At a time of great uncertainties, tight credit conditions for a large number of EU companies, and falling standards of living conditions for a growing segment of the EU population, it is hard to discuss the future of EU citizenship without due attention to how citizens, and particularly those at risk of poverty and social exclusion, see the EU as a whole.
Latest EUROBAROMETER data show that perception of EU has worsened over the last 15 months; however, citizens continue to believe in the EU when it comes to addressing the most pressing economic and social issues.
Furthermore, citizens consider the EU moving slowly and only partly addressing the real emergencies.
So, my opinion is that in order to prevent populism and euro-scepticism from further developing, we need political leadership capable to work for more EU integration to explain to citizens why, for example, we shouldn’t stop nor slower the path to achieve full freedom of movement.
As former Vice President of EU Commission, in charge of coordinating the enlargement of Schengen – free movement space in 2007, I’m convinced that when we opened border crossing points between countries that had been divided by conflicts and iron curtain, in that very moment reunification of our continent was achieved.
And from that moment it became (and it is even more now) wrong to talk about “NEW” AND “OLD” Member States of EU.
We run the risk to take for granted freedom of movement and right to reside and work on all the EU MS territory. This is probably the most visible and tangible message of an open path towards a EU “nationhood” for EU citizens, but it is also the most powerful and attractive instrument that led so many countries in West Balkans to undertake reforms and to modernize the Institutions to get, on their way towards the EU membership, a full visa-free regime.
The negative mood of today, on further enlargement, on opening further the door to labour market and free movement from all citizens of EU – I think for example of the unfair restrictions still concerning Romania and Bulgaria – is a consequence of the crisis that did not find a political leadership capable to react strongly not only in the field of economics, which is not enough.
During the next months, while continuing to work hard to overcome the crisis, political leadership in MS and EU Institutions will have to try to achieve what in Maastricht has been left unaccomplished. After a market, a currency, a common EU Bank, we badly need a political guidance, focusing on rights and duties that are the core of the EU citizenship. The first basis should be residence, living and working freedom as well as education and research as powerful people- to – people pushing factors.
– Security of citizens is not better protected if we build a Europe fortress. Daily integration on a common basis of duties and rights is much better than segregation, because integrating means building hopes, investing in the younger generations, looking at a better future.
EU citizenship and a comprehensive EU identity are the best expression of common values, including, for me, the Christian roots, that have contributed to make our Continent a great promoter and defender of the absolute value of the human being, to create peace and stability. And the NOBEL PRIZE given to EU last year was the best recognition of this crucial role.
Nothing can be built unless a new humanism becomes the core of the EU common citizenship. Jean Monnet said in 1952 “We don’t make a coalition of States. We want to unite people”.
EU identity and citizenship will be fully compatible with national, regional or local traditions, as for example we Italians will continue forever to keep alive centuries of history, culture, traditions, coming from Florence or from thousands of well rooted municipalities.
Since this is true, let’s try to react to national tendencies to regulate with national laws, often with different criteria from State to State, the standards of access to EU citizenship, which entitles a given person to freely move, live and work throughout the EU territory.
But let’s keep alive – for the future – the political dream not only of the EU founding fathers, but also, I think, of many citizens of today.
A dream that a strong political will could translate into actions and reality, with the direct elections of the EU Institutions’ responsibles, and with the political decision to have one day the United States of Europe, the best way to be a global player but also to protect EU citizens from risks and uncertainties of an unregulated globalization.