Latest update: 30/06/2008
A generation of Euro-enthusiasts
An anthem, a flag, citizenship... The EU introduced symbols to develop a sense of belonging among Europeans. But it's the concrete rights like freedom of movement, that are helping unite citizens.
View our special report on The French presidency of the European Union.
“The idea of being European set in slowly after I began travelling. I’m discovering new languages, habits and friends in this Europe without borders, with the euro.”
Fran, a 26- year-old Spaniard, is now working in Madrid after completing a very European education – a French high school in his native town Valladolid, a college year in Belgium, a semester in Ireland and…a variety of European girlfriends.
The media interpreted the ‘Irish no vote’ as a failure of the “Europe for Citizens,” caused by the growing the gap between European citizens and European institutions. But Fran feels there is an entire generation of Europeans who feel they are citizens of this 27-member union.
Marvin, Marco, Fred and the others
For Fran the Spaniard, Marvin from Malta, Fred the Frenchman and Marco from Italy, being European means one thing: freedom of movement. Most of these young “Euro-enthusiasts” discovered the EU through the Erasmus programme, which allows students to spend a year in any European university. More than 1.6 million students have signed up for the programme since 1987.
An Erasmus year helped 31-year-old Marco improve his English, making it easy for him to find a job in the southern Italian town of Lecce. Marvin, 29, left his native Malta four years ago: he found work in London the very year his country became part of the EU. As for Fred, after an academic year in Denmark and an internship in the UK, he quit his home in Alsace to marry Marci and settle in Murcia, in south-east Spain.
For them, it’s not the anthem, the flag or Europe Day that engenders a sense of "European-ness". It’s actually the freedom of movement throughout the EU which increasingly gave them this sense of belonging – the right to travel, study and work without discrimination (with transitional measures for new members).
The concept: an employee from another member country enjoys the same social (medical insurance, allowances etc.) and fiscal rights as the host country’s citizens. No regular border checks within 24 member countries. No requirement of an international driving license, because licenses issued by a member country are valid across the EU.
Lack of participation
EU citizenship was officially introduced by the Maastricht Treaty, signed in 1992. It introduced free movement and the right to elect members to the European Parliament.
An uninspiring political power: the voter turnout for European elections continues to fall. It went down from 63% in 1979 to 45% in 2004. It was 43% in the last elections in France, while 66% of the population participated in the regional vote in the same year.
Jean-Dominique Giuliani, President of the Schuman Foundation, blames the absence of politicization of the European elections. Giuliani calls for real electoral campaigns at a European level, with trans-European parties and common political agendas. The lack of participation is also due to lack of knowledge of how the EU functions, Giuliani argues. A survey published in March 2009, indicates only 41% of the French population knows that Euro MPs are elected by citizens.