“Alright, what is this about?” – Today’s political environment is flooded and overwhelmed with keywords such as: extremism, populism, and nationalism. But this initiative is not about any of those things; it is about civility. Unlike the discourse that is focused on masses of people “taking our country back”, this initiative is about individual citizens stepping forward. If you have the nationality of one of the 28 countries that are currently part of the European Union, you already possess “Citizenship of the Union.” This citizenship was introduced in the 1993 Treaty of Maastricht and it is defined in Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which was originally called “The Treaty of Rome” and signed on 25 March 1957.
“So what’s at stake?”
Human rights. Among the rights included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we find: freedom of movement, residence and an individual’s “right to leave any country, including his own” (Article 13), the right to a nationality (Article 15), and the fact that “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized” (Article 28). These are the very rights that European Citizenship protects and guarantees at a supranational and international level.
“EU Citizenship”, as it is often referred to, does not give people a direct entitlement to social security, welfare, or any other ‘benefit’ that opponents of migration might fear. In fact, the only things Citizenship of the Union guarantees are included in Articles 18-25 of the TFEU. These rights include: non-discrimination (Article 18 and 19), the right to move and reside freely (Article 21), the right to vote and run formunicipal elections in order to contribute to their city (Article 22), and the right to diplomatic protection in countries where their nation is not represented (Article 23).
Nevertheless, if and when the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union, all of its nationals will be deprived of these rights and of their EU citizenship itself. It is in everyone’s interest to protect these basic and fundamental human rights.
How would you feel if crowds of people voted to take away your individual rights?
“The British voted to leave, why should they get to keep their EU citizenship? Shouldn’t they deal with the consequences? Why should I, from the rest of the EU27 support this?”
First of all, it is imperative that we understand that this is not about politics and nationality or about “British elections”. The sole focus of this initiative is citizenship, justice and European identity. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU threatens to take away the European citizenship of approx. 65,110,000 individuals despite the fact that only 17,410,742 (26.74%) voted in favour of this. Perhaps that is an acceptable outcome and none of us should care about the lives of others, but maybe we are being given an opportunity to prove that “birds of a feather flock together” and that Europeans cannot and will no longer be divided and conquered by bursts of nationalism. So again, this is not about Great Britain and its history; it is about Europe and its destiny.
Most of us are probably familiar with the detailed results of the referendum and the fact that people up to the age of 44 voted overwhelmingly to remain part of the Union. It is for this reason that much of the sentiment after the election has been presented along the lines of “taking away our future”. To put it differently, if Rome wasn’t built in a day, then the Treaty of Rome is not likely to build a new Europe in just one generation (even if it almost has). If you are a national of one of the other 27 Member States and you believe in Europe, this initiative matters to you. You might notice that all of the phrases in this page say the same thing despite using different languages and concepts. That is precisely because at the root of all these proverbs is the same idea. The idea that “birds of a feather flock together” tells us that people will stand up and fight for their own, and the idea of Europe demands that we speak up and protect the rights of British nationals because they are European citizens, just like we are.
But isn’t this against the democratic decision of the June 24th referendum? How is this different from all the other petitions that we’ve been signing?
There’s perhaps a good chance that you have run into hundreds of petitions about this matter. Guy Verhofstadt has been among the most vocal proponents of a similar idea and two of the most prominent petitions with a similar aim include this one and this one (each with over 300,000 signatures). However, the latter two initiatives are through the website Change.org which means that they are not official requests that the UK or the EU have to act on. In Verhofstadt’s case, his function as a politician does not allow him to propose an initiative such as this one because it is done by non-partisan and independent citizens. Why?
What we are proposing here is called a European Citizen’s Initiative and it was introduced as a legal instrument of semi-direct democracy by the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon. This means that it is very much a legal and legitimate instrument of democracy. Once the petition reaches one million signatures and it acquires a minimum number from 7 different Member States, the organizers will get to present it to the Commission and they’ll have a public hearing at the European Parliament. After that, as the Commission’s website states: “If the Commission decides to put forward a legislative proposal, the normal legislative procedure kicks off: the Commission proposal is submitted to the legislator (generally the European Parliament and the Council or in some cases only the Council) and, if adopted, it becomes law.”
In other words, this isn’t a mere petition for a representative to express an opinion, it is the first step to creating EU law. More importantly, it is organized by citizens and we are able to draft the very legal act that will then be presented to the European Commission and the European Parliament. There’s already an initiative which hopes to increase the amount of citizenship education in order to shape active and responsible citizens, and there’s an initiative wanting to provide European passports (but careful, a “laissez-passer” does NOT grant the rights to live and work that citizenship guarantees). If you believe in governmental transparency and taking action to protect human rights, this citizens’ initiative is precisely the petition that you’re looking for.
“Ok, so what’s the plan?” The plan is to reach way more than one million signatures. We have twelve months to reach the required level of signatures (along with minimums) and this is a very important issue so we want to make sure that a continent with 508 million inhabitants becomes aware not only of this initiative but also of their rights and status as Europeans. It takes about one month to set up the online system to collect signatures and with all of those “Russian hacking” scandals going on perhaps it is best that we take our time. However, we can collect signatures on paper starting from the registration date (27 March 2017) so the most important thing right now is that everyone becomes aware of this initiative and the potential impact that it can have, then we can arrange events at various locations to collect signatures on paper. It is crucial to remember that any European who is passionate about the idea that is Europe and about protecting human rights can help us make a huge difference in the lives of millions of European citizens. But we will need to communicate and coordinate as one cohesive effort coming from one united Europe.