By Dean Carroll
The very idea of citizenship itself in the European Union is “in crisis” despite EU efforts to boost civic engagement, according to the European Ombudsman. In a damning indictment of efforts in Brussels to promote stronger public attachment to the EU through the European Year of Citizens 2013, Emily O’Reilly said the campaign was “not succeeding”.
At the closing conference of the European Year of Citizens 2013 in Vilnius, Lithuania, in an unusually muscular speech for the ombudsman she called on policy-makers and civil society groups to focus on the EU’s “identity and legitimacy crisis” instead of simply directing all attention towards economic matters.
“We need to keep in mind those values and principles on which the EU was founded; not just the economic ones but also – and more importantly – respect for fundamental rights, the notion of freedom, solidarity, the protection of minorities and respect for cultural and language diversity. We need a ‘human Europe’.”
Demanding that EU institutions and member states challenge citizens to look beyond their personal and national interests, she said: “The elections of the European Parliament in 2014 will be a real opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard at the EU level. Millions of voters will elect their representatives in the EP and, through them, help determine the outcome of the election of the next European Commission president.”
O’Reilly stressed that the new office holders needed to be courageous enough to address the union’s democratic deficit, which had resulted in many people perceiving EU institutions to be “arrogant and self-serving”. She also warned those inside the Brussels bubble that they were not doing enough to “counter the suspicion that some senior officials are far too close to certain business interests”.
Concluding her remarks, the ombudsman stated: “Our EU institutions must behave impeccably and be seen to resist the temptation towards arrogance and self-serving behaviour. Given the perceived lack of political legitimacy, the EU itself must be seen to be the gold standard in these areas.”