European Citizenship – interview with Niels Jørgen Thøgersen

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The Europeans Throughout The World, founded in 1984 is a non-governmental federation of national associations for residents abroad. With the objectives of promoting international collaboration between different associations, expanding knowledge about the rights as well as duties of Europeans abroad, and its work directly with EU institutions, European Citizens Abroad feels it is vital to highlight this important partner in the representation of Europeans wherever they may be living.Niels Jørgen Thøgersen, was appointed in November as the President of the Europeans Throughout The World. Having served as a director of communication in the EU for 32 years, Niels brings a renewed sense of effective advocacy to Europeans Throughout The World. The below questions were written by Natasha Levanti, and the answers are direct unedited responses from Niels Jørgen Thøgersen during February of 2014.

What do you feel is the essence of European citizenship ?The essence of European citizenship is that any European has the right to be fully involved in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country where he or she lives. And my strong personal view is the European citizenship has to follow any European citizen wherever he or she goes.  It has to happen automatically – and in full.  This is part of very important European values. You cannot punish a citizen using the fundamental EU right to move to another country by cutting his fundamental rights on citizenship.

Why do you feel it is important for Europeans to have a voice no matter where they live?

In our European democracies it is of crucial importance that every citizen participates and contributes to society. Not only by paying taxes and by following the laws of the country – but by having the possibility to take part in the political, economic, social and cultural life of the country. Fully involved citizens are normally happy and contributive citizens. And happy citizens are much better for us all than those who feel unhappy and excluded.

What do you think of the current EU voting rights and procedures for elections at the European level?

It is very positive that 24 EU countries accept that their citizens living in another EU country can vote in their European election.  We have to make the remaining 4 countries do the same.  And it is also positive that 20 member states accept voting from their citizens living outside the EU.  We must work hard to make the remaining 8 countries accept the same.

Furthermore, I think that we should aim at having the same date for registration in all countries. The present system with a different date for each country is very confusing and difficult to communicate.

Finally, we have all to be much more creative and energetic in motivating European expats to vote.  One thing is to have the right. Another is to know about it – and to actually use it.

What changes do you foresee in the future of the European Union?

I see a Union, where all European citizens will have the right to take part also in national elections – either in their country of birth or in the country of residence. Only that will be fully in conformity with active European citizenship as I see it.  The laws are under national, not European competence. But this should in no way prevent us from working actively in that direction.  And perhaps it can be part of a future change of the EU Treaties too.  This would only be fair and natural.

Is there anything else that you wish for people to know about Europeans Throughout the World (ETTW)?

Yes, certainly.  We are working actively for a real European Emigrants’ Policy.  More than 15 % of European citizens today live outside their country of birth.  This is a figure which certainly will increase in the years to come.  You can compare the size to the population of a medium sized member state in the European Union. Therefore, it is very important that Europe also cares about them.  To ensure  that they keep their rights; that they are well integrated where they live; that they keep good relations to their country of birth to the benefit of education, culture, business and other aspects; that they are guarateed more help and protection than today, also when they live outside the European Union.

In its work the ETTW is following the work of the EU institutions very closely. They have agreed to consult us in all matters of relevance to expatriats, and we present our ideas and proposals to the EU on a frequent basis on how we believe they should include the interests of expats in their activities and law-making.

At the same time ETTW works hard to have active member associations and partners all over Europe and beyond.

You can reach Niels Jørgen Thøgersen, President of Europeans Throughout the World atniels@euromonde.eu or find out more by visiting www.euromonde.eu .

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