European Year of Citizens

2013 is designated by the European Commission as the European Year of Citizens. National, regional and local events across the EU, often at a grassroot level, will aim to inform EU citizens about their rights and opportunities.

“I am European”, Steven Weinberg said in our portrait of him in this issue. He appreciates what he calls the European mentality, and to him Europe is like one country, which makes him a citizen of Europe. This feeling of being a citizen on a larger scale didn’t come with the EU or with a more borderless society.

I’m not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world. – Diogenes

Diogenes mentions his city, Athens, thus concurring with the dictionary definition of the word citizen as an inhabitant of a city or town, especially one entitled to its privileges or franchises”. He also mentions his country, Greece, in line with the perhaps most common definition of a citizen as “a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection”.

Freedom of movement

Entitlement is a key word for The European Year of Citizens. The vision states:  “The better the men and women of Europe understand their rights as EU citizens, the more informed the decisions they can take in their personal lives, and the more vibrant democratic life in Europe can be at all levels.” This message goes out to each EU citizen and to policy makers at all levels of government.

There is a particular concern for “freedom of movement”, the right to live and work anywhere in the EU, a right many expats in Luxembourg already exercise. But many don’t, and the hope is to stimulate debate about what prevents people from fully using these rights, through for example civic fora, conferences and a designated website.

Citizenship grants certain rights, benefits and protection, and as citizens we do something in return. Traditionally, we were soldiers, we were 9-5 workers clocking in and out, and we made sure new citizens were born. While the latter is still very much valid, the soldier-citizen is disappearing in our part of the world, and our working arrangements are more floating. Borders are flexible and the virtual world has no borders. So citizen responsibilities can be seen as more borderless as well, such as ecological awareness and solidarity, for example through voluntary work.

“It is the citizen who changes things”

The Earth is but one country and all People its citzens.

The Earth is but one country and all People its citzens.

A highly unofficial Facebook survey on felt citizenship reflects the increasingly borderless society, and the many ways in which we can feel like a citizen.

“I don’t feel like a citizen of any country.”

“My home country, even after 13 years abroad.”

“Britain AND Luxembourg – am I allowed two?”

“A citizen of the world!”

“Good question!”

Citizenship can be a bit like the addresses we prided ourselves with as children; our street, our neighbourhood, our town, our part of the country, our country, our continent, the world and the universe. Or it can be really basic:

In the period where I had to live the life of a citizen – a life where, like everybody else, I did tons of laundry and cleaned toilet bowls, changed hundreds of diapers and nursed children, I learned a lot.  – Patti Smith.

However narrow or wide the definition, whichever levels of responsibilities and rights, this is at the heart of the citizen-matter:

As citizens, we all have an obligation to intervene and become involved – it is the citizen who changes things. – Jose Saramago

Text and photo by Unni Holtedahl, January 2013

Go here for more information on The European Year of Citizens 2013 and on how to join the debate.

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