C1 - Citizens' Rights

ECAS’ objective is to defend European citizens’ rights in a Europe where it is possible to move around, work, study or retire as it is in one’s country. There is though often a gap between the fine principles of European law and the judgements of the European court of Justice and what actually happens on the ground. ECAS activity is focussed on how to close the gap. It is not though the policy of this association to try to achieve free movement of people within the Union by creating a fortress Europe at the external borders. ECAS has therefore actively promoted visa liberalisation for citizens from applicant and neighbouring countries. The object of making the EU work better for citizens is pursued in 4 ways:

1. Advice services. Starting with its own hotlines, ECAS was a catalyst in persuading the European Commission to set up its own cascade system (information, advice and problem solving). After contacting Europe direct, citizens go to Your Europe Advice (YEA) run by ECAS with a management team and over 60 legal experts covering all languages. This team has vast experience: 120,000 questions have been answered. Each year 17,000 new ones are handled and feedback reports are produced each quarter. The service gives free and independent legal advice. Recently the service has added “outreach” events in member states to its activities. More difficult questions go to SOLVIT. In the European Citizens’ House a non-governmental version of SOLVIT is being set up with the EU Rights Clinic. The clinic deals with more difficult questions where it is necessary to put a file together, work with the citizen and probably a lawyer. One objective of the clinic: encourage collective, cross-border complains and create a network of NGOs focussing on European rights.

2. Projects. ECAS was one of the main protagonists for the year on workers’ mobility in 2007. Our chairman at the time, Mario Monti, played an active role speaking at the opening conference and other events. A project for the year brought together civil society organisations working at local or national level, particularly with low-income European citizens trying to find employment in other member states. Citizens were brought to Brussels to explain their experience. This was followed by another project: “One stop mobility shop”, which developed a conceptual framework “ABC”: assisting migrants, building bridges to other services, co-operation between host and receiving countries with support of EU funds. A more recent project “Flowchart” experimented with staff exchanges among advice services helping European citizens on the move and shadowing migration flows. ECAS was also a participant in a project “PRACTICS” related to cultural mobility.

3. Conferences. European rights cannot be effectively defended only by European services; this is also part of the activity of national citizens’ advice services, where some 10% of complaints have a European or cross-border dimension. ECAS has been a regular convener of a European forum of citizens’ advice services (see Conferences) which provide an opportunity to bring together officials and politicians in different parts of the EU Institutions which deal directly with citizens and grass-roots organisations. From these events, ECAS helped develop Citizens’ Advice International (CAI).

4. Reports, advocacy. ECAS has produced and regularly up-dated a simple guide “50 questions and answers about Your European rights”. In the run-up to the 2004 and 2007 enlargements and subsequently, ECAS has produced a series of reports measuring the impact of enlargement and arguing for policy measures to protect European rights and free movement rather than restrict them through transitional measures. Published under the title “Who’s afraid of EU enlargement?” the reports received widespread publicity and were discussed at meetings with MEPs in Strasbourg. For the European Parliament, ECAS carried out a major study on the application of the so-called “citizenship directive” (2004/38). More recently, ECAS has updated the report of a high level panel it set up to recommend ways to strengthen enforcement of European rights. “Mind the gap: towards better enforcement of European citizens’ rights to free movement” was published in January 2013 as a contribution to the European Year of citizens.

Finally, ECAS has taken up the issue of visa regimes imposed by the EU on applicant and neighbouring countries and is part of the visa-free Europe coalition. A European hotline was coordinated on visas in 5 Western Balkan countries followed by a hotline in Turkey. The first was successful in highlighting the need to speed up visa liberalisation, the second less so given the frozen state of EU-Turkey relations. A new project “Triple A for citizens” has just begun with the aim of spreading citizens’ advice to the Western Balkans and Turkey.

The European Year of Citizens Alliance (EYCA) ECAS is part of EYCA that is an open network of European and national civil society organisations willing to promote active citizenship as a core element of the European democracy in the frame of the European Year of Citizens 2013. 

Find out more at the ECAS Publications webpage

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