On Thursday 7 June, on the eve of the European football championship 2012, ELDR President Sir Graham Watson MEP kicked off a conference in Brussels on European citizenship in practice. Sir Graham: “Millions of Europeans will be watching the matches in the coming weeks. Each night after a match hundreds of cars with people from the winning country will parade through the city-centre of Brussels, honking their horns and waving their flags. That fact alone confirms that Brussels is no longer solely the capital city of Belgium. More than 17% of the population comes from EU member states.”
Watson continued: “According to official figures, only about 8% of those Europeans resident in the Brussels capital area so far registered for the upcoming local elections in October. Therefore I salute today’s event which I hope can contribute to give more visibility to the possibility for Europeans to register and vote in the upcoming local elections. Getting more Europeans - who benefit from free movement and open borders - involved in local democracy in their new communities would be a real step towards true European citizenship.”
Former European Commissioner and now Member of the European Parliament for the MR Louis Michel MEP addressed the state of the European Union, its problems and challenges, inside the Union as well as in relationship to the rest of the world. In his view liberalism is the all encompassing philosophical tradition which could lead the EU out of its crisis. Louis Michel: “Le vrai danger, ce sont moins les crises, financières, économiques, alimentaires, climatiques…, le vrai danger qu'il faut craindre, c'est moins toutes ces crises que les peurs de toutes sortes et leur instrumentalisation politique (the real danger comes from politically instrumentalising fear).” He concluded by saying:”Being European means also being involved in the country of adoption. Meet your local politicians so that they can listen to your concerns and questions.”
European Voice journalist Dave Keating interviewed the two lead liberal candidates for the local elections in Brussels city – Senator Alain Courtois for MR and Brussels parliamentarian Els Ampe for Open Vld - on their priorities for Brussels and how EU citizens can be more engaged. Alain Courtois focussed on a better management of the city’s administration, more security, cleaner streets, improved public schools as well as a reliable public transport. Specifically focusing the European audience, Els Ampe stressed the need for the use of English as a “welcoming” language for Europeans and other foreigners when coming to Brussels. Also, extending voting rights to EU citizens for the Brussels regional parliamentary elections would in her opinion help get Europeans more involved and bring EU citizenship into practice.
The event was held at the headquarters of Belgian ELDR member Mouvement Réformateur (MR) and co-organised with the other ELDR member Open Vld as well as the network of local clubs of ELDR member parties in Brussels (Euro-LiB).
On Sunday 14 October, Belgium will elect their new city councils. Citizens of the European Union can vote in these elections too and make a difference. EU citizens (and other non-Belgians who are legally resident for at least five years) can vote by registering before Tuesday 31 July at their local commune.