North West MEP Jim Higgins has welcomed a new €229 million ‘Europe for Citizens’ programme designed to increase awareness and citizens' understanding of the EU, its values and history, but is urging the European Commission to prioritise rural regions of Ireland when rolling out the project.
“The programme has a budget of €229 million and will run from 2014 - 2020 in order to support activities to increase awareness and citizens' understanding of the EU, its values and history, such as the remembrance of Europe’s past and partnerships between cities. It will also help people become more engaged in civic and democratic activities through debates and discussions on EU-related issues.
"With a substantial budget, the project could help fund thousands of small schemes, at a local and regional level and support the local voluntary groups across the northwest such as those in Mayo or Roscommon, for example. Cross-border organisations such as those along the border in Ireland in Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan, and Cavan should also benefit from funding as they already do marvellous work in terms of engaging citizens in dialogue and by improving cooperation. Tangible projects like town twinning, which can attract tourism benefits, will also be boosted by the programme”, said Mr Higgins.
He added that the Commission also wishes to use the funds to support think tanks, citizens' groups, and other civil society organisations, following on from the 2007-2013 programme which funded some 9,000 projects to the value of €215 million in grants and operational support.
“The EU was created for its citizens - to build peace, prosperity, and unity among our Member States,” Mr Higgins said. “Citizens should be at the forefront of the EU and be encouraged to engage with policy makers. I want to see this programme focused on rural locations and along borders to truly promote engagement between citizens and the EU and between Member States.”