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 European citizenship
Results of two surveys carried out on young students

Survey n° 1         From 1st October 2010 to 30th October 2010
                              1548 questionnaires answered online -  

Survey n°2          From 4th October 2011 to 28th November 2011
                              1524 questionnaires answered online –

Youth and European citizenship

In keeping with its activities for better information and understanding of Europe, the European Federation of Schools (FEDE) launched a wide survey about European citizenship. This started on the FEDE website in the autumn 2010 with a first poll that enabled the FEDE to collect 1548 answers by the month of October.  A second poll was carried out in October and November 2011, enabling 1524 answers from people aged 25 on average, native of European countries for 87%, and non-European countries for 13.43% (Morocco, Senegal, Algeria, Congo, Cameroon...).

This diversity in nationalities is quite logical since the young people who answered the survey all follow European culture courses in preparation for their FEDE exams, and most of them study in schools located in Europe. These young people were therefore able to answer the survey, especially the questions related to the evolution of Europe. 

The goal of the first poll was to be able to evaluate the rate to which young people understand European citizenship and how they approach it.  

The definitions of European citizenship they gave enabled to differentiate two dominant features: legal and political oriented definitions related to European citizenship as stated by the EU and cultural and social oriented definitions.

A few of these definitions included both dominant features mentioned above thus giving a more “complete” approach to European citizenship.

Among the legal and political oriented answers, what we noted is that the citizenship is considered a group of civil and political rights and duties (towards institutions). These rights and duties add up, are connected and certified by “a supranational – i.e. safer – entity” and “treaties”. This European citizenship overlaps the national one, enables « the participation in decision-making », confers a responsibility to “feel involved” in the European project by “speaking up”.

Many young people also assimilate citizenship to identity. However, citizenship generally appears as a sesame: “The opportunity to move, work, live, study, speak freely in all the member countries, with no restriction nor discrimination”, it is the “opening of borders”, it is belonging to “a political entity” and to “a democracy”, or even “a big nation”, to a “common economical and monetary area”, for which we wish to “help develop and expand”.

In the cultural and social oriented answers, the polled referred to the diversity and wealth of the community in which they live and that equals to a “chance”. They believe this citizenship is a time of “exchanges” and “respect” of common values around “people and ideas”. The words evenness, freedom and unity are often mentioned because “being a European citizen” is often considered as ‘belonging to a whole”, “feeling at peace”, “cultivating differences”, and “tolerating them ”in order to“ create a better and fairer future.

Finally, some definitions gave a joint approach to European citizenship, i.e. mixing the two dominant features explained above: “being able to live and work on a same continent respecting one another with our differences”, “belonging to a group of people on a precise territory, sharing common values for common goals and having the same rights and duties”, “belonging to a group governed by texts and laws that enable an expansion of our culture and rights outside national borders”.

Proud to be a European citizen!

The second poll was carried out a year later and was meant to complete the first one by mobilizing young on their own European citizenship. Instead of looking into concepts and theories, the poll focused on personal and specific questions.

This second survey should therefore enable a corroboration of the intellectual approaches gathered initially and the evaluation of possible differences.

More than half the polled people think that in 2030 Europe will be different (6% think it won’t change and 32% don’t know) and that new expansions will change its perspective (60%). All the expansions that have occurred up until today and the agreement to the entry of Croatia in the European Union on 9th December 2011 legitimate this vision of the European evolution.   

However, despite the strong belief that Europe doesn’t stagnate, the European process is progressive with successive steps: Customs Unions, Common Market, Internal Market, Economic and Monetary Union, the founders’ ultimate goal, creating a federal State, remains a very uncertain future, if not impossible, by 2030 for two thirds of the polled (68 %).

The economic situation that undermines Europe today, with a weakening of the Euro and the supremacy of the United States, leads to a strong concern for the young polled regarding the future of Europe. They regard the European leadership as unable to make Europe the world’s largest economy. The most optimistic (59 %), believe that Europe will have rearranged its entry policy, developed a social branch, reinforced its environmental policy and will have gotten out of the current crisis. 

The most pessimistic (18 %), fear the demise of the Euro, a economical and political weakening of the EU and a continuation of the crisis related to the competition of emerging countries such as China and India.

The “optimists” emphasize the highly political and social anticipations, whereas the “pessimists” mainly refer to the economical aspects identified in their vision of 2030 Europe.

In spite of the current European crisis situation, the polled remained proud to be European citizens (59 %). When asked the question “why are you proud to be a European citizen?”, most of them mentioned social and cultural values. “Belonging to a diversified multicultural entity” is the most popular answer, closely followed by “belonging to a Union”, “Europe is a group of common values”, “because of solidarity and social cohesion”, “Europe is linked to the notion of Human Rights”, Europe “represents an area where peace is ensured”, and where “History and culture are a treasures”.

The economical aspects are widely protested: “Europe is a strong economical power” that comforts and “is a force”. “Freedom of movement” and “liberty to settle in another European country” are also mentioned quite often.  

Of course, these answers are influenced by the young people’s situation and experience (mobility: internships abroad, travelling…).  

The legal aspect of European citizenship is defined as “enjoying the same rights and protection” all the while having « common obligations » to respect, and was already emphasized in the results of the first survey.

It can also be noted that a few dared sum up the arguments by a particularly rousing motto “We are lucky to be European!”.

18 % of the polled expressed no particular pride in being European, the main reason being a former emotional and sensitive attachment to nationalities that prevails on the European citizenship.  

The commitment to a nationality is sometimes expressed very strongly by young citizens so far as to imply that being a European citizen would equal renouncing their own nationalities.

It is both interesting and a little worrying to notice that a strong confusion is made between nationality and citizenship. This is an expression of the unawareness and misunderstanding of legal and social terms and a proof that national values have taken root through the whole commitment system.

65% of the polled believe that the European and the national citizenships are complementary. The same ratio believes that the European citizenship doesn’t substitute to the national one.  

The negative image given by Europe because of the current crisis really bothers the young people and paralyses their feelings of belonging. The fact that Europe is in crisis is felt as a true failure, the responsibilities to this crisis being held on a few European countries and attributed to the bad management of the Europe institution altogether.

Finally, the last reasons mentioned are the difficulties in understanding Europe that cannot facilitate the feeling of belonging: “the citizen lacks information” “the citizen is confused”, “Europe doesn’t stand for anything concrete”.

The past year, since the end of the first poll and the results of the second, really shows that the crisis has an undeniable influence on young minds and opinions, on their European citizenship as they feel it, even though their theoretical approach I the first poll is highly related to their personal experience.

European citizenship must, before all things, represent a feeling of belonging, even though nothing will surpass nationality in all States.

In order to consider this goal, it would seem useful to integrate a European dimension in peoples’ lives more often, so that European citizenship can really exist and survive political and economical hazards.

Youth demands more training and information about Europe (approximately 20% of them don’t answer questions about how they live their European citizenship anymore), and this wish may be the only prerequisite condition to turn European citizenship into an “everyday” reality and to create a strong feeling of belonging, keystone to European construction.

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