Die Wahrheit ist dem Menschen zumutbar. Ingeborg Bachmann

Why European citizenship needs a cultural component

Europe needs its citizens. Mobilizing every single individual to assume responsibility for a ‘Europe of citizens’ is a task that is both in the hands and in the direct interest of our political decision-makers. Europe’s cultural diversity and the power of its cultural activity are an invaluable resource, and should form the very basis of this engagement between Europe and its citizens.

Just look at festivals – the summer is their high season, and every day, somewhere in Europe, a festival opens its doors. Festivals attract thousands for performances by artists from all over the world. A festival is a meeting place for everyone, from the cities and beyond: the loyal audience, the stakeholders, the press, professionals and, of course, curious newcomers. Thousands of citizens come together to enjoy performances in star-lit city squares or in small piazza’s in the towns and villages of Europe’s regions. The exceptional artistic decisions which drive and underpin these festivals guarantee their sustainability and their deeply-rooted position in our societies. Festivals inspire, entertain, provoke thought, and touch people’s hearts and minds. This is exactly how we can activate citizens for society – and for Europe!

The term ‘Union Citizenship’ has been a legal concept since it was introduced in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. Although it was born out of social need at that time, the fact that for nearly 50 years citizens were not actively involved in Europe, aside from as mere participants in elections, has had negative effects. Prime amongst these is that the EU is still a distant, abstract notion in many people’s minds. This translates into a lack of interest, and as a result, a lack of commitment.

There has been some recent improvement – at least on paper, with the introduction of Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty, which obliged EU institutions to “give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of Union action”. For the first time, this Article offers citizens and civil-society organisations a legal opportunity to influence, discuss and support EU measures and policies.

The creative responsibility of European citizens in the process of European integration is central for the future success of the European project. In this context, culture without doubt becomes the binding element, as citizenship cannot be understood without referring to culture. Europe is a unity of many cultures. A sense of belonging is only possible if Europeans know their neighbours and care about their joint narrative – a joint narrative that is based on interaction, and which views the knowledge and experience of new cultures as something that brings added value to one’s own background. This is what our policies should foster!

In preparation for the 2014 elections to the European Parliament, the EU is proposing to celebrate the European Year of Citizens in 2013. The ‘A Soul for Europe’ parliamentarian working group – a group of 15 parliamentarians and culturally engaged individuals from all over Europe – strongly believes that it is only by including a clear focus on the cultural dimension of citizenship that the 2013 European Year of Citizens will achieve a meaningful legacy.

This is why the initiative ‘A Soul for Europe’, together with cultural actors and platforms such as the ‘Civil Society Platform on Access to Culture’, are demanding the recognition of a new fundamental right for all citizens – a right to access culture and cultural diversity. Our initiative is committed to strengthen the shared responsibility of citizens in Europe, for Europe. At the same time, we seek to advocate and support the political commitment of the EU and the Member States in making a decisive impact on fostering active citizenship through culture – not least by fully opening-up the EU Commission’s consultation-process with civil-society.

Above all, we need a Europe of Europeans. We need a new policy that supports civil society exchange and engagement, in order to make citizens stop asking what Europe can do for them, but what together we can do for Europe!

A German version of the article can be found here

A Soul for Europe is a civil society initiative that employs a novel, future-oriented model for cooperation between civil society and policy-makers. One of the main ideas is to create a Europe of the Europeans with the citizens’ responsibility for political mechanisms, rather than just a Europe of institutions and regulations. From bases in Amsterdam, Belgrade, Berlin, Brussels, Porto and Tbilisi, the “A Soul for Europe” Initiative is building an international network of European cities and regions, the cultural sector and business as well as European policy-makers. The very heart of the network is the strategy group with 55 outstanding individuals from 21 countries.

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