What can you do as citizen?

Site: Moodle OBC - Transeuropa
Course: The Parliament of Rights
Book: What can you do as citizen?
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Date: Wednesday, 3 June 2020, 1:43 AM

1. Introduction

The European Union is often described as a distant, inaccessible institution. In fact, there are many tools and opportunities for European citizens to be actively involved in influencing the work of EU institutions. 


Furthermore, over the last few years, EU institutions have strongly committed to promoting openness, transparency, and the dissemination of information about their work. These general principles are reaffirmed in article 10.3 of the Lisbon Treaty, which states that every citizen has the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union, and for that purpose EU decisions must be taken in as transparent a way as possible. 


In this module, we will review the best-known European Parliament engagement tools dedicated to EU citizens, and you will learn from the experience of civil society organisations and key stakeholders how to advocate for better and more efficient anti-discrimination measures in Europe.


2. Working with intergroups

Intergroups play a key role in in bringing civil society closer to European institutions. The Anti-discrimination and diversity intergroup (ARDI) aims at giving voice to civil society at the European level on discrimination issues. Here, Alfiaz Vaiya offers a short overview of the intergroup's day-to-day activities.  



Alfiaz explains that part of the intergroup's work consists in reaching out to civil society groups to inform the work of MEPs committed to influencing the EU legislation process for better anti-discrimination policies. Vice versa, civil society groups can reach out to intergroups to make themselves heard and influence the EU political agenda. Let's go back to Alfyaz on how to contact ARDI:


Tip:

Take some time to navigate the website of one of the European Parliament Intergroups (e.g. the ARDI or the Intergroup on LGBT rights) and have a look at their parliamentary and non-parliamentary activities. Is there anything that you find particularly interesting or inspiring? Is there any initiative that can represent an opportunity for you, your organisation, and/or the group of people you work/volunteer with (e.g. visibility, partnership, etc.)?


Useful links to contact: 

your MEP: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/search.html

an intergroup: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/eu-affairs/20150216STO24404/intergroups-the-parliament-s-forum-for-discussing-important-issues 


3. Joining a network

National and local civil society groups have the opportunity to join a network and be represented by structured umbrella organisations, present in Brussels and Strasbourg, and thus influence EU institutions. 

One concrete option for local NGOs or groups of activists interested in promoting a more inclusive society and better anti-discrimination measures is to coordinate their local efforts with those who work at the European level.

One of the best known umbrella organisations active in Brussels is Social Platform, the largest civil society alliance for social justice and participatory democracy in Europe. We interviewed Annica Ryngbeck, policy and advocacy adviser at Social Platform. She explained how Social Platform represents its 48 members with the European Institutions.


Interview with Annica Ryngbeck, Policy and Advocacy adviser at Social Platform


Q: Can you describe how Social Platform represents its members with EU institutions?

A: Social Platform consists of 48 pan-European networks of NGOs. We campaign to ensure that EU policies are developed in partnership with the people they affect, respecting fundamental rights, promoting solidarity, and improving lives. Our members work on a whole range of issues, such as gender equality, LGBT rights, anti-poverty, non-discrimination, Roma rights, homelessness, etc. On some political issues encompassing the concerns of many, we come together to develop a joint position and EU recommendations, which we then bring to decision-makers by requesting bilateral meetings with them and inviting them to our public events and meetings. In 2016, we invited representatives of the European Parliament, Council, and Commission to talk to us and our members and share their top tips for successful advocacy towards EU institutions.


Q: How does Social Platform raise awareness of EU institutions on issues of discrimination and violence against specific target groups, such as homeless people and people with mental issues?

A: While EU legislation criminalises racist and xenophobic hate crime, it does not recognise other forms of intolerance that may result in violence against, for example, LGBT people, the elderly, people with disabilities, or people living in poverty. This is why, in 2012, we developed a position ‘towards EU actions against all forms of bias violence’ with recommendations to EU decision makers and Member States to extend existing legislation to cover other forms of violence, but also to recognise additional needs, such as victim support and training for relevant professions. For example, policy-makers are rarely concerned with violence and harassment against persons with mental health issues or due to homelessness. It is therefore important for us to remind them and bring visibility to other forms of intolerance that also deserve acknowledgement and visibility. An important part of our work is also to try to ensure that not only the ‘usual suspects’ are invited to relevant meetings with decision makers, but also other civil society representatives that work to tackle other forms of intolerance. Many of our members are service providers and work on access to quality social services in the EU, such as education, housing, and care; others work specifically on different grounds of discrimination, such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, or age. We therefore try to raise awareness and exchange on non-discrimination as an important criteria of ‘access to’ services. This encourages organisations to work together, amplify their voices, and highlight intersecting inequalities (e.g. a Roma person can be a victim of violence due to both ethnicity and poverty; an older woman due to both gender and age). Bringing cases and good practices to the forefront is also a way for us to show that the EU proposal for an Equal Treatment Directive in access to goods and services is still very much needed, yet being blocked by Member States in the Council since 2009.


Q: What kind of advocacy tools support Social Platform’s work and how do you bring your members closer to EU institutions?

A: Firstly, we make sure we are invited to relevant meetings in the European Parliament, whether with individual Members of the Parliament or for a hearing to highlight our recommendations about the need to combat all forms of hate and intolerance. Secondly, we inform our members about important meetings or consultations of the EU institutions, explaining why it can be relevant for them to contribute to policy processes they otherwise would not prioritise. For example, organisations working on anti-discrimination typically cooperate with the European Parliament’s intergroup on anti-racism and diversity, while organisations that are service providers commonly work with the intergroup on common goods and public services. As Social Platform, we try to bring these politicians and stakeholders closer to each other, on the understanding that anti-discrimination and access to goods and services are closely related issues.


Reflective questions

How did you find this interview useful? Is there anything that surprised and/or inspired you?




4. Filing a petition

Any citizen of the European Union, or resident in a Member State, may - individually or in association with others - submit a petition to the European Parliament on a subject which falls within the European Union's fields of activity and which affects them directly, including issues of discrimination.


Shane O’Curry, director of ENAR Ireland, will help us understand how civil society can make the most of this tool. ENAR Ireland's 'Love Not Hate' campaign managed to obtain 5,293 signatures up to September 2016 on a petition calling for the Irish government to enact immediately a Criminal Law (Hate Crime) Bill, to protect people from various minorities in Ireland. ENAR Ireland used the European Parliament petition to trigger a European Commission inspection of Ireland under its obligation following the 2008 Framework decision on racism and xenophobia.


Read more about ENAR Ireland’s petition to the European Parliament here http://enarireland.org/enar-ireland-triggers-european-parliaments-investigation-of-ireland-on-hate-crime/


Watch the video:

Reflective questions
How did you find ENAR Ireland's example helpful? Is there anything that surprised you? Is there anything from ENAR Ireland's experience that you can take and apply to your work?


5. The power of the crowd: the European Citizens' Initiative

The Lisbon Treaty introduced the European Citizens Initiative, which allows citizens to submit law proposals on matters of EU competence to the European Commission. A law proposal must be backed by at least one million EU citizens from at least seven of the 28 Member States. 

The EP has committed to facilitating the use of such instrument and to holding hearings on the initiatives that have reached the required number of signatures.

The European Parliamentary Research Service released a report on the status of the ECI, providing an account of implementation issues and recommendations for improvement. 

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Read more about the European Citizens' Initiative here and see the fact sheets prepared by European Parliament 

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Watch the video and learn how the Citizens' Initiative works:


Reflective questions

Were the tools described in this section new to you? Is there anything that particularly strikes your attention? Would you consider any of these tools in your advocacy strategy?



6. European Ombudsman

The European Parliament appoints the European Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the institutions and bodies of the European Union, acting on her/his own initiative or following a complaint by a citizen of the EU. 

Any EU citizen, body, organisation, or physical or juridical person resident or based in a Member State can file a complaint to the European Ombudsman.


7. Other EP tools available to EU citizens

Dialogue with religious and non-confessional organisations

The EP is directly involved in the organisation of a series of events to promote and facilitate inter-religious dialogue. Article 17 of the TFEU provided a legal framework for informal contacts between EU institutions and churches, religious associations, and philosophical and non-confessional organisations in order to encourage an open, transparent dialogue. The EP takes active part in such a dialogue by organising conferences and debates.


The European Parliament Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction

The European Parliament Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction was created in 1987 in order to help children from bi-national marriages/relationships victims of parental abduction. The European Parliament plays an active role in the legislative debate, putting the experience gained by the Mediator's Office to the citizens' service.


Eurobarometer

The Eurobarometer is an instrument for surveying the opinion of citizens on the EP, its image, and its role; their knowledge of the institution; their sense of European belonging, identity, and citizenship; their priorities and political values. Special Eurobarometer reports on discrimination in the EU have been published since 2006; the most recent was published in 2015


Prizes

The European Parliament's activity in the area of fundamental rights includes the awarding of four yearly prizes for excellence in human rights, cinema, youth projects, and good citizenship.


Patronage

Each year, through patronage, the EP provides its moral support to a number of events (conferences, debates, seminars, summer schools, awards, competitions, festivals, etc.) that meet certain requirements.

8. Effective Advocacy

In the previous activity, you reviewed a variety of tools available for EU citizens to influence the legislative process of the EU and raise awareness on anti-discrimination issues. You also learnt from the experience of civil society organisations active in approaching key stakeholders in order to achieve the institutional change needed to address the specific issues they advocate for. 

Hopefully, this course has broadened the range of opportunities you might consider in order to achieve the change you seek in society. Look at the 8 steps for effective advocacy illustrated in the infographic below.

SET YOUR OBJECTIVES AND MAP YOUR STAKEHOLDERS



Once you have defined a realistic and meaningful objective, it is crucial to map out your stakeholders. 

Mapping stakeholders is a visual exercise and analysis tool that you can use to determine which stakeholders it is most useful to approach. Mapping allows you to identify stakeholders and their relations, thus making it easier to understand the decision making process in the context where you live and act. 

The first step is to understand that there is no magic list of stakeholders. The final list will depend on your advocacy objectives, the specific situation, and/or exceptional events. Your map will evolve together with the context and stakeholders themselves. Therefore, we encourage you to use this instrument with great flexibility.

Brainstorm a list of stakeholders that have the power to influence, both negatively and positively, the decision making processes relevant to your specific objective - including those who are neutral to your cause. 

You can start with the stakeholders you are in regular contact with (if any), and then move beyond your “comfort zone”. Try to think out of the box, so that you can come up with and reach the less obvious stakeholders too.

To make your map, you are free to use the approach that you prefer. You can draw it and then take a picture that you can easily share. You can use a PowerPoint or Word document with text boxes, graphs, and arrows to better visualise the interrelation between the stakeholders and your objective. Alternatively, you can use a free mind-mapping software available online, like mindmeister and xmind.