“Children shall have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being. They may express their views freely. Such views shall be taken into consideration on matters which concern them in accordance with their age and maturity.
In all actions relating to children, whether taken by public authorities or private institutions, the child's best interests must be a primary consideration.
Every child shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis a personal relationship and direct contact with both his or her parents, unless that is contrary to his or her interests.”
The rights of the child are so outlined in article 24 of the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union, the now binding catalogue of rights that the European Union institutions are bound to respect, as well as Member states, while applying EU law.
The European Parliament was a critical and very active part of the Convention that wrote the Charter and, if you take the time to open up archives and check on records, you will see that the rights of children were at the centre of a lively debate between a more traditional vision, in which the child was seen mainly as person deserving specific protection, and a new approach, conceiving children not only as needing specific care, but also as individuals having a cultural and intellectual sphere of autonomy. In other words: as full citizens, enjoying specific rights and having specific interests.
This vision prevailed thanks also to the work of the European Parliament delegation in the Convention and I have to say we have been taking this article 24 very seriously since the EU Charter was initially adopted back in 2000.
This has meant not only monitoring its application in Member states, but also proactively trying to promote and extend the rights enshrined in the Charter even when doing so meant opening new contradictions and new debates in the EU political arena.
This is often the case when citizenship and immigration is at stake and many times, while defining legislative texts on the right to freedom of movement for EU nationals, the European parliament was left alone facing the “pragmatic” arguments of the Council and Member states, convinced that setting EU standards for protection was not a priority nor necessary.
The European Parliament has never conceded on this specific right and I have to say we succeeded in setting an important high level playing field in a number of relevant legislative texts, like the directives on trafficking in human beings, on the rights of victims of crime, on the sanctions to employers of irregular migrants, on a European Protection Order.
The issue of how to concretely respect the commitment enshrined in article 24 has come up before us in a stringent manner, testing our real ability to create the material conditions for this right to actually be exercised by children in the EU.
This has certainly been the case when the European Parliament decided to raise and debate the issue of the forced identification and expulsion of Romanian citizens, many of which of Roma origins, from Italy in 2007 and from France in 2009, including children and minors of age whose rights to be protected, heard, educated, safe had completely been neglected.
In both of these two cases the European Parliament took the responsibility to decide at a wide majority that these events had to be debated not just because they questioned the respect of the right not be discriminated based on nationality or ethnic origin, but because they touched upon the very core of EU citizenship and, I would say, of citizenship in a broader sense, as being parts of a common polis.
In the cases I mentioned, it appeared quite clearly that the rights of Romanian citizens and children, including non accompanied minors had been neglected, particularly concerning the way expulsions had been initially conceived.
It also and more significantly appeared that Romanian citizens were still de facto conceived as third country nationals, and not as citizens of the European Union enjoying the right to free movement across borders and the right to establish their life in any other EU Member states at specific conditions and with specific guarantees.
This persistent inability of most of EU governments to fully acknowledge the obligation to guarantee the rights of children and of individuals as enshrined in the EU Charter and in EU treaties, and to concretely enact conditions for EU citizenship rights to be materially enjoyed in all Member states, is partly the reason why the European Union is still an uncompleted polis.
The study presented in this volume is particularly precious because it presents – for the first time and in the framework of a highly qualified work – the impact that the gaps left by the action of the EU in the recognition of rights, status and citizenship has been having on the material conditions of life of Romanian children in migration.
It clearly shows that the shift from being children in migration to being EU citizens never really and fully took place in many of the experiences examined in this process. It inevitably sheds light on the still too formal nature of such rights of children as the right to education, to family life, to healthcare, to protection and to the many ways in which these rights are not yet fully and equally ensured in the EU, including when it comes to EU citizens.
This work is also particularly encouraging because it tells many tales of the ways and means through which local communities, municipalities, teachers, civil society actors operated to fill the gap, to build bottom up conditions for the rights of children, as enshrined in article 24 of the EU Charter, to be actually enjoyed, in spite of legislative and political shortcomings.
I think this grassroots effort is an important part of the European public space in the making and an essential precondition, that should be supported and joined by the effort of all EU institutional actors, if we really want the European Union to live up to its original vision as a Union of citizens and a Union of values.