Tuesday 8 January 2013

The year of the citizen

Another year, another initiative from the European Commission. 

In case you don't know what I'm talking about, you ought to know that the European Year of Citizens 2013 is dedicated to the rights that come with EU citizenship. Over the next 12 months, the Commission will encourage dialogue between all levels of government, civil society and business at events and conferences around Europe to discuss these EU rights and build a vision of how the EU should be in 2020. 

The official launch will take place on Thursday at a ceremony in Dublin Castle. The European Commission’s website grandly explains that: The event is timed to coincide with the first Citizens' Dialogue of the Year, an event where people from all walks of life have an opportunity to discuss their needs, concerns and hopes for the European Union in person with the Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.”

The programme for 2013 includes proposals to engage more youth in the process, by enabling them to win mp4 players if they can correctly guess where various photos were taken around Europe. 

Other initiatives include the distribution of an EU Citizens Passport (an information leaflet which provides a brief summary, in 24 languages, of the EU-level rights that come with the European Union Citizenship that all nationals of the European Union's member states enjoy in addition to their national rights), together with an EU wide quality of life survey.

And there’s more - passengers travelling by sea and inland waterways in the EU, and in particular disabled persons and persons with reduced mobility, now benefit from similar rights to those passengers travelling by air or by train. 

I scoured the Commission’s press releases to learn whether Mrs Reding might be making any data protection announcements, but I couldn’t find anything.

Perhaps she and her officials are heeding the message that individuals need to be informed about how to protect themselves and others and where to go if the protection fails – but it is not realistic to expect a regulatory response in every case. 

When forensic demands are heavy, most complaints will never be investigated reactively, even though surveys point to public anxiety about privacy. 

Given the current economic climate, there is a real danger that the introduction of more effective reporting mechanisms will lead to increasing discontent among the citizens if it becomes evident that the regulators’ roles and responsibilities and not matched by their resources.  

How till this circle be squared? 

How will citizens be encouraged to exercise their fundamental rights if they can’t afford the legal advice that might be necessary to help enforce them, and if the regulators are starved of the funds that are necessary to ensure compliance in every case?

All will become clear in the fullness of time.