For many mobile EU citizens – erasmus students, seasonal workers, as well as many happy holidaygoers – the plans in 2020 were thwarted by the new coronavirus pandemic. Mobility within the EU, as we have become accustomed to, has disappeared virtually overnight. We talked to MEPs about what awaits us in this area after 2020.
For many, mobility in the EU is a secondary issue and I partly agree with them. At a time when most of us are facing increased insecurity in life and additional stress due to the epidemic and all the associated problems, we find some things just less important, remote. When we cannot “travel” even between municipalities, European mobility seems to us to be something that can wait. But for many, especially young people, EU mobility has become a way of life as well as a way of survival.
The standard as we enjoyed it before the outbreak of the pandemic was certainly not something that went without saying, and certainly not something we’d had since forever. It began to emerge on the brink of World War II, with the integration of the most developed European countries into something that is today the European Union. In addition to preventing the outbreak of a new war between the peoples of Europe, the first link was primarily of an economic nature – based on the free movement of capital, goods and workers.
Decades of careful development have followed, which are still ongoing and fulfilling its fundamental mission of ensuring peace and economic development in Europe. The European Union as we know it today was established in 1992, when the Maastricht Treaty also introduced EU citizenship. The foundations of the connection were transformed into the free movement of capital, goods and people – in the common market. Slovenia joined the Union in 2004 and the rest is history.
In addition to the free movement of EU citizens throughout the territory of all Member States, we have also been given many European programs designed to promote international mobility. One of these is the Erasmus program, which promotes the exchange of knowledge and people in the field of formal education and youth work. Since the Bologna reform at the EU level unified higher education with a system of credit points, at least one semester of study exchange abroad has become almost a standard for Slovenian (and other) students and an indispensable experience.
A one-year mission of volunteering in another EU Member State after graduation is also a widespread practice among young Europeans. In recent years, the EU has also started offering young people subsidized business internships with organizations outside their home country. Many youth organizations have been involved in international exchange and training programs, a kind of summer school for youth workers. All these programs are aimed at strengthening European citizenship, which is more than just a formal status, but a form of coexistence and civic identity based on solidarity, cultural diversity, mutual respect and intercultural dialogue.
As EU citizens, we also have certain universal civil rights within the Member States, guaranteed by EU law and exercised by national law. Probably the best known are European health insurance and free data roaming via a domestic operator anywhere in the EU. Less well known, for example, is the right of mobile EU citizens to participate in European elections in any Member State and, under certain conditions, local ones, we have collected in the Catalogue of rights of mobile EU citizens on the EUYOU website.
With the proposal of this project, we responded to the public tender of the European Commission in April 2019, which approved it for funding in September 2019. The purpose of the project was to inform 22,000 mobile EU citizens living in Slovenia about their rights and to organize local events for them, implemented by youth centers from all over Slovenia under the auspices of the MaMa Network.
In March 2020, our plans were thwarted by an epidemic of a new coronavirus that moved us to home offices and to Zoom. We were forced into a digital transformation of the project – most of the activities, such as trainings, workshops and meetings, were moved online. We also adjusted the content a bit according to the situation and asked ourselves: what will happen to EU mobility after the covid-19 pandemic? We looked for answers with the help of Members of the European Parliament Irena Joveva, Franc Bogovič and dr. Milan Brglez.
All three agreed that EU mobility programs are good and successful, although less recognizable in more developed countries than in Slovenia. “In negotiating the new EU budget, the European Parliament has insisted on maintaining these successful programs, and civil society organizations that implement these programs and projects in the Member States, have direct contact with young people and ensure good visibility of programs and information for young people are also crucial” Said the MEP dr. Brglez (S&D).
The future of EU mobility programs is thus not in jeopardy, nor is freedom of movement within the EU’s borders. “Freedom of movement is a fundamental right in the EU, challenged first by the migrant crisis and then by the coronavirus pandemic. It is expected that in the foreseeable future free passage between countries will be possible, as we have been accustomed to, and much depends on the vaccine, although vaccination is not likely to be a condition for crossing borders” said MEP Bogovič (EPP). The others agreed as well. Dr. Brglez added that the fair distribution of the vaccine between Member States will be a major test of the EU’s legitimacy next year.
MEP Joveva (ALDE), however, sees digitalisation as something that will replace part of mobility. “We can expect more online studies and, in the light of technological progress, some kind of education reform at the EU level. It also makes sense to talk about the right to a computer – say for school children – as a universal human right in EU member states” said Joveva, adding that EU mobility will become greener, which means, among other things, that the EU will encourage students to travel internationally by train or bus, which is a greener alternative to flying.
In this context of the digital transformation of European society, MEP Bogovič drew attention to the EU’s efforts for rural infrastructural development, especially for the development of smart villages that increase resilience to crises, especially for senior citizens. The need for digitally equipped and literate rural areas is particularly pronounced during the corona crisis, and “digital competencies for the digital transformation of society have become one of the key competencies for all citizens after the corona crisis” said MEP Joveva.
For the time being, a single EU passport is not expected, nor is there a central information at EU level for the epidemiological picture of individual countries and the situation regarding the associated lockdown measures that hinder mobility. Dr. Brglez is of the opinion that the need for social as well as health union of the EU member states is becoming more and more evident, and he sees the solution for easier mobility within the EU in the single social security number of EU citizens.
The future of the European Union and its key programs thus remains stable, as does the strong cooperation of countries at EU level, “which is crucial if the EU and its members want to remain a strong player on the global political stage,” MEP Joveva concluded the talk with erasmus students and EU volunteer in Slovenia.