Who is considered a “European citizen”?
This fundamental question is answered by article 20 of the 1957 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (also referred to as the Treaty of Rome):
“Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.”
A person is therefore automatically a European citizen if they possess the nationality of an EU member state.
Some of the rights conferred by European citizenship are:
- Free movement within the EU
- The right to vote in the European Parliament and municipal elections
- Protection of fundamental rights
- Protection of the citizens by the consular network of the member states
- The right to appeal to the institutions of the EU
- The right of citizens’ initiative
- Free access to EU documents
This citizenship confers responsibilities and supplementary rights.
The European citizens’ initiative – a new right for EU citizens
With the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Union seeks to consolidate democracy and to create a direct bond between its citizens. This treaty has therefore seen the establishment of the ECI: the European Citizens’ Initiative. It is founded on two important articles: article 11, paragraph 3 of the TEU (Treaty of the European Union) and article 24 of the TFEU (Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) as well as a regulation of 1 April 2012.
This initiative gives citizens the possibility to propose to the European Commission regulations or legislative measures in fields that lie within its competence. One can therefore say that the citizens possess a certain competence.
Summary of the procedure:
- Preparation of the initiative (filed by European citizens of at least 7 different nationalities who possess the right to vote in the European Parliament elections; at least 1 million signatures coming from no less than 7 member states are required)
- Registration (the Commission answers within a time frame of 2 months)
- Collection of statements of support (within 12 months)
- Statement certification
- Presentation of the initiative to the Commission
- Verification of the initiative
- Initiation of the legislative procedure
For a demand to be accepted the European Citizens’ Initiative needs to be an instrument of participative transnational democracy which reinforces and consolidates the democratic foundations of the EU by bringing Europe and its citizens together.
However, the Citizens’ Initiative is not to be confused with petition. The latter can be presented by EU nationals or residents and mostly deals with questions concerning the competence of the European Union.
Fundamental rights of the European Union
The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union defines the civil, personal and economic rights of every European citizen. Comprising 54 articles, the Charter covers topics such as dignity, liberty, equality, solidarity, citizenship and justice.
The Charter views the EU institutions as completion of the national systems. The member states are therefore to apply their own constitutional system and fundamental rights. When their national measures implement Community law the member states are obliged to take the EU Charta into consideration, according to article 51 of the latter.
The Charter was adopted in Nice in 2000 and integrated in the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. It thus holds the same legally binding status as the treaties which obliges the states to respect the rights formulated in the Charter.
The fundamental rights of today rest on a theory which emerged in Germany. Step by step they have become a legal source. They are now enforceable by law and may be held against the state should it exercise repression.
The treaties affirm general principles of Community Law such as gender equality, freedom of movement as well as the non-discrimination principle. The missing reference to the fundamental rights in the treaties is thus compensated by the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
In reality, the Charter has twice the legal scope: the fundamental rights have the purpose of guiding and limiting the actions of the EU institutions. Moreover, the fundamental rights formulated in the Charter have to be applied in domestic law in every member state and can be invoked in court by claimants, natural and legal persons, who believe their rights guaranteed by the Charter are compromised by the national legislation.
Culture: official and regional languages
The multilingualism policy of the European Union has two principal aims:
- Protect linguistic diversity within the EU
- Encourage language learning
Naturally, numerous languages are spoken by the EU’s 506 million citizens. The Union actively promotes different languages. There are twenty-four official languages within the EU and when a new country joins, its national language automatically becomes one of these official languages. Therefore the EU has to translate each new law into all of its official languages in order to ensure that all European citizens are informed. Within the European Parliament, all deputies have the right to express themselves in their mother tongue.
These twenty-four languages are used for simple reasons: democracy, transparency and the right to knowledge.
The European Union promotes respect for cultural and linguistic diversity. This diversity also includes regional and minority languages of which exist currently over 60. Citizens thus possess the right to use regional and minority languages.
Regarding matters of consumption, the European Union has four principal aims:
- Protection of consumers against risks
- Access to clear, coherent and precise information
- Preservation of consumer rights
- Adaptation of rights to the economic and social evolution
Product safety in the European Union
The safety of products in the EU is assured by several measures of which you find some examples below.
RAPEX is a rapid exchange of information system between the member states of the EU. It is used for potentially dangerous non-food products in order to assure the safety of each product before consumption.
CE marking (Conformité Européenne: European Conformity) demonstrates the observation of the standards required by the EU concerning the safety of a product specified by European guidelines. This marking concerns all products (e.g. toys) that are to be commercialised on the EU market.
Regarding the safety of food products, there are numerous requirements in the European Union concerning hygiene, animal health and the risk of contamination in order to assure a product of high quality complying with the safety standards.
European Consumer Centres Network
Consumers of the European Union engaged in cross-border litigation have the possibility of asking the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) for help. In other words, if there is a legal dispute between a consumer and a professional established in another member state of the EU or in Norway or Iceland, the consumer can appeal to the European Consumer Centres Network so that the latter can help them solve the dispute. The function of the ECC-Net is to:
- Counsel the consumer in case of litigation
- Give supplementary information on applicable law
- Grant free legal assistance
- Promote mediation
The social pillar of the EU
On 25 April 2017 the European Union introduced the European Pillar of Social Rights determining fundamental principles and rights in order to ensure social protection systems. The aim of the member states is to assure the best possible work conditions. This European pillar constitutes a common responsibility of the EU and envisages three principal axes comprising twenty principles:
- Axis 1: Equal labour opportunities and access to the labour market
As a matter of principle, this axis envisages to guarantee access to education, gender equality, equal opportunities and employment support.
- Axis 2: Fair work conditions
The second axis aims, among other things, at guaranteeing secure and adaptable employment, fair pay, protection in the case of dismissal, social dialogue, work-life balance and a safe and healthy work environment.
- Axis 3: Social protection and inclusion
The last axis specifies as main principles child care services, social protection, unemployment benefits, minimum income, old age pensions, health care access, inclusion of disabled persons, long term care, help for the homeless and access to essential services.
The main goal is a fairer European Union.