A new Eurobarometer survey on EU Citizenship and Democracy released today by the European Commission shows that a vast majority of Europeans (91%) are familiar with the term “citizen of the European Union”. This is the highest level of awareness yet since 2007 and a steady increase from 87% recorded in 2015. Most Europeans are well informed about their electoral rights – at national and European levels. Today, the European Commission is also launching a public consultation on EU Citizenship Rights.
Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová said: “I am happy to see that more and more Europeans are aware of their EU citizenship rights: the right to reside in another Member State, to be treated equally regardless of their nationality or to vote and stand in EU elections. But citizens also need to know how to protect those rights when they are not respected. I want to empower European citizens, so that they can fully benefit from what Europe has to offer.
Commissioner for Justice and Consumers, Didier Reynders, said, “Fostering EU citizenship and participation in democratic life remains one of the Commission’s highest priorities. It is therefore very encouraging to see that an overwhelming majority of Europeans know what being a citizen of the European Union means concretely. The European Commission is equally committed to ensuring that citizens can continue enjoying all the rights that EU citizenship gives them. This holds particularly true in COVID-19 times, where we have to be extra vigilant to protect citizen’s rights.”
Main findings of EU Citizenship and Democracy survey
- High level of awareness of EU citizenship rights
According to the survey, more than six in ten Europeans (65%) are aware of the term “citizenship of the European Union” and know what it means, while almost one in three (26%) have heard about it. Citizens are particularly aware about the right to make a complaint to the European Union institutions (89%), the right to reside in any Member State of the EU (85%) and when in another Member State, the right to be treated in the same way as a national of that Member State (81%). Although a number of Europeans, who know what to do when their rights as an EU citizen are not respected, is steadily growing only 37% feel well informed. This represents an 11 percentage point increase from 26% recorded in 2015. Finally, 92% of respondents said that if they were in a country outside the EU with no consulate or embassy from their own country and needed help, they would seek support from an EU Delegation.
- Overall benefits of free movement in the EU
When asked about free movement, 84% of respondents said they think the free movement of EU citizens within the European Union brings overall benefits to the economy of their country. This shows a 13 percentage points rise since 2015, when 71% citizens recognised the benefits of the free movement. This Eurobarometer was carried out before the COVID-19 lockdown measures were introduced in majority of Member States.
- Good knowledge of EU electoral rights
The Eurobarometer also included questions on the electoral rights of the EU citizens. Just over seven in ten respondents (71%) know that a European citizen living in different EU country than the country of his/her origin has the right to vote or stand as a candidate in European Parliament elections. When asked about the 2019 European Parliament elections, a vast majority of respondents said that having more or better information about the elections in general and the impact of the EU on daily lives more specifically, would have made them more inclined to vote.
Public consultation on EU Citizenship
Today, the European Commission is also launching a public consultation on EU Citizenship Rights. The focus of this consultation is to gather information, experiences and views on EU citizenship rights, which will feed into the next EU Citizenship Report. In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, this consultation also includes questions related to the impact of emergency measures on EU citizenship rights. All citizens and organisations are welcome to contribute to this consultation until 1 October 2020.
The feedback from the Eurobarometer on EU citizenship and democracy, the public consultation launched today, and a broader stakeholder consultation (to be launched in the second half of 2020), will feed into the next EU Citizenship Report. This Report will set out concrete actions to further advance the EU citizenship rights, including democratic participation and in a cross-border context.
The 2020 EU Citizenship Report will complement the European Democracy Action Plan, both to be adopted by the end of 2020, to help improve the resilience of EU democracies.
In line with Article 25 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the Commission is legally obliged to publish an EU Citizenship Report on the application of the provisions on non-discrimination and citizenship and outlining new priorities in this area every three years. With regard to the Political Guidelines of the Commission 2019-2024, the upcoming Citizenship Report will provide an additional impetus to deliver on the priorities of the Commission including nurturing, strengthening and protecting democracy in the European Union.
Conditions worsen for stranded migrants along Belarus-EU border
At least eight people have died along the border between Belarus and the European Union, where multiple groups of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants have been stranded for weeks in increasingly dire conditions.
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, appealed for urgent action on Friday, to save lives and prevent further suffering at the border with Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The latest casualty was reported within the past few days.
UNHCR warned that the situation will further and rapidly deteriorate as winter approaches, putting more lives in danger.
For the Agency’s Regional Director for Europe, Pascale Moreau, “when fundamental human rights are not protected, lives are at stake.”
“It is unacceptable that people have died, and the lives of others are precariously hanging in the balance. They are held hostage by a political stalemate which needs to be solved now,” he said.
According to media reports, the EU regards the increase in asylum seekers at the border, a direct result of Belarus, in effect, weaponizing migrants, in retaliation for sanctions placed on the Government over the suppression of the protest movement following last year’s disputed re-election of President Lukashenko.
Among those stranded are 32 Afghan women, men and children. They have been left in limbo between Poland and Belarus since mid-August, unable to access asylum and any form of assistance. They do not have proper shelter and no secure source of food or water.
A group of 16 Afghans tried to cross into Poland this week, but they were apprehended and not allowed to apply for asylum. They were also denied access to legal assistance. Within a few hours, they were pushed back across the border to Belarus.
So far, UNHCR has not been granted access to meet with the group from the Polish side, despite repeated requests, and only met them a few times from the Belarusian side to deliver life-saving aid.
The Agency has been advocating for the group to be granted asylum, since the Afghans have expressed their wish to settle either in Belarus or in Poland.
The request has been ignored by both sides. For UNHCR, that is “a clear violation of international refugee law and international human rights law.”
“We urge Belarus and Poland, as signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, to abide by their international legal obligations and provide access to asylum for those seeking it at their borders.
“Pushbacks, that deny access to territory and asylum, violate human rights in breach of international law”, said Mr. Moreau.
UNHCR urges the authorities to determine and address humanitarian and international protection needs, and find viable solutions. The agency also stands ready to support refugees, together with other relevant stakeholders.
“People must be able to exercise their rights where they are, be it in Belarus or in Poland or other EU States where they may be located. This must include the possibility to seek asylum, access to legal aid, information and appropriate accommodation”, Mr. Moreau concluded.
Focus on the recovery from the pandemic at the 19th EU Regions Week
The annual European Week of Regions and Cities has shown how the EU and national and regional governments can support European citizens and their local communities with public policies aimed at investing in a fairer, greener and more digital future for recovery. Under the theme ‘Together for Recovery’, more than 300 sessions, including debates with high-profile officials, regional and local representatives, an inspiring Citizens’ Dialogue, various workshops as well as an Award for outstanding young journalists, celebrated the EU values of cohesion and solidarity.
Taking place in a hybrid format, with sessions both physical and virtual, the 19th EU Regions Week had one main mission: highlighting the role of EU investments in the recovery from the pandemic and in facing common challenges. The event kicked off with a press conference with Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Elisa Ferreira, Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms, who underlined that “Cohesion Policy was one of the first responders in the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, driven by the core value of EU solidarity”.
The second annual local and regional barometer was presented by Apostolos Tzitzikostas, followed by a debate with members of the European Committee of the Regions. The report confirmed that the pandemic related measures put at risk regional and local finances, resulting in a 180 billion budget cut for local and regional authorities across Europe. At the same time, 1 in 3 local and regional politicians want regions and cities to become more influential in EU policy-making on health issues.
“Unless we measure the state of our regions and cities, we cannot understand the state of our Union” said Apostolos Tzitzikostas, President of the European Committee of the Regions. “Only by taking the pulse of our communities, we can decide how effective the EU has been on the ground, and what the EU needs to do to help its people”.
Further taking stock of the EU cohesion policy response to the coronavirus pandemic as well as informing the general public, various workshops touched upon life before and after the pandemic, including explanations regarding the role of regions and cities for a Green Transition, the Cohesion Policy 2021-2027 and NextGenerationEU, as well as the CRII, CRII+, React-EU support packages for regional and local healthcare services and equipment.
Young journalists were also invited to take part in the EU Regions Week 2021, getting the opportunity to debate with Elisa Ferreira at the Citizens’ Dialogue. In the Youth4Regions programme for aspiring journalists, Irene Barahona Fernandez from Spain and Jack Ryan from Ireland won the 2021 Megalizzi-Niedzielski prize for aspiring journalists.
About the event
In total, more than 12 000 participants and 900 speakers joined the 4-day event either physically or online, showing engagement in all corners of EU society – from our vibrant youth to our high-profile officials, local and regional representatives, academic experts and professional specialists, displaying a common readiness to tackle what the future holds, together.
EU and Qatar sign landmark aviation agreement
The European Union and the State of Qatar today signed a comprehensive air transport agreement, upgrading rules and standards for flights between Qatar and the EU. The agreement sets a new global benchmark by committing both sides to fair competition, and by including social and environmental protection. The signing means new opportunities for consumers, airlines and airports in Qatar and the EU.
Qatar is an increasingly important aviation partner for the EU. It was the 15th largest extra-EU market in 2019 with 6.3 million passengers travelling between the EU and Qatar. Ensuring open and fair competition for air services between both is therefore crucial, also for routes between the EU and Asia.
Adina Vălean, Commissioner for mobility and transport, said: “This agreement, the first one between the EU and the Gulf region, is a global benchmark for forward-looking aviation agreements. It is testimony to our shared commitment to economically, socially and environmentally sustainable aviation, based on a modern framework covering fair competition and closer cooperation on social and environmental matters. This agreement will bring new opportunities, more choice and higher standards for passengers, industry and aviation workers.”
Today’s agreement creates a level playing field that is expected to result in new air transport opportunities and economic benefits for both sides:
- All EU airlines will be able to operate direct flights from any airport in the EU to Qatar and vice versa for Qatari airlines.
- EU airports in Germany, France, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands will be subject to a gradual build-up of capacity until 2024. For more details on this, see the Q&A.
- Strong provisions on open and fair competition will guarantee a level playing field.
- The parties recognised the importance of social matters, agreed to cooperate on these and to improve their respective social and labour laws and policies as per their international commitments.
The agreement will facilitate people-to-people contacts and expand commercial opportunities and trade. Going beyond traffic rights, the EU-Qatar agreement will provide a single set of rules, high standards and a platform for future cooperation on a wide range of aviation issues.
Qatar is a close aviation partner for the European Union; more than 6 million passengers travelled between the EU and Qatar per year under the existing 26 bilateral air transport agreements with EU Member States prior to the pandemic. While direct flights between most EU Member States and Qatar have already been liberalised by those bilateral agreements, none of them include provisions on fair competition, or social and environmental issues, which the Commission considers essential for a modern aviation agreement.
In 2016, the European Commission obtained authorisation from the Council to negotiate an EU-level aviation agreement with Qatar, which started on 4 March 2019. While the agreement still needs to be ratified by the parties before formally entering into force, it will start being applied from today’s signature.
Similar EU comprehensive air transport agreements have been signed with other partner countries, namely the United States, Canada, the Western Balkans, Morocco, Georgia, Jordan, Moldova, Israel and Ukraine. Further air transport agreements with Armenia and Tunisia are expected to be signed in the coming weeks.
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