President. – The next item is the report by Adina-Ioana Vălean, on behalf of the Committee on Petitions, on the EU citizenship report 2010: Dismantling the obstacles to EU citizens’ rights (2011/2182(INI)) (A7-0047/2012).
Adina-Ioana Vălean, rapporteur. – Mr President, I would like to start by saluting the efforts of the European Commission to reinforce EU citizenship by giving real substance to citizens’ rights. This was done by introducing the report on citizenship in October 2010. This is indeed what we need in the EU: to take steps forward by engaging Member States, institutions and citizens to fully respect EU law and lift obstacles to the free movement of our citizens.
So far, the EU has been less successful and has not given enough priority to ensuring the legal framework is applied in practice. As a result, the free movement of persons has developed less than the other three freedoms. Over the last years, an increasing number of petitions have been registered with respect to problems encountered by EU citizens who exercise their right to free movement, accounting for approximately 25% of the total number of petitions received.
Also, some progress has been achieved following the adoption of the Parliament report on application of the Free Movement Directive in 2008, of which I was the rapporteur, and also the publication of the Commission’s guidelines for implementation of the Free Movement Directive.
Numerous petitions bear witness to the fact that there are still many problems related to the implementation of the directive: unjustified administrative burdens, particularly for third-country national family members, including entry requirements and lengthy procedural delays; a lack of recognition of free movement rights for certain registered partners, including those in a same-sex relationship; public policy exceptions to serve economic or security aims which have ignored the principle of proportionality, especially in abuses of expulsion orders; discrimination towards certain nationals and ethnic communities. These are just a few examples of such breaches of European citizens’ fundamental rights.
There is a large gap between the expectation of citizens, who increasingly take free movement for granted and expect the spirit of the Treaty and the legislation to be respected, and the practice of national authorities who insist more on the conditions and exceptions.
To achieve real free movement as well as EU citizenship, Member States need to be pushed to do it, to change their laws and administrative practices. The only institution that can do it is the one that is charged with the task of being the Guardian of the Treaties, the European Commission.
An important number of petitions highlighted the problems encountered by citizens on the mutual recognition and free circulation of civil status documents and their effects. Procedures for the recognition of documents can be extremely time consuming and involve many costs, especially with regard to translation and authentication. There are even Member States which refuse to issue certificates of civil status to persons who intend to engage in a partnership or marriage in another Member State.
Since free movement rights are guaranteed by a mix of European laws and national implementing measures, citizens often find themselves caught up in red tape, being asked to produce an excessive number of documents in original form or authenticated copies and translations. The problem with the recognition of professional qualifications brings delays in job applications that can take months, even years, preventing even the attempt to access the labour market. This hampers labour mobility, which has a positive impact on economic growth, so on and so forth. We have been discussing in the Committee on Petitions all these obstacles which citizens encounter in exercising their rights as European citizens.
Let me conclude by saying that this citizenship report is based on the petitions received from the citizens who address us with their concerns and worries, expecting the European Parliament to protect their rights guaranteed by the Treaty. The signal we are going to give today by voting on this report is an important one. The rights achieved by our citizens should be respected by all, no matter the political family we belong to or the country we come from.
Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the Commission. – Mr President, honourable Members, already 20 years ago, the Maastricht Treaty enshrined the concept of EU citizenship, and the Lisbon Treaty on European Union places citizens firmly at the heart of the European Union – as it should be. In practice, this means, and should mean, that people who travel outside their own country, whether for tourism, study, work, marriage or retirement, should be able to exercise their rights as European citizens as easily as in their own country, wherever they are in Europe.
To this end, in October 2010, the Commission presented its first report on EU citizenship, which highlighted the obstacles which citizens may still encounter when travelling within the Union. The Commission proposed specific measures to remove these obstacles. I am glad to see today that our priority is also your priority, the priority of the European Parliament, and I would like to thank the rapporteur, Ms Vălean, for the excellent work she has done on the report.
I welcome the fact that the report has been received with considerable interest by the various committees to which it has been submitted for an opinion. The Parliament has a key role to play in further developing EU citizenship. The Commission has taken firm action to ensure that all 27 Member States comply fully with EU citizens’ right to freedom of movement. Thanks to continued political pressure, we have achieved concrete results. Most, but not all, Member States have implemented the EU rules on free movement in full and, where Member States have failed to do so, the Commission has not hesitated to use its prerogatives and we have brought infringement proceedings against those Member States.
Ms Vălean, in your report, you quite rightly emphasise the importance of non-discrimination. In April, the Commission will present its analyses of the Member States’ national strategies on the integration of the Roma people of Europe. You also stressed your concern that citizens should be informed of their rights; this is indeed an essential point and that is why we have set up the portal called Your Europe, in order to provide citizens in their own languages with detailed information on their rights. In addition to this portal, there are 500 Europe Direct centres in the Member States for the same purpose.
Thus, to enable citizens to be better informed and involve them in a debate on the development of the European Union, we have proposed that the year 2013 should be the European Year of Citizens. You have now received this proposal, as has the Council, and we trust that an agreement can be reached swiftly.
The Commission will present its second citizenship report in the course of this European Year of Citizens and it will report on the progress already made and propose new actions to make the EU into an area where justice and citizens’ rights are truly guaranteed. A public consultation for our citizens will be launched very soon, to involve citizens in this important initiative. Ms Vălean’s report already serves as a contribution for the European Parliament, and my colleague, Vice-President Viviane Reding, will continue to meet you in the coming weeks and months in order to receive your suggestions.
In conclusion, if our joint efforts are to be successful, we must work in tandem and involve our citizens. The Commission is therefore anxious to conduct an open and constructive dialogue with all stakeholders in order to build a Europe that protects citizens’ rights: a Europe for citizens and a Europe at the service of citizens.
Louis Grech, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. – Mr President, for the past two years, the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection has been advocating the introduction and adoption by the Commission of a Citizens’ Rights Charter. This citizens’ charter would clearly outline citizens’ rights and obligations within the single market, especially for European citizens who want to move, sell, shop and work across borders.
The urgent need for such an initiative was confirmed by the Commission’s study on citizens’ top 20 concerns, which was carried out in response to Parliament’s request, and which identified the significant informative, legislative and implementation gaps that frustrate the citizens in their everyday lives.
The Commission must now address these concerns by presenting the top 20 solutions as soon as possible, to restore the crucial variable of credibility among citizens to the Market. These measures would correct consumers’ and SMEs’ negative perceptions of the single market, thereby boosting their participation in the market and reassuring the citizens that the EU works for them.
Morten Løkkegaard, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Culture and Education. – Mr President, the Committee on Culture and Education warmly supports the conclusions of this report. Citizens’ rights are indeed important, not only as rights, but as a means to show citizens the value of the EU.
For this reason, we need a common strategy on how to communicate with citizens. That is why the Culture Committee adopted an opinion stating that it wants ‘a comprehensive communication strategy’. That strategy is not in place and the Commission has done nothing to live up to Parliament’s demands. We have repeatedly asked for this strategy and have received nothing substantial.
Let me remind colleagues that in 2008, all three institutions signed a declaration on Communicating Europe in Partnership. So far, little has happened. If we cannot make this cooperation work, we will not reap the full benefit of this initiative and our efforts will be in vain.
Tatjana Ždanoka, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. – Mr President, first of all, my congratulations to Ms Vălean on her excellent work. It is regrettable that the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs found themselves split into two equal parts when voting on their opinion for the Committee on Petitions. I, as rapporteur, the shadow rapporteurs and the advisers have worked a lot in order to propose a modern approach to the issue. Despite the failure of an opinion due to the final vote, I am satisfied that a number of important proposals were supported by the majority of the members of the Civil Liberties Committee and these are as follows.
The right of Union citizens to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States cannot be viewed in isolation from other rights and basic principles of the European Union, such as the freedom to provide services, respect for family life and social rights, as well as the mutual recognition of degrees and professional qualifications.
We also urge the Commission to further its analysis of the situation of inter-EU migrants and to take appropriate action to ensure that they genuinely enjoy rights as Union citizens without discriminatory barriers. We call upon the Commission to urge the Member States to systematically bring about a just solution to the situation of stateless persons permanently residing in Member States.
Zita Gurmai, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Constitutional Affairs. – Mr President, regrettably, many problems still persist as regards the implementation of European citizens’ rights, including the right to move and reside freely within the EU and electoral rights. One of the greatest obstacles to exercising active Union citizenship is the lack of awareness. We must intensify our efforts to provide useful and accessible information about EU citizenship rights.
2013 will be devoted to citizenship and we should maximise our efforts politically and financially to make the best use of it. As you know, the set of rights attached to EU citizenship is now complemented by a new tool, the European Citizens’ Initiative, which comes into force on 1 April and is very important. In that regard, I would like to emphasise that the Vălean report is not the place to determine which committee should be responsible for the hearings after successful ECIs. This matter is being discussed at present in the committee concerned and will be submitted for discussion to Parliament in due course. This is not only disregarding the distribution of competences between committees, but is also a blatant attempt to bypass an open debate, which is not something this House should stand for.
Philippe Boulland, on behalf of the PPE Group. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, firstly, I should like to thank the rapporteur and our assistants for their work.
This report now lives up to its name, as it addresses the issue of dismantling the obstacles to citizenship. Europe is a wonderful project, but all too often we find that it is not yet fully defined.
Take the economic crisis, for example. It highlighted our weaknesses and gave us the opportunity to create more sound regulatory institutions for the single market. The situation regarding European citizenship is similar. Every day, the Committee on Petitions, which is more like a complaints office, records citizens’ grievances. In three days’ time, the system will be completed with the European Citizens’ Initiative. In spite of all our policies calling for mobility, involvement, European values and exchange, there are still far too many obstacles to exercising citizenship. Citizens who do not see themselves as being European are citizens who will not turn out to vote and will not see the point of Europe in their everyday lives.
My colleagues and I from the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) have made a huge number of proposals – the largest number in fact – and I should like to thank them for that. This report ought to bring about a feeling of belonging to Europe and a European sense of identity, which we must recreate and maintain through these measures. Our Europe must be a Europe that protects.
Commissioner Reding made 25 very concrete proposals to promote citizenship. They are vital if we are to restore trust between citizens and Europe. However, the proposals in this report reflect other expectations that our fellow citizens have: making purchases online, moving home, children’s rights, employment, citizen participation, health care abroad, twinning, rights of minority groups, etc. We are still finding it too difficult to take full advantage of the opportunities that Europe offers. Rights must be used; complaints must be heard and we in this House are the go-betweens.
The European Year of Citizens in 2013 must show citizens that freedom of movement also entails freedom to exercise their rights within Europe.
Lidia Joanna Geringer de Oedenberg, on behalf of the S&D Group. – (PL) Mr President, the report on dismantling the obstacles to EU citizens’ rights, which was published by the European Commission in October 2010, concentrates on 25 of the most important problems that citizens face in the exercise of their rights across borders, identified on the basis of an analysis of 300 petitions from the last three years.
Citizens most often face difficulties caused by complicated legislation, excessive bureaucracy, incorrect implementation of legislation and a plain lack of goodwill on the part of the authorities of particular Member States. In recent years, we have been seeing increasing numbers of problems related to the right to free movement – problems in this area account for as many as 25% of the petitions received. It is important that all EU citizens who are in another Member State should feel secure, know their rights and not encounter any form of discrimination on the grounds of race, nationality, religion or sexual orientation. I commend the rapporteur for drafting a good and useful report, which I hope will have a beneficial effect on the situation of the people who live in our shared European home.
Cecilia Wikström, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (SV) Mr President, I welcome this report and I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on the excellent job she has done.
I particularly appreciate the report highlighting the fact that the nearly 80 million EU citizens with disabilities are still coming up against obstacles when it comes to free movement. Free movement is perhaps our Union’s biggest achievement, and it must include all citizens.
The report contains many interesting proposals, for example, the Internet portal to allow national, regional and local authorities to flag up those areas in which manpower is needed. The purpose of this is to increase and promote labour immigration.
I also very much appreciate the fact that the amendments I have signed along with many other Members have been given so much consideration, namely, with regard to encouraging the Member States to guarantee that freedom of movement will apply to all EU citizens and their family members without any discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or nationality.
These rights are to apply to different-sex spouses and to same-sex partners and members of an EU citizen’s household, including same-sex couples. That is something that I am very pleased about.
Margrete Auken, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DA) Mr President, I would like to thank Ms Vălean and simply say that all the favourable comments that I wanted to make have already been made. I will therefore focus on Ms Gurmai’s criticism.
If we in the Committee on Petitions do indeed want to be the main committee involved in the Citizens’ Initiative, then it is for the sake of the citizens and in order to give citizens the opportunity to find out how to use the Citizens’ Initiative. It is all well and good to have such a nonsensical system that we believe we can find our way around ourselves, but the citizens are not able to do that. It is therefore a vital help to them that we have an all-round service-minded approach, and we therefore propose that the very committee in Parliament that is there for the citizens, in other words, the Committee on Petitions, should be the body that takes care of the uniform handling of the Citizens’ Initiative. In this way, we will know when the consultations can be held and we can ensure that the Commission and, of course, the relevant political committees are involved right from the start.
The entire processing of the Citizens’ Initiative must obviously be done in a serious way and it must not be something that citizens will perceive as yet another way for us to deceive them in some way in order to make them believe that ours is a good system – but they are nevertheless unable to use it. I would therefore like to express my gratitude for the inclusion of this proposal. I hope that we will have Parliament’s support on this matter.
Marek Henryk Migalski, on behalf of the ECR Group. – (PL) Mr President, Mr Rehn, there are many sensible things in this report. Besides, Ms Vălean has already spoken about them and, in fact, other speakers have also referred to a number of important things which it contains.
However, the report has, unfortunately, become a kind of wish list – probably as a result of the amendments which individual Members have tabled. It has become chaotic and now includes many details which should not have been added. In paragraph 10, we read that the report proposes harmonisation of national social security schemes and convergence of tax rules. What is the point of including this in a report of this kind and calling for the standardisation of tax and social security systems? This should be a matter for, and the responsibility of, the Member States. Decisions about what taxes are to be paid by Poles, Swedes and Germans should be made by the governments of Poland, Sweden and Germany and so on.
Also unacceptable is the part which calls on the Council to ensure that the Member States have sufficient budget funds to organise the European Year of Citizens. As you know, EUR 1 million has already been allocated from the budget of the Directorate-General for Communication to mark this year and celebrate it. There was no point in asking the Council to do this, and it should not be in the report. For this reason, my political group is going to vote against this report.
Nikolaos Salavrakos, on behalf of the EFD Group. – (EL) Mr President, I should like to start by congratulating Ms Vălean on her very good report. The report is based on the principle that everyone who is a citizen of a Member State of the European Union is also a European citizen. That is correct. Therefore, European Union citizenship supplements national citizenship without replacing it. That is why citizens’ rights are the main criterion in the report and the right to apply to the Ombudsman, the right to submit legislative proposals under a European Citizens’ Initiative, and the right to vote and to stand as candidates in local and European elections, are citizens’ inalienable rights.
As a member of the Committee on Petitions, I can tell you that we receive a plethora of petitions from European citizens on the obstacles that they encounter in the exercise of their rights. It is therefore important for European citizens’ rights to be protected and to be described clearly in the Union’s legal provisions and to be applied, so that citizens can trust in the Union. The Committee on Petitions is trying to correct these problems by placing citizens at the centre of their activities. Man stands at the centre of the entire philosophy of the European Union: I trust that we shall manage to apply that principle.
Mike Nattrass (NI). – Mr President, you will be aware that many in the UK object – object – to the imposed EU citizenship and do not want it. They love Europe but they hate the EU because it is dictatorial and undemocratic. The following letter from constituent Alan Sheath illustrates this point. ‘Dear Mr Nattrass, on 7 February 1992, Prime Minister John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty. Unbeknown to myself and the vast majority of British subjects, every person in the UK, including Her Majesty The Queen, became a European citizen by ratification. Neither I nor 60 million other British subjects were consulted or asked to vote. I do not want this citizenship, so please advise me what measures there are in place to renounce it. I remain content with my British birthright’.
I see from the papers on this debate that the EU is now forcing the UK to wreck its social security systems by opening the floodgates to Europe and the UK is being forced to abide by the rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union. We do not want foreign legal frameworks, so when can the British people have a democratic vote please?
Erminia Mazzoni (PPE). – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the entire committee, I would like to thank Ms Vălean for her excellent work, and it is undoubtedly also the case that, following this debate, it will be an important instrument for evaluating citizenship, as it provides the direct views of citizens themselves.
I would like to thank Commissioner Rehn because, by reminding us of the commitments Member States made in the Maastricht Treaty, he emphasised that any efforts towards a greater harmonisation of systems must be made according to the principle of subsidiarity. With this, I do not think I will be able to convince Mr Nattrass or Mr Migalski, but at least I will be able to give them some more points to consider.
I would also like to thank the committees that made a contribution to the important work of the committee that I chair, the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, which, with its proposal for a Citizens’ Rights Charter, has undoubtedly given a further boost to the European Commission project, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), which has focused on the subject of immigrants that often involves the Committee on Petitions, and also Ms Gurmai.
I share the idea that this is not the place for defining the competence of the institutional committee that will deal with organising the popular initiative, but, at the same time, I believe that this is the right place for discussing better services for citizens. In the report, we point to the Committee on Petitions as being the best instrument for serving citizens’ rights.
The report identifies 57 critical and positive points and, in my view, these do not cover all the complaints that citizens bring to our committee. However, these 57 points undoubtedly provide an important snapshot for the work that the European Commission will be carrying out in its promotion of European citizenship.
Michael Cashman (S&D). – Mr President, it is fantastic to follow on from Ms Mazzoni. Ms Vălean, this is a brilliant report, in which you highlight exactly what the European Union is doing wrong – and what is that? It is failing to defend the fundamental rights of citizens.
The Commission must enforce those fundamental rights, which are enshrined in the Treaty. If it does not, we will never be taken seriously within the global political domain, let alone within the legal domain. I welcome also the strong wording used in respect of protection of the Roma and other minorities and the tackling of all forms of discrimination, and also the focus placed on gender and disability.
I also want to address the crucial issue of the fundamental freedom of movement for same-sex couples. There is no decent honourable reason to deny these people their freedom of movement and the right to be with their families. So I say this: if we do not defend the rights of others, how on earth can we expect our own rights to be defended? That is the basis upon which Europe was built.
Anneli Jäätteenmäki (ALDE). – (FI) Mr President, I agree with Mr Cashman. This report is excellent and it raises some very important issues for our citizens. It highlights issues that are regrettably rarely – never, in fact – included on the agendas of summit meetings and of Heads of State or Government.
I will mention two matters, the first of which is the rights of people with disabilities. We know that in Europe, there are 80 million people with disabilities that still face many obstacles to their mobility. A great many improvements need to be made for them, in order to ensure that the rights of citizens are implemented properly. The other important matter that should be raised here is the European Health Insurance Card. It entitles us citizens of the European Union to health care in emergencies in other countries, but I say – I venture to say – that many Finns, and many Europeans, are ignorant of this right. They do not know that the costs of the health care services that they can avail themselves of in an emergency in another EU country are repaid. The EU and its Member States should provide more information on this and act more effectively to remove the obstacles that people with disabilities face.
Mara Bizzotto (EFD). — (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, Europe sums up its policies towards citizens in the slogan ‘United in Diversity’. This is yet another ‘do-gooder’ paradox that is belied by the facts.
When we have to force absurd directives and economic sacrifices on our citizens, the Treaties force Member States to be united. Yet where there is no legal obligation, events that require cooperation and solidarity show the true spirit of Europe, which is divided into twenty-seven countries focusing on protecting their own individuality.
How can we forget Europe’s scandalous reaction to the events of the Arab Spring, when 50 000 refugees landed on the coasts of Italy and the northern Member States suspended the Schengen Agreement? And while, here in Parliament, we are asking for European citizenship to be invested with new meaning, eight Member States are applying to the Council for suspension of the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund, the fund created to help our citizens, having themselves already benefited from it.
Europe should stop using slogans and propaganda for concealing all its inconsistencies from the eyes of its citizens, who are the real financial backers of the European dream. Unless we are unanimous when it is a case of helping them, making 2013 the European Year of Citizens would only be yet more hypocrisy.
Andrew Henry William Brons (NI). – Mr President, we are told in this report that many people feel disenchanted with the EU project and it attributes this to citizens’ rights, particularly freedom of movement of people not being implemented. Well, people in my country, the United Kingdom, are certainly disenchanted with the EU, but it is because there is too much freedom of movement and not because there is too little.
Large-scale migration from lower-wage countries in the East to higher-wage countries in the West has deprived the East of key workers and has deprived workers in the West of accommodation and employment. This has got nothing to do with freedoms enjoyed by individuals and everything to do with human beings being treated as though they were depersonalised facts of production that can be moved around to reduce wage rates to a common low level.
There is a complaint that people are discriminated against on the ground of nationality. If only employers did employ their own nationals first – there would be less to be concerned about. Governments should ensure that their own people are put first in jobs and in housing. However, I am afraid employers often prefer to employ foreign workers because they are easier to exploit.
Simon Busuttil (PPE). - (MT) Mr President, much mention has been made of European citizenship as having been created through the Maastricht Treaty. One ought to remember that the Treaty also grants the right to petition, meaning the right of any citizen who feels that his or her rights have been breached to present a complaint, namely a petition. And the best way for one to exercise this right to petition is precisely through the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament, whose function it is to help remove any obstacles which might hinder citizens from exercising their rights. These obstacles are listed in this report. I have also followed this report in two other committees. In the Committee on Civil Liberties, we were unable to reach an agreement regarding an opinion for this report, due to the fact that – in my opinion – instead of focusing on existing rights and seeing how these are to be respected, we attempted to focus on other rights and issues which do not fall within the European Union’s area of competence. This led to our being unable to reach an agreement regarding the aforementioned opinion. As already mentioned by Mr Grech, there also was an opinion in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. What I found most interesting in this opinion was the concept of a ‘one-stop shop’ for citizens, which makes it possible for citizens to present their complaints to one single place instead of having to refer to several different places to present the same complaint. At the end of the day, if we really want to be close to the citizens, the first thing we have to do is ensure that their rights as European citizens are respected.
Enrique Guerrero Salom (S&D). – (ES) Mr President, the well-being of European citizenship is currently under threat. It is being attacked from all sides by a virus that we thought had been beaten hands down.
What is this virus? It is the large disparity between the contents of the Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights and what actually goes on day to day, which is a potent rise in national egoism and a disgraceful reduction in freedom of movement. That is the diagnosis, which is a poor one at that, and the Commission and Parliament have to work together to initiate the appropriate therapy.
We need to make use of this legislative proposal for citizens that is coming into force on 1 April, as well as the fact that next year is the European Year of Citizens. We cannot continue to allow citizens’ rights to be ignored or attacked, rights that are recognised in our fundamental texts.
Frank Vanhecke (EFD). – (NL) Mr President, in theory, all that sounds very nice, of course: European citizenship and the right of European citizens to move freely from one Member State to another, for work in particular. Who could be against that? However, reality, ladies and gentlemen, provides a very different picture, a picture which, strangely enough, is not reflected in the report before us.
In my own country, for example, there are major problems in all regional capitals without exception, in particular, with Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants, especially with the Roma amongst them. Even the very socialist mayor of the regional capital of Ghent said these words, and I quote: ‘Even if we want to be a welcoming and inclusive city, when it comes to the reception of Eastern Europeans, we have now had enough’.
I think it is unacceptable that these very real issues are being swept under the carpet in this report because of a kind of blind European idealism, by none other than a parliamentary committee which, ideally, should be paying attention to the real problems of all citizens, not just one category of citizens.
Heinz K. Becker (PPE). – (DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I am a committed citizen of the Republic of Austria. I am also a committed citizen of the European Union. For this reason, I expressly welcome the Commission’s 2010 report on European citizenship and the report of the Committee on Petitions based thereon because the good news is that this project has not failed, but rather we have realised what it is that needs to be improved. This realisation is worthy of particular praise. It has been recognised that it is not enough to record citizens’ rights on a piece of paper, but that it is also necessary to ensure that these rights are cast in appropriate legislation and then implemented as directly as possible with the minimum of red tape.
Here are three examples. How can citizens fully exercise their right to freedom of movement within the Union when uncertainties still exist in relation to the provision of, and access to, social security entitlements? How is the European Higher Education Area to be implemented, involving the right to free access to education, if students still encounter problems with the accreditation of university qualifications and courses? How can citizens be convinced of their rights in relation to cross-border health care if the reimbursement of costs is often excessively delayed, in many cases incomplete, and frequently involves too much bureaucracy?
I therefore call on the Commission to transform these insights into concrete actions. Only then will the European Year of Citizens 2013 bring tangible and concrete benefits to our citizens.
Csaba Sógor (PPE). – (HU) Mr President, the report reveals that while the right to free movement and residence is the most widely known right among citizens, the petitions submitted indicate that this right is the subject of the majority of the complaints received. This means that it is the right to free movement with which EU citizens associate the EU the most, so we could also say that the dismantling of physical and virtual borders between Member States is the most popular achievement of integration. At the same time, citizens are the most sensitive to infringements of this very right. Indeed, the petitions received bring to our attention a high number of irregularities, but let us not forget that to this day, the citizens of two Member States cannot feel equal with the rest of the EU’s citizens. Moreover, they are not given a justified answer when they ask why this is so. The inexplicable delay in the Schengen accession of Bulgaria and Romania is a violation of the EU citizenship-related rights of the citizens of these two Member States. Would it really take 27 million petitions for this to change?
Monika Flašíková Beňová (S&D). - (SK) Mr President, due to the lack of time, I will talk about two shortcomings for which I criticise the report. On the one hand, the report neither mentions nor addresses the issue of racism, despite the comments of NGOs. In my opinion, this is a very basic error, as racist behaviour is a serious obstacle to the fulfilment of citizenship and civil rights in the EU, and there has been a dramatic increase in right-wing extremism in the EU.
The other problem area is denial of the right of free movement of persons in the case of ethnic minorities, and this is mainly due to the existence of various barriers. There can be no doubting that the free movement of ethnic and religious minorities is frustrated on a daily basis. This applies particularly to the Roma. Enforcement of the legal right to free movement must also include the right not to be discriminated against, and it must be applied in this sense, for example, in the case of illegal deportations or other violations of this right. I firmly believe that anti-discrimination must be a central feature of EU citizenship, and we must ensure that it is adequately transposed into existing legislation.
Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE). – (RO) Mr President, I think that designating 2013 as the European Year of Citizens will increase awareness about citizens’ electoral rights for the 2014 European Parliament elections, and will dismantle the obstacles to citizens’ rights.
There is currently a serious lack of trust in politicians, and citizens would like to be better represented and more effectively involved in the European decision-making process. In 2013, we can regain citizens’ trust by taking a series of measures, such as providing standard access to treatment in every European Union Member State, removing the obstacles which people with disabilities are faced with when exercising their right to freedom of movement, achieving proper economic and territorial cohesion for all European citizens, improving the promotion of the EU Citizens’ Initiative, which will come into force from 1 April 2012 and, last but not least, admitting Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area.
Anna Záborská (PPE). - (SK) Mr President, it has become the rule in this Parliament to question the exclusive competence of Member States over family and marriage issues under the pretext of discrimination. The submitted report is no exception to this. In point 12, the rapporteur asks the Commission to make a more precise response to a petition relating to the recognition of documents on marital status. As an example, I would like to mention the petition of the Polish organisation Campaign Against Homophobia. In this case, however, the Commission’s response was very precise. I quote: ‘The issuing of certificates on marital status falls exclusively within the sphere of competence of the Member States’. We should produce more initiatives on the issues which Ms Jäätteenmäki drew attention to in her speech.
Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D). – (RO) Mr President, according to Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the guaranteed freedom of movement for workers entails the abolition of any form of discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States in terms of employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment. We call for the barriers that exist preventing the free movement of Romanian and Bulgarian workers to be lifted. These barriers affect equally both migrant workers and nationals of the destination Member State as they promote social dumping.
Given that 2013 is the European Year of Citizens, I welcome the launch of the Online Collection System (OCS), which has been developed by the Commission through the ISA programme, and will, from 1 April 2012, allow the signatories of a petition or citizen’s initiative to use the same standard online forms securely.
I congratulate the rapporteur, Adina Vălean, for her report.
Tatjana Ždanoka (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, I am now speaking as a member of the Committee on Petitions and as an MEP from Latvia. I want to remind you of the petitions on the voting rights of non-citizens permanently residing in the Member States.
These petitions were not reflected in the report since they were examined either after 2010, in the case of the Estonian petitions, or before 2010 for the Latvian petitions. But I want to contest here, in the presence of the Commissioner, the position of the Commission and also the explanation just provided by Mr Busuttil that the problem of statelessness and deprivation of basic rights is not within the competences of the European Union. I think that it is within the competence of the European Union because it is discrimination on the basis of origin, which is prohibited by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Jean-Pierre Audy (PPE). – (FR) Mr President, I should like to take the floor, on behalf of the French delegation which I have the honour of chairing, to talk about recital I.
I shall read the text which refers to the deportation of Roma people by France and I would like to point out that it is inaccurate and that, in point of fact, some citizens were evicted from private land at the request of the owners and that, once they were on public land, they were offered the opportunity to return voluntarily to their State of origin.
That is the truth of the matter and I am sorry that a wounding inaccuracy of this nature could have been written in a high-quality report, for which I thank the rapporteur for our group, Philippe Boulland.
End of the catch-the-eye procedure
Antonio Tajani, Vice-President of the Commission. – (IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I would also like to thank Ms Vălean for her excellent work and the House for the interest shown in the EU citizenship report 2010.
As Vice-President Rehn reminded us, the European Parliament has a crucial role to play in strengthening citizenship policy. The committee’s report identifies hurdles that citizens still have to overcome when exercising their rights, especially in a cross-border context, and lists twenty-five actions for overcoming them.
I am happy to announce that next week, in my capacity as the commissioner responsible for industry and the internal market for goods, I will propose that the College of Commissioners adopt one of these actions, a legislative proposal that will enable us to simplify the formalities and procedures involved in registering cars that have previously been registered in another Member State.
I would also like to respond to some of the comments that have been made during the debate regarding your concerns about citizens being informed about their rights. This is essential, and is the reason why we created the ‘Your Europe’ portal, which provides citizens with detailed information about their rights in their own language.
As far as the integration of Roma is concerned, last year, a European framework law was adopted according to which Member States are obliged to set up national strategies for integrating the Roma. I am also thinking about the delicate problem of schooling for Roma children and their exploitation. The Commission has received these strategies and will be presenting a report in April.
During the European Year of Citizens, the Commission will also be presenting its second citizenship report, which will sum up the progress made so far and propose new actions to make our Union a place where citizens have rights and receive justice. A public consultation for involving citizens in this activity will be launched on Europe Day on 9 May this year.
In order also to allow citizens to be better informed and to be involved in a debate on the development of the Union, we proposed that 2013 should be the European Year of Citizens. Honourable Members, this proposal is now in your hands and in the hands of the Council, and we hope that it will be possible to reach an agreement quickly.
In conclusion, on 1 April, the European Citizens’ Initiative will be launched on the Commission’s website. This will also be a means for reinforcing the relationship between citizens and the European Commission, and therefore of strengthening the link between Europeans and the EU institutions. I think it is another strong signal that the institution that I represent wants to send out to half a billion Europeans.
Adina-Ioana Vălean, rapporteur. – Mr President, the 2010 Eurobarometer survey shows that only 42% of Europeans know their rights, while the special Eurobarometer from 2011 reveals that 85% of Europeans lack sufficient information about the Charter of Fundamental Rights. A citizens’ Europe for and by the people will only be successful when we ensure that people can exercise their rights in full knowledge of what those rights are and how to benefit from them.
In this context, I welcome the Commission’s proposal to declare 2013 as the European Year of Citizens, aiming to enhance awareness of their rights and the advantages attached to European citizenship. However, looking at the budget allocated for the preparation and implementation of this European Year – EUR 1 million, the smallest ever budget envisaged for such a year – I can only imagine that it will allow for top-down communication measures and not for the tangible actions boosted so often by the Commission.
I also want to draw attention once again to the request made by the Committee on Culture and Education for a comprehensive communication policy on citizens’ rights.
Let me conclude by saying that, for this report today, I have tabled, thanks to the support of 120 colleagues from different political families, an amendment with a paragraph which was, unfortunately, voted down in the Committee on Petitions. The paragraph called on the Member States to ensure freedom of movement for all EU citizens and their families without discrimination on grounds of their sexual orientation or nationality. I expect all the democratic and pro-European groups in this House to support the report in the vote today in plenary and not act as if on a battlefield, as they normally do in the Petitions Committee, because the report is based on what citizens are requesting and their problems; it is based on petitions and not on wishful thinking, and it should be voted for, no matter what political orientation or country we come from.
My thanks to my colleagues for their work, their kind words and their contributions to this report.
President. – The debate is closed.
The vote will take place today at 11.30.
Written statements (Rule 149)
Vilija Blinkevičiūtė (S&D), in writing. – (LT) People in the European Union still face obstacles in actively exercising their rights as EU citizens. For example, current events regarding the creation of websites discriminating against Central and Eastern European workers show that the rights of European Union citizens are still under threat. We must therefore defend the right of citizens to move and work freely, because the free movement of workers is one of the most important European Union values and all workers must have the same rights and be respected in all EU Member States. Secondly, every day, people with disabilities in the European Union encounter many physical and social barriers preventing them from enjoying their rights, such as normal use of public buildings, public services, free movement and use of public transport, infrastructure, information technology and other measures and services. Unfortunately, the high level of unemployment is the greatest obstacle to the inclusion of disabled people in society, and unemployment among disabled people arises because of insufficient preparation for the labour market. In accordance with the European Disability strategy (2010-2020), the Member States and the Commission must therefore take active steps to overcome barriers to movement and accessibility for people with disabilities because that would solve many other problems, such as social isolation, discrimination, unemployment, etc. I also call on the Member States to actively make the most of the European Year of Citizens 2013 and raise people’s awareness of the rights attached to Union citizenship.
Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE), in writing. – (RO) To ensure that EU citizenship does not remain a mere concept and provides citizens with practical opportunities, I believe that there are some legislative, implementation-related and information gaps that need to be eliminated. EU citizenship will operate properly when the procedure for settling in another Member State does not entail additional problems compared with the situation in the Member State of origin. From a legislative perspective, improving the system for recognising professional qualifications, facilitating the portability of pensions and other social rights, providing broader access to banking services or facilitating the re-registration process for vehicles when they are moved from one state to another are just some examples of the reforms required. European citizens are more than just consumers. They are people who get married, divorced, gain inheritances and the like. When partners are of different nationalities or have lived in several Member States, these circumstances must not complicate matters. We recently adopted the regulation on succession. We greatly need such initiatives which set out clear rules and make people’s lives simpler in cross-border situations. Last but not least, providing information plays a vital role. The ‘Your Europe’ portal has been revamped and provides extensive information about various initiatives. I believe that this must continue to be promoted and developed.
Alajos Mészáros (PPE), in writing. – (HU) Through the work of the Committee on Petitions, the European Parliament is in direct contact with those EU citizens who appeal to the legislative body in connection with the restriction of their rights within the EU. The latest EU citizenship report is important to legislative planning, as it illustrates through concrete examples what difficulties EU citizens still have to face, and in which areas, when intending to exercise their rights guaranteed by the Treaties. During my meetings with citizens I, too, often see that while a great many economic, cultural and other opportunities have already opened up within the borders of the internal market, there are still some barriers and unpleasant experiences that can prevent Member State citizens from freely exercising their rights. The petitions received essentially hold up a mirror to the institutions, and contain accurate data that helps us take the next step in resolving these problems. It comes as no surprise to read that there are still Member States that raise barriers to the exercising of social rights and the rights of participants in higher education or members of the liberal professions. Citizens of the Member States that joined the EU in 2004 and thereafter still have to face greater difficulties when seeking to enjoy the rights guaranteed by the Treaties as full EU citizens. It is the duty of the institutions to facilitate the appropriate transposition of EU laws by the Member States and to accelerate the remedying of the recently revealed electoral, social, administrative, educational and other discriminative measures.
Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein (PPE), in writing. – I fully endorse Ms Vălean’s report, which, in a practical way, addresses the often glaring gaps between what EU citizenship delivers on paper and what citizens encounter in reality. The main problem, of course, is that EU citizens are unaware of their rights and are therefore not in a position to object when these are denied to them. The ‘Your Europe’ website, mentioned several times in the report, is an excellent one-stop shop to find out about Europeans’ rights as citizens and business people in a variety of situations and every effort must be made to promote it. Well-informed citizens are an essential ingredient in a fully-functional single market. We MEPs play an important part in conveying this information to our constituents. In this report, we also call for public consultations to be made available in all official EU languages, as we did in the Kraków Declaration following the Single Market Forum 2011. An accessible and pro-active consultation policy is a must for meaningful engagement with citizens. We must not rest on our laurels but get to work to lift the barriers identified here which are preventing Europeans from enjoying their rights as EU citizens.
Valdemar Tomaševski (ECR), in writing. – (LT) The rights of European Union citizens comply with the highest standards in terms of protecting people from abuses of power. There is great emphasis on the principle of justice as the foundation of communication between the state and citizens. There are still European Union Member States that do not respect this principle and justice has nothing to do with equality of all before the law. This includes disregard for property rights, particularly property rights to plots of land in Lithuania, where land that was seized in the Soviet period is in the process of being re-privatised. Very often, land is not returned to its rightful owners despite documents confirming their right to the property. Plots of land are going to people who, until now, had never owned them. This leads to misuse of finances and corruption and, most importantly, violates the sacrosanct right to property. The state is thus applying laws to citizens inconsistently and is selectively violating human rights. Another example concerns the infamous paedophile scandal in Lithuania, involving high-ranking justice officials, including judges. The court, the police and bailiffs are doing everything they can to remove a child, who is also the victim and principal witness of this event, from her custodian. Everything is happening in an atmosphere of fear with the public authorities making a show of force. It seems that the aim of all of this is to intimidate witnesses rather than dismantle an organised paedophile ring. This is an example of a violation of citizens’ rights showing that in such situations, some are more equal than others. Citizens’ rights must be equal for all, regardless of a person’s place of residence or social status.
Jarosław Leszek Wałęsa (PPE), in writing. – (PL) It is very important that the European Parliament, the institution which is, in fact, closest to the citizen, should speak on the subject of dismantling the obstacles to EU citizens’ rights. This is everyday fare for us in the Committee on Petitions. The citizens regularly ask for our help, and complain about numerous barriers which prevent them from enjoying their rights as citizens. People with disabilities are in the worst situation, one in which they encounter many obstacles on a daily basis. It is difficult for them to be able to make normal use of the education system or to have access to insurance or to public transport facilities. There is a need for a coherent EU system for determining the degree of disability because the lack of such a system often leads to social exclusion. Public authorities have an obligation to identify and eliminate obstacles and barriers which prevent people with disabilities from exercising their rights as citizens. Access to buildings and services available to the general public, including transport, public institutions and places of public education and information, is not a privilege – it is the right of every citizen. We must not forget this; indeed, it is our duty to make sure that such situations do not occur.
Inês Cristina Zuber (GUE/NGL), in writing. – (PT) This report seeks to define and apply what is termed ‘European citizenship’, as if it made sense to regard the nationals of individual countries first and foremost as members of a ‘European nation’. It also proposes a number of harmonisation measures, particularly in taxation and social security, and promotion of the digital single market, which confirms the report’s entire federalist outlook. Moreover, it advocates unacceptable interference in the internal workings of political parties by proposing that ‘membership of a European political party could be suggested more often when someone joins a national party’ and that ‘more direct participation by citizens through European political parties’ should be encouraged, based on the idea that all parties are like-minded and operate in the same way. It thus seeks to impose a single political and ideological way of thinking. Some people, however, are deeply opposed to this path, even though the majority in Parliament try to ignore this fact.
(The sitting was suspended at 11.20 and resumed at 11.30)