Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The Future of the EU in 10 Minutes

Adelina Marini, August 24, 2012

On May 9th, the day of Europe, the European Commission has launched a questionnaire on the future of Europe. In it the citizens are called to answer to several short questions as for their general visions about how the EU should look like in 2020 so for more specific everyday life issues. According to the Commission, dealing with the questionnaire will take some 10 minutes of your time. From my personal experience I can confirm that, indeed, it takes that much but it could reach 15 minutes if you decide to fulfil it in detail as there is such an opportunity.

So far, over 5,500 people spent these 10-15 minutes which, no matter how we look at it, is quite a few against the backdrop of the long efforts and desire of the European Commission to turn the European institutional construction toward the European citizens. The deadline for filling the questionnaire is September 9th. Most active are respondents from France (11.3%), the Italians (10.5%), followed almost at equal pace by Germans and Spaniards (resp. 9% and 8.9%). The share of the Bulgarians is only 3.8% but this is among the high achievements. Below the 2 per cent are Greeks, Lithuanians, Maltese, Austrians, Irish, Swedes or more than half of the member states.

What Europe do we want?

This is a very important question with two aspects - individual and community, which we will examine separately but I have to warn you in advance that filling the questionnaire would not answer this question. The global financial and economic crisis was the reason Europe to face severe challenges and most of all to face the truth - after the end of the romantic period of enlargement and the economic boom of the 1990s and the beginning of the new millennium, the member states had to swallow the bitter truth - we are neither equal nor with equal economic opportunities, or are we inclined to do something about this. In the past 3 years since the eurozone crisis possessed the public attention and the energy of the political elites in the EU, the feeling of inequality and the feeling that some benefit at the expense of others, grew dramatically. This proved to be a serious obstacle for the discussion of plans for deepening the European integration in the eurozone but also the broader EU.

This autumn, again are expected new ideas on the future of the EU, such as the creation of a banking union. The big problem, however, is how will this be "legitimate in the eyes of the people of Europe", as the Commission puts it. And here starts the conflict between community and individuality because most of the EU citizens are too busy with their personal issues, caused by the crisis and the lack of solution - loss of jobs, decreasing incomes, growing tax burden, lack of perspective, emigration. This on the other hand forces national politicians to focus precisely on these issues in order to respond to the expectations of their voters.

More often and more freely a Greek exit from the eurozone is discussed, as well as a break up of the EU, about a multi speed Europe, which however will have severe consequences for a group of citizens, which is not small. Citizens who benefit for one reason or another from the mobility which the EU provides and which needs to be perfected. It is that mobility that has a bigger share in the questionnaire. This is a significant group which includes students, tourists, trans border businesses, workers, migrants, consumers, trans border marriages.

My personal Europe

In the European Commission report on EU Citizenship in 2010, it is pointed out that out of 122 million marriages in the EU, some 16 million (13%) have a trans border dimension. In 2007 alone, around 9 million EU citizens took part in trans border procedures, related to civil justice. More than 30 million people across Europe report being a victim of crime every year. According to the Commission, there is evidence that many more people do not report the crimes. Europeans who are acquiring real estate in another member state should not be neglected either. In 2007 alone, the volume of trans border sales and purchases of real estate was 10 times bigger than in 2002. A volume, evaluated to cost 55 bn euros.

A significant problem is access to health care services during temporary stays in the EU. Up to 2010 the European Commission estimated that 188 million European citizens had a European Health Insurance Card which is around 37% of the EU population. The number of tourists who choose another member state for their vacation also deserves attention. In 2009, 37% of the Germans, 34% of the British and 16% of the Italians spent their main holidays in another EU member state. All this has to do with using healthcare, quality of tourist packages and consumer protection from fraud. There is an even bigger problem of which we rarely speak unless we are directly affected - diplomas recognition. A problem which in Bulgaria is especially acute and for quite a long time is being dealt with by Ivailo Kalfin, a Bulgarian MEP from the group pf Socialists in the European Parliament.

36 per cent of the students claim they had troubles with the recognition of their diplomas. An estimated 4% of the European students take part in the Erasmus programme during their studies. Since the launch of the programme in 1987 to date, 2 million students have benefited from it. Separately, 555 000 students study abroad every year and the trend is their number to increase. Behind all these dry numbers and statistical data are lives and destinies of people who hardly see themselves as EU citizens if they had problems when moving from one member state to another for study, work, marriage or just to spend their vacation.

This is why the European Commission pledged to work on several problems: removing the obstacles for disabled; promoting the electoral rights of citizens; protecting of the victims of crime; securing a fair trial in the EU; trans border taxation and registration of cars; free circulation of civil documents; protecting European travellers; e-justice; clarifying healthcare rights and easing reimbursements; social security coordination.

Work on solving these problems is ongoing in the European Commission but it is often hampered by the implementation of European legislation on national level, as well as by the differences of quality of the offered public services. Reaching the already boring for everyone "European standards" is the key, because otherwise the richer and better settled European countries will always feel robbed by those others, while the citizens of the poorer and less settled countries will always prefer to leave their country in order to benefit from the higher level of quality of life in the better developed nations.

Take your 10 minutes if you believe that something depends on your voice. The results from the questionnaire will be summarised in a report which will be presented on the 9th of May 2013.