.

The notion of EU citizenship was first introduced into the EU legal order by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993. EU citizens’ rights were reinforced in 2009 by the Treaty of Lisbon and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

EU citizenship is not an abstract concept. It brings with it tangible rights and duties. Most obvious of all are rights such as that of voting to elect the members of the European Parliament (EP), and the freedom of movement for all EU citizens that includes the right to live, work or study in any EU Member State.

2013 has been designated the European Year for Citizens to take stock of the situation twenty years after the introduction of EU citizenship. This year, on Europe Day, the European Commission launched its Citizenship Report aimed at identifying and overcoming obstacles that EU citizens still face in their everyday life and democratic participation.

The main rights enjoyed by EU citizens are the right:

not to be discriminated against on grounds of nationality;

to move and reside freely within the EU;

to vote and stand as candidates in local and EP elections wherever they live in the EU , under the same conditions as nationals of the Member State in which they reside;

to be assisted in a country outside the EU by the embassy or consulate of  another EU country under the same conditions as a citizen of that country should their own country not be represented there;

to petition the EP, apply to the European Ombudsman and address the EU institutions; and

to organise or support, together with other EU citizens, a citizens’ initiative to call for new EU legislation.

The Citizenship Report recognises that obstacles still remain for the full exercise of these rights.  It, therefore, proposed twelve new actions in six key areas to remove these obstacles. The six areas identified are:

Removing obstacles for workers, students and trainees in the EU;

Cutting red tape in the Member States;

Protecting the more vulnerable in the EU;

Eliminating barriers to shopping in the EU;

Targeted and accessible information in the EU; and

Participating in the democratic life of the EU.

The proposed actions are concrete and range from the revision of the social security coordination regulation and an extension of the export of unemployment benefits for longer than the current mandatory three months, to the introduction of optional uniform European identity and residence documents for EU citizens, or facilitating the recognition of vehicle roadworthiness certificates in the EU.

MEUSAC is the national contact point in Malta for this European Year of Citizens. We have endeavoured, through various initiatives, to engage with the public to make them more aware of what EU citizenship actually means. Surveys of public opinion carried out in Malta constantly indicate that the Maltese are well informed and knowledgeable. The Eurobarometer survey commissioned last June by the EP to gauge Europeans’ opinion of the European project, the EU and the possibilities offered by the2014 EP elections also highlights some interesting indicators.

When asked what would strengthen most their feeling of EU citizenship, 31% of Maltese replied that it would be a harmonised European social welfare system (health, pensions, etc.) whereas 30% Maltese replied that it is the right to vote in all elections wherever you live in the EU even if you are not a citizen of that Member State.

The final major event of the European Year being organised by MEUSAC is a Citizens’ Fair at the Palace in Valletta this Saturday morning.  The Fair is targeting families, children and youths. A number of activities will be organised and stands will be set up by EU national contact points and other related entities disseminate information on EU citizens’ rights. There will be special activities for children. It will also be possible to visit the Palace State Rooms and the Chamber of the House of Representatives. The event will also include a debate in the Chamber of the House between Members of Parliament, Members of the European Parliament and representatives of Civil Society. They will be discussing various topics related to EU citizenship.

In the words of European Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding, “We cannot build the European Union without citizens, we can only build the EU with the people it is made for and based on their ideas. European citizenship is the cornerstone of EU integration.”

 

Vanni Xuereb is the MEUSAC head

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