Towards a European citizenship: the importance of civil society – Nouvelle Europe’s activities

By Alexandra Yaghil | 26 February 2013

To quote this document: Alexandra Yaghil, “Towards a European citizenship: the importance of civil society – Nouvelle Europe’s activities”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Tuesday 26 February 2013,, displayed on 04 December 2022

Today there is a European nationality, just as at the time of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides there was a Greek nationality.” Victor Hugo felt it, it has become a fact: we, Europeans, different in so many ways, have decided to walk a common path towards an increasingly united Europe.

Introduced by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, the European citizenship is additional to the national one. Complementing it, it does not replace it. The European citizenship is, thus, a legal fact implying both rights and duties. It gives access to the right to vote and being elected in municipal and European elections as well as to consular protection. It also allows free movement inside the EU. In parallel, the EU has progressively adopted a significant number of attributes comparable to national belonging: common institutions, European law, direct Parliamentary elections, a flag, an anthem, etc.

To this citizenship de juris, one must add those invisible strings linking the citizens, from Madrid to Riga, from Sofia to Dublin. Those strings forge a common “identity” or what Paul Valéry designated as the “European Spirit”. Common values, roots and past compose a collective heritage, mingling history and culture on the one side, legal and political principles on the other. The historic-cultural definition of Europe associates the continent’s historical continuity (since the Roman Empire) to the Humanist philosophical heritage (State of law, political conscience). As for the legal, moral and political identification of Europe, it relies on democratic grounds and social values. Our political and social systems are indeed different, but objective parameters let us consider a common basis.

Can this European citizenship de juris let us assert the existence of a feeling of true European belonging? Certainly not… Undeniably, European citizenship strongly remains passive. And, if our common identity is undeniable, it does not seem to be entrenched in Europeans’ consciousness.                                 

It is, therefore, necessary to bring awareness of Europeans, and particularly of the young generations, on this European citizenship and to the values, rights and duties that go along with it. We must say and repeat those common references in which, from one side of the continent to the other, we can identify ourselves with. Further, it is crucial to work for a better understanding of the EU functioning and make all opportunities and programmes it offers more accessible. More than ever, globalization calls for a political Europe: a project which can only be realized by achieving this “unity in diversity” (EU’s motto).

Commitment of the territorial level and of civil society then appears crucial in giving substance to the European citizenship. Nouvelle Europe was born from that specific idea and has chosen to put young people at the very heart of its action. As a transnational organization, Nouvelle Europe is a research group on Europe, its enlargement and its neighborhood. Created in 2004, Nouvelle Europe associates more than forty young Europeans of fifteen nationalities. Professionals, young researchers or students, they have gathered around the idea that European reunification is still ahead of us.

Only mutual understanding can lead the European project towards a continental and historic achievement. In consequence, there is a necessity to promote mobility and information; such are Nouvelle Europe's objectives.

Our goals are to promote a better understanding of key European issues, especially the enlargement. By contributing to current debates, we aim at thinking the European integration from a new point of view. We also allow institutional, academic and civil society actors to debate on major topics. Lastly, Nouvelle Europe works for the awakening of a European conscience via non-formal education programmes, especially through simulation games.

Today, Nouvelle Europe is the major French-speaking on-line magazine dedicated to the enlarged Europe and its neighborhood. In addition to monthly articles and dossiers, the Paris, London and Brussels editorial boards organize debates and conferences. Our most famous programme called “S(t)imulation européenne” is a pedagogical and ludic exercise consisting in European Parliament simulations. It is mainly directed at high-school students: within four hours a group is transformed into a European Parliament, every student becoming a MEP for a day in order to debate on energy issues and audition a candidate to the position of European Commissioner for Energy. This programme is available in both French and in English. It bears a great success and has always reaped the enthusiasm of both the students and their teachers.

If the “wall of shame” has fallen down more than twenty years ago, the European reunification remains unachieved. Europeans must be informed in a simpler and more direct way. Nouvelle Europe intends to think but also encourage thinking, while respecting all opinions and beliefs: describe, compare, analyze in order to better understand each other and better communicate. All our activities are designed around our common points and our differences. Far from wanting to erase it, the EU has chosen to turn our dissemblance into strength. The question is all about fighting opacity: opacity in mutual perception and opacity in the citizens’ understanding of the EU. Nouvelle Europe has chosen to try and lift up those invisible and yet remaining barriers.

(Sources: Articles of Philippe Perchoc et Tanguy Séné on