Upon request by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum e.V., Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć, Programming Director at the Citizens Network Watchdog (Warsaw, Poland), reflects on the European citizenship and presents the concept of the European Values Instrument (EVI):
Last October I was invited to Brussels to take part in the Active Citizenship Week. The meeting that I participated in took place nearby a square “populated” with sculptures of the „European Citizens”. I saw them after the meeting and caught myself on inexplicable feeling of alienation.
Strange. Everything on that day was about citizenship. The whole Union is about that. All the European Union’s policies refer to citizens. Most EU citizens believe that European Union’s membership is a good thing (57%) and have a sense of belonging (56%) – according to Eurobarometer’s research published in March 2017. In my country (Poland), the most neglected and peripheral villages have flourished since our accession; moving through the community is easy; and even from time to time we participate in the elections to the European Parliament or sign a petition to the European Commission using European Citizens’ Initiative.
Why I felt that these sculptures were not presenting myself? That this world is not mine? I think it was a result of the earlier meeting. Although I cannot complain on atmosphere and content, I also felt that probably I was the only person whose profession was to work with individual citizens in their entire diversity, capriciousness, and disobedience. As opposite, in Brussels, I talked to people socialised with the EU institutions, representatives of different agencies, EU officials and professionals from the EU-wide civil society networks. They all understood the EU institutions and their reality very well. They all spoke a polite and balanced language. They all were able to use abstract reasoning. On the other hand, I was almost sure that they would fail to maintain relations with several groups of the European citizens living their lives in the member states. Groups, which may be reserved to diversity, nervous about bureaucracy, and believing that majority have a right to subordinate minority. For me and my counterparts, challenging such an approach in our states and dialogue, showing a different view, looking for solutions, including and empowering is an everyday activity. Very often it takes long and – due to limited resources – is selective. But we believe it matters. Because values must be understood and believed.
Over the years it was assumed by the EU decision makers that values – such as human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, make the EU lifeblood. However, it becomes to be visible that for a growing number of citizens it stopped to be truth. One of the Holocaust survivors, currently 91 years old, told me one day: ‘We lost people’s hearts and minds.’ People forgot or do not know why the EU’s founding fathers started talks on building the community. From the beginning, it was a concept of building a peaceful continent. People forgot that lack of respect to dignity of other people and democracy of majority, without rule of law and protection of rights of the minorities, were the main reasons of the worst tragedy of the 20th century – the World War II and Shoah.
This leads me to the conclusion that reconnecting with citizens and establishing a dialogue with them, instead of building monuments and organising conferences on their activity, is one of the most urgent matters today. The ghosts of the past – that we hoped to have buried – started to re-appear and build a position. It is necessary to develop political and financial tools to enforce European values. As regards funding, thinking should be fully changed. Its main goal should be reaching out to citizens, openness for experimenting, and searching for the best solutions. It is just the opposite to what is dominating in the way how the EU and member states’ institutions think today. So far the most important has been to spend money on time, report in details, and achieve indicators. It is important to understand that the balance between accuracy of spending and sense of doing has to be found.
The concept of the European Values Instrument, which should support the policy in this area have become more popular over the last months. I do not think it is possible to support valuable initiatives in the member states from Brussels. Money should be distributed on the national level and by the independent institutions. The EU institutions should finally allow their citizens to take responsibility for our common money. The example of the EEA Grants – Norway Grants, Financial Mechanism – implemented only in some member states – shows that such solutions are possible and advantageous.
Sometimes it is worth noticing alternative point of view and even follow it. How does it happen that writing about the sculptures which are about EU’s Citizens, the citizen as myself cannot find their single photo that would be on a free licence?
Dear reader, should you have reached this point and you are curious how the sculptures look like, use your freedom and google “Susanne Boerner’s Sculptures of "European Citizens" as Part of the 60th Anniversary Commemoration of the Signing of the Treaty of Rome”. And if you want to see them, go to e.g. Rue Archimède corner of the Berlaymont Building. Enjoy, they are really inspiring!