25 stories told by 25 active citizens


Active citizenship is the glue that keeps society together. Democracy doesn’t function properly without it, because effective democracy is more than  just placing a mark on a voting slip. 

You can read here 25 examples of how our members engage in active citizenship and get an idea how you can act as well!

We will publish one story per week, so please tune in!



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  • A commitment to make life better

    11 Feb 2013

    By: Hans-Joachim Wilms

    “In Germany we have lots of experience of the breakdown of the German Democratic Republic, and all the trouble that it brought. I tried to apply that experience to the process of enlargement, together with colleagues from the newer Member States.” He argues that promoting European unity and solidarity is particularly relevant to German citizens. “Germany caused a lot of problems and suffering in the rest of Europe during World War II,” he explains. “That is not forgotten. We still have an open commitment to fulfil.” Read More...
  • Giving people a voice

    4 Feb 2013

    By: Kathleen Walker Shaw

    As European officer of the British GMB trade union, Kathleen Walker Shaw works in Brussels on behalf of her 610 000 members, alerting EU decision-makers to their interests. “I try to make the link between people who are seeking justice at local level, and the people who should be listening to them,” she says. For example, since 1994 she has been active in the campaign to save the UK’s Remploy factories, which give work to thousands of disabled people. The GMB fought to change EU legislation to allow public authorities to award contracts to ‘supported’ businesses – now embodied in Article 19 of the Public Procurement Directive. “It took us 10 years to get it into the Directive, and another two years working at national level to make sure they got it right. It was a non-mandatory clause.” Nonetheless, 29 factories closed in 2008. Ms Walker Shaw believes disabled people should be able to choose supported employment if they wish. “These are rightfully proud workers with impressive skills,” she points out. “We were amazed at the amount of community support they had. It was uplifting. Read More...
  • Nothing about us without us

    28 Jan 2013

    By: Yannis Vardakastanis

    Mr Vardakastanis is blind. Perhaps this was what motivated his life choices, shaped by active citizenship and the will to promote participation. Individual participation is needed at all levels, and his contribution is a prime example of how grass-roots activism can make a difference, bringing organisations that represent the needs and wishes of people with disabilities closer to key political figures and policy-makers at the local, national and international level. Read More...
  • Simply scouting

    21 Jan 2013

    By: Pavel Trantina

    Among the scouts was Pavel Trantina, Vice-President of EESC Group III and former President of the Czech Council of Children and Youth. An EESC member since 2006, Mr Trantina specialises in youth issues that include education, employment and volunteering. Read More...
  • A woman’s work

    14 Jan 2013

    By: Dana Štechova

    Active citizenship, especially for women, is very often also a question of time, says Dana Štechová. “If people are completely occupied with their daily problems and struggling to earn a decent salary, it is often more difficult for them to afford to take on extra activities, such as volunteering or helping others.” Read More...
  • A passion for progress

    7 Jan 2013

    By: Cveto Stantič

    The Slovenian town of Nova Gorica, Cveto Stantič’s birthplace, is separated from its Italian neighbour Gorizia by nothing more than a border, established after the Second World War between Yugoslavia and Italy. Now, since Slovenia joined the EU in 2004, the twin towns form part of one single trans- border metropolitan area. Read More...
  • A million voices

    17 Dec 2012

    By: Anne-Marie Sigmund

    “The European Citizens’ Initiative enshrines, for the first time in history, a direct cross-border, transnational democratic procedure,”says Ms Sigmund, who wrote the EESC opinion ‘The implementation of the Lisbon Treaty: participatory democracy and the Citizens’ Initiative’. The initiative is a milestone for the EU and a tool that gives citizens of several countries a transnational right of participation. Read More...
  • Learning to move mountains

    10 Dec 2012

    By: Madi Sharma

    Madi Sharma
    “It’s not the politicians who make a difference in the world, it is people at the grass roots who want to remedy an injustice or improve a situation. But many of them don’t know how to take the firststep,” Read More...
  • Luca Jahier, president of the Workers' Group
    What is active citizenship and why is it important? These questions are at the centre of our concept of civic engagement and of participatory democracy, and in the EU, more than 100 million of our citizens are engaged in one aspect of active citizenship, namely: volunteering. This contributes to a more cohesive, productive and creative society which complements the state and the private sector. Read More...
  • Building alliances in pursuit of social justice

    26 Nov 2012

    By: Oliver Röpke

    The European Citizens’ Initiative – an opportunity to be seized What is active citizenship and why is it important? These questions are at the centre of our concept of civic engagement and of participatory democracy, and in the EU, more than 100 million of our citizens are engaged in one aspect of active citizenship, namely: volunteering. This contributes to a more cohesive, productive and creative society which complements the state and the private sector. Read More...
  • Make a wish come true

    19 Nov 2012

    By: Michal Pintér

    During the former regime we were not used to volunteering,” admits Mr Pintér. “We were forced to do everything by the authorities.” So the company has done a lot to raise local awareness of active citizenship. “Although we were not familiar with activities like this, we learned very quickly. It’s not an obligation, but Slovakian people are very friendly and like to take part.” Read More...
  • A Spanish farmer in Brussels

    12 Nov 2012

    By: Pedro Narro

    The dry, open plains of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain are home to some of Europe’s most cherished vineyards. Over half of Spain’s wine comes from this region. It is farming country as well as the mythical setting of Miguel de Cervantes’ celebrated Don Quixote. It is also home to 33-year-old Pedro Narro and his family whose livelihoods have for generations largely depended on the industry. Both his brother and his father run the family vineyard. It was a path that Mr Narro could have followed, but he chose instead to represent the interests of these farmers, to engage them, and to help ensure a sustainable future for generations to come. Read More...
  • Giving something back to your own community

    5 Nov 2012

    By: Gintaras Morkis

    It is no coincidence that the Fellowship’s annual meeting marks the start of the Mykolas Oginskis festival in September. In the 19th century, Mykolas Oginskis was a patron of young musicians, and built a grand palace in Plungė. He also supported Lithuania’s greatest painter and composer, Mykolojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, who studied in the town. Nowadays, the Fellowship sponsors the music festival, and Vice- President Genovaitė Žiobakienė deals with organisational matters. Plungė’s celebrated citizens include composers Juozas Domarkas and Stasys Domarkas, opera singer Giedrė Kaukaitė, jazz saxophonist Petras Vyšniauskas and cardiac surgeon Rimantas Benetis. Once a year, the Fellowship organises a special health day, with the backing of Prof. Juozas Pundzius, Director of Lithuania’s Kaunas clinics. “All the doctors work voluntarily to help the citizens of their home town to be healthier, to get high-quality advice and treatment if necessary,” says Mr Morkis. Read More...
  • In the public interest

    29 Oct 2012

    By: André Mordant

    “Today, I am still convinced that while Europe is not perfect, it is the only way to improve conditions for everyone. But Europe is losing the loyalty of its citizens, because it no longer assures equal opportunities for all, and that’s very bad. Even if it’s hard and we don’t believe in it all the time, I am certain that we must continue to work actively within Europe.” Read More...
  • In search of broader horizons

    22 Oct 2012

    By: Juan Mendoza

    “Social tourism is not just an economic activity; it is about improving the quality of life,” says Juan Mendoza. His passion for the practice has grown since his fi rst job in the hotel trade. Now, as a full-time trade unionist he uses his knowledge to promote an alternative form of tourism that offers new opportunities, for example, to young and older people, disabled travellers and disadvantaged families. Read More...
  • Europe needs militant citizens

    15 Oct 2012

    By: Georgios Dassis

    To overcome injustice, exploitation, instability, poverty and destitution, a genuine social Europe must, at last, be created whose sole concern is its citizens. To this end, we must be more than “active citizens”: we must be “militant citizens”, fighting for a European Union of solidarity, peace and prosperity for all. Read More...
  • Just do it!

    8 Oct 2012

    By: Waltraud Klasnic

    Born during the Second World War, Ms Klasnic started work when she was 14 years old. “We had no money,” she recalls. After her marriage, she and her husband launched a transport business. Now she has three children and five grandchildren. Coming from Graz, which is known as Europe’s fi rst ‘city of human rights’, she says it is natural for her to work through the EESC and its Communications Group to try to give greater prominence to the role of organised civil society in Europe. “Its role is not normally as visible as it should be,” she argues. Ms Klasnic explains her commitment in simple terms. Helping people helps me as well, it makes me happy,” she affirms. “I am healthy, and I am able to do it, and I would like to carry on for another 20 years, God willing! I have always been active: unless I’m doing something, I feel I don’t exist. It’s good to have that frame of mind.” Read More...
  • The personal and the public are the same

    1 Oct 2012

    By: Evangelia Kekeleki

    “Consumers are always the weakest link in a transaction. Consumers need to be protected, trained and educated,” says Ms Kekeleki. “My dream is that the motto of KEPKA will some day become a reality: I know my rights, I become conscious of my power as a consumer, I participate in a consumers’ organisation, I am protected.” Read More...
  • “There was a lot of tension in the air, the putsch in Moscow had begun and the tanks were moving towards Tallinn,” reminisces Ms Hellam. “People had no idea of what was going to happen and many of us felt that the ‘beacon light’ we had seen emerging would disappear once again.” A new future was about to unfold whereby civil society and active citizenship could once again flourish. As the Soviet tanks slowly advanced on the city, Ms Hellam and her colleagues wrote a letter addressed to a number of foreign embassies. In it, they pro­claimed that Estonia would never again succumb to totalitarian dictatorship. “We began our letter with the words of the famous Hungarian poet Sándor Petőfi. The first line of his poem is Rise up, Magyar, the country calls!” Read More...
  • An impact on society

    17 Sep 2012

    By: Benedicte Federspiel

    “I normally work long hours, and at weekends as well, but it’s my choice!” Benedicte Federspiel is a lawyer with the Danish Consumer Council in Copenhagen. Combining a busy, full-time job with her duties in the EESC leaves her little time when she’s not being active – and that she spends with family. It’s a way of life. “We are heard on everything of relevance to citizens and consumers. We cover all the topics: food, medicines, financial services, chemicals, telecoms, energy, data protection ... The consumer sector touches almost all aspects of life.” Members range from green campaigners to educational organisations to elderly people. “Through all our activities we are reaching out to ordinary citizens and helping them to help themselves.” Read More...
  • A knighted volunteer

    10 Sep 2012

    By: Sir Stuart Etherington

    “I am fascinated by classical Greek theatre. Unfortunately there is very little of it in London,” says Sir Stuart. The company modernises the plays and performs them at schools where young students get to discover their typically twisted plots. “Art is right on the margins,” says Sir Stuart, who is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Dickens Society. “But these performances at schools bring along to it an educational appeal for the young people.” Such activities are key to his vision of active citizenship as vital to the future of building democracy. “Mature stable democracies remain stable and mature by listening to what people are saying. Young people now form a social engagement which empowers them in and outside work,” he explains. Read More...
  • A manager, a soldier, a professor

    3 Sep 2012

    By: Pietro Francesco De Lotto

    Mr De Lotto believes that the sense of solidarity is deeply rooted in the Italian psyche. “There are so many people in Italy who believe in solidarity,” he explains. “As humans, it enables us to grow to become more active.” Such solidarity is especially accented in times of crisis. When people suffer, perfect strangers help either directly or through donations. Mr De Lotto has seen such solidarity in action – even in his own region. “I believe in personal engagement. I believe the dimension of the European Union could grow with a new social ideal for all people,” he adds. Read More...
  • European integration at stake

    27 Aug 2012

    By: Henri Malosse

    I call on the EESC to take up the challenge of European identity and put forward concrete plans to make Europe more visible, meaningful and effective for citizens. That is the aspiration I would like to give the EESC for the coming years. Read More...
  • A mirror to society

    20 Aug 2012

    By: Laure Batut

    “All our activists, young and old, should be aware of and understand that history,” explains Ms Batut, “so as to know what position to take. That was one of my tasks, and it was a pleasure for me, because the EU was the first model of international political solidarity in the twentieth century.” “Frankly, anyone who wants to be a European citizen has to be self-taught, wherever they are,” she says, “and I have confirmed that with my colleagues.” Read More...
  • A healthy economy

    13 Aug 2012

    By: Milena Angelova

    “Without active citizenship, the phenomenon of the informal economy will continue to operate to the detriment of every individual citizen and the state as a whole,” says EESC member Milena Angelova. “One of our goals is to improve the socio-economic environment,” she says. “We can do this by reducing and preventing the informal economy and by improving working conditions.” Read More...
  • New rights are worth defending

    6 Aug 2012

    By: Andrzej Adamczyk

    “Active citizenship is very important. It’s vital to be engaged in the things you think matter, to improve your life and the lives of others, and to make the world a better place to live in. It means understanding what rights you have and what role you can play; using those rights and being involved in activities.” Andrzej Adamczyk under­stands as well as anyone the value of his civil rights. As a trade union activist under the Communist regime in Poland, he took an integral part in his country’s struggle for democracy. His union, Solidarnosc, was a key player in the transforma­tion of the country. “Just that might be enough,” he reflects. “But now I am engaged in the work of the EESC. So it goes beyond the national level to the European level, which is especially appealing to me and to the Polish public. Poland is one of the most enthusiastic nations in the EU. This involve­ment means that I believe in trade unionism and in European integration. I believe it’s useful not only for Poland but for Europe as a whole.” Read More...
  • Giving back to society

    30 Jul 2012

    By: Pedro Augusto Almeida Freire

    “As Vice-President of the Confederation of Portuguese Commerce and Services, I am involved in lots of activities. I give expertise and counsel which take up quite a bit of my time. It is a contribution to society,” Pedro Augusto Almeida Freire says, adding that the unfortunate victims are his family, who do not see enough of him. “One-third of my time is for me, one-third I give back to society, to other people, and this is true as well for my activities in general,” he explains. The rest is for his family. He is a member of several associations in Portugal. He sits on the management board of Lisbon’s School of Commerce and is a member of the National Education Council. Higher education puts him in immediate contact with a lot of young people, who hold the key to Portugal’s future. He sees to it, as internship coordinator at the University of Lusophone Humanities and Technologies, that young people get a decent start on a career path. But their futures are not always guaranteed. Few companies are hiring and many remain unemployed despite years of education. Read More...
  • Get up and get active!

    23 Jul 2012

    By: Anna Maria Darmanin

    Active citizenship is a broad concept, hard to define, and yet crucial to the welfare of society and its members. Many people, when asked, will say it is about ‘giving something back’, about recognising that we are all mutually dependent and that by making a positive contribution to the direction society takes, we are helping ourselves as well as others. In a democratic society, all individuals and groups have the right to participate in democratic practices and institutions. That seems to imply a responsibility to ensure that no one is excluded. It could be argued that active citizenship is all about balancing rights and responsibilities. But whereas rights can be set out in lists and charters, responsibilities are more difficult to enumerate. Read More...
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