Speech by Viviane Reding, Vice-President for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, at the closing conference of the European Year of Citizens

17 December 2013, Last updated at, 08:57 EET
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author: I. Šilenkova

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Distinguished guests,

I am pleased to be back in Vilnius and to see so many familiar faces!

We have come together to celebrate and to take stock of what we have achieved in this European Year of Citizens. But I do not want to close it like the chapter of a book or to file it away. Every year should be a European year of citizens.

Because Europe is only what it is because of its citizens.

  • It exists because of many brave men and women who put a vision into reality some sixty years ago.
  • It exists because subsequent generations developed it further and made Europe ever more relevant for peoples' daily life.
  • It will continue to exist for the benefit of more than 500 million people across our continent.

I am confident of this but only if we are prepared to fight for it. Complacency and lack of information are our biggest enemies. I will be saying more about this in a moment.

First, I would like to congratulate the very many people engaged under the umbrella of the European Year of Citizens Alliance.

Isn’t it a truly European achievement to bring together more than 62 European networks representing more than 4,000 individual organisations in 50 countries?!

Of course, I cannot even begin to list all the projects you have set up. You certainly have put a lot of effort and creativity into this Year – with lots of activities, conferences, workshops, exhibitions and other projects. All these activities are great to get people better connected with Europe, make them aware of their rights and the important role Europe actually plays in their life.

That is why I would like to thank you for your contribution to the debate about the future of Europe. You have helped to turn this Year of Citizens into a success!

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you know, the European Commission has also been busy. When we prepared for this year, we decided to try something new. I wanted us politicians to listen directly to peoples' concerns, hear their ideas. We need to talk to each other in Europe, rather than about each other. The idea of Citizens' Dialogues was born.

We started with this late last year. And it is not always easy, I can tell you. You enter the room, around you a few hundred citizens, one question after another. But it is worth it.

By now, Citizens' Dialogues have really caught on. I will be holding the 41st one today here in Vilnius. My fellow Commissioners have joined in. And so have national politicians, as well as Members of the European Parliament. They have discovered the value of face-to-face dialogues with their citizens as well.

To give you a concrete example. I went to Sofia earlier this year in the midst of a crisis there. People were queuing for three hours to get in. When we started, they were expressing deep anger. But then, the entire Citizens' Dialogue went very well. Why?

Because people had a chance to confront politicians face-to-face and make their points. Well, and we had to answer on the spot. At the end of this Citizens' Dialogue, people demanded more of this type. President Plevneliev has now been organising a series of dialogues in the country. And there are more examples of how the concept of Citizens' Dialogues is spreading. This is how it should be: it needs to be a truly European project, involving all levels.

As I have said, we all need to continue with our focus on citizens. In fact, the most important part of this task is still ahead of us: We need to make sure citizens know that next year's European Parliament elections will be a crucial moment for them to have a say on the future of our Union.

Two in three Europeans say they feel Europeans. Yet only one in three of them feel well informed about their rights as citizens of the European Union.

And more interestingly: four in five think turn-out in European Parliament elections would increase with more information about the European Union's impact on their daily lives.

Lack of information is one thing. Another is complacency.

Generations have been working hard to build our European house. We can be proud of it. But many people do not know what Europe has achieved, what Europe is doing for them.

We often talk about peace, freedom, and stability. But more and more, people take this for granted. These days, people take a car or the train and just travel from Lisbon to Helsinki without any further thought about visas, border controls or money exchange. They do not question that it works this way. For many young people this has never been different.
As long as people do not know how the EU affects their daily lives, be it for a lack of information or for complacency, they will probably not see the point in voting in the European Parliament elections. So we all have our work cut out for us if we want to change this.

How can we turn this around? Well, we need "all hands on deck". We need your continued help in convincing people that their choice matters - that their vote matters too. And because we have these crucial elections coming up, the Commission considers it appropriate to continue actions related with the European Year into 2014.
This is no easy task. It is a cross-party, cross-national challenge.

But I believe that it can be done and I believe in your commitment to make it happen!

Thank you for your attention.

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