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close this bookThe Courier N 145 - May - June 1994- Dossier : European Union: the Way forward - Country Report: Ethiopia (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)
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The challenge for 1996 - A people's Europe

by Francis Whyte

The term 'a people's Europe' crept surreptitiously into circulation in a report in 1973, and since there has become a focal theme in discussions of the future of European integration, as we look forward to the review of the Masstricht Treaty.

The expression 'a people's Europe' first appeared in a report on the European identity 21 years ago. In 1974, the European Council took it up, but it took another 10 years for it to set up a committee to identify schemes to enable the Community to meet the people's expectations by adopting measures which would strenghten and promote its identity and image both with its own citizens and throughout the world.

It produced two reports, one identifying practical ways of ensuring freedom of movement and right of residence within the Community and the other investigating a new political, social and cultural dimension for the Community. It made practical suggestions, including new mobility opportunities for young people, cultural promotion operations, health protection schemes and so on.

Symbolic measures

Symbolic measures, relating to such things as the European passport, the use of the flag and the European anthem, were adopted in 1985, progress was made with the mutual recognition of educational qualifications and education programmes were launched (COMETT for cooperation between universities, businesses and research centres and ERASMUS for student mobility and collaboration between universities in different Member States).

However, it was not until 1992 and the signing of the Maastricht Treaty on European Union that citizenship of the Union was instituted and the Community was recognised as competent in matters of education, culture and health.

The people's Europe is in fact both a more practical and a more abstract thing than its history would suggest.

It is more practical because what distinguishes the European Community from all other forms of international organisation is its Court of Justice, whose case law makes very clear that the Community is a 'new legal order' whose subjects are not just the States, but their nationals too. So all citizens of the Member States are subject to European law. It is also more of a practical thing because, since 1979, the European Parliament has been directly elected by all the citizens of the Member States.

A matter for specialists

It is more abstract because Europe is still a matter for specialists. Few people know how the Community works, what new rights it has brought them and how to use them. And it is more abstract, again, because the only one of the four great freedoms of movement (of individuals, services, capital and goods) of the internal market which has not been fully secured is movement of individuals.

In a European Community based on a single common market for all Member States, it is reasonable that European citizenship should be reflected first in economic and social rights. Significantly, the Commission's social policy since the end of the 1980s has been expressed in terms of fundamental social rights in the Community.

From fundamental social rights to civil and community rights is but a short step, which is the view expressed by, in particular, the Economic and Social Committee (the Community body of representatives of employers, employees and various other interests) since 1988, when Commission President Jacques Delors asked it to give thought to the possible content of a Community charter of fundamental social rights and to give a clear message about the future of the Community and the basic values it will be promoting.

In its reply, in the form of an opinion adopted by a substantial majority in February 1989, the ESC took that step and brought 'all the citizens' into the ambit of fundamental social rights. The social charter which the European Council adopted 10 months later confined itself to the basic social rights of workers, which is why the ESC returned to the attack in September 1992 with a virtually unanimous (only five abstentions) own-initiative opinion on a people's Europe.

With its sights set firmly on 1996, the year of the Maastricht Treaty revision, the ESC put forward a series of points which it wanted to see included in the body of the future treaty. It started by saying that the meaning of 'a people's Europe' was still vague and, at best, only partially defined.

The referenda on the Treaty of Maastricht highlighted all the differences between the promoters of the European Community - basically the political classes and socio-professional organisations - and the people in general.

The citizen as witness

In a bid to size these differences up and help iron them out, the ESC set up a meeting of 60 or so 'citizen witnesses' and top officials from the institutions of the European Community in September 1993. It was a real dialogue, chaired by journalists accredited to the Community.

What did the citizens say?

They said that a people's Europe would be a Europe of free movement and no discrimination. '

They said that freedom of movement for individuals was fundamental to the success of all other policies and that it had to apply to everyone, regardless of income, third country nationals included, if it was to work properly. It was a basis to which other rights - related to equal opportunity and precluding any kind of discrimination - could be added.

They said that there was more to being a citizen than having the right to vote, for it involved being able to influence and halt policies affecting matters of everyday life, be it housing, food or work (for people lucky enough to have work).

They said that European citizenship should be threefold - legal citizen ship, social citizenship (i.e. equal rights) and political citizenship.

In a speech before the citizens themselves took the floor, Jacques Delors had foreseen declarations of this kind and made his position very clear. The basis of citizenship and a feeling of belonging, he said, was the European social model. A federal concept of Europe alone would allow us to join forces, really strengthen the nation and get the ordinary citizen involved, because everyone knew exactly what had to be done. That was the course we had to take, with those who wanted to join us and mindful of the fact that our historical responsibility was to make united Europe a home for all. If we did that, the people would see more clearly. They would know what they had to do and how to affect the course of events. Their feeling of belonging would grow without detriment to their legitimate national patriotism.

The invisible Community

Potentially, as we have seen, there is already a people's Europe in the European Parliament, the Court of Justice and even the Economic and Social Committee. The European Community is in fact far from being an abstract entity, for although the Community institutions seem remote, their directives are transposed into the national laws of the Member States, with Community action penetrating and merging into the law of all the countries to the point where it is no longer visible to the people to whom that law applies.

But we are not all lawyers. And to get the full benefit of citizenship of the Union, it is as well to belong to an association or a union or a political party... and to be solvent. Alone and with no resources, the man in the street cannot really derive much benefit from his new rights - primarily of movement from one Member State to another - at the present time.

so, dearly, the fate of a people's Europe depends on how far the people can get organised at European level - which of course does not stop the national governments and Community institutions from doing all they can to see that the more passive amongst us realise that they personally belong to a European Union. That is the challenge for the Maastricht Treaty review in 1996. F.W.