May 12, 2014, 1:41 a.m.

More power to the citizens & associations in the EU!

...you can also listen to our discussion at the Council of Campillos on radiocampillos!

 

From the solar panels in Lorca we travelled on to the village of Campillos. The landscape we drove through is so dry you'd think you're the protagonist of a Western. And indeed, further along the road we passed by what is called mini Hollywood, an area were cheap Westerns were filmed in the 1970s in order to safe the trip to the States.

 

Campillos was a a special stopover on our journey. Paula's friend invited us to his parents home, where his mum had cooked for us. The next day we visited the local council where we were welcome by Lorenzo, deputy mayor of Campillos. The local council had arranged a conference with the numerous local NGOs, citizens initiatives as well as with members of political parties and the council (see the Council press release here).

 

After a short introduction by Lorenzo, Anna, Paula and me presented the citizenspact, the Transeuropa caravans and our trip so far and also mentioned the European Citizens Initiative on Media Pluralism, initiated by European Alternatives. Our central question to the citizens and associations present was:

 

How can Europe be a community?

 

It was amazing to hear the level and range of activities and engagement in Campillos, remarkable for its size. Citizens are particularly active in associations working on health. Almost everyone in the room had a story to tell and we got a good introduction into the local activities and struggles people face. As always, the cuts since the economic crisis have hit these non-profit associations hard and most of them have no funding at all – despite providing essential services to the community. Thankfully, the local council offers a space for the associations to hold meetings and conferences, without which there would be much less activity and it would be difficult for many to carry out their work.

 

Although it is impossible to mention all issues and activities presented to us in detail, here are some examples:

 

Vanessa, member of Izquierda Unida, but also active in various citizens organisations such as the Campillos against Cancer association, mentioned the continuing inequality between man and women. Although both perform the same work, payment is unequal, and women progress slower in their careers. Women with disabilities suffer even more so from unequal opportunities on the labour market. Moreover, Vanessa raised the issue of the recently passed law prohibiting abortion, a backlash in the achievement of women's rights and of great controversy. The tough situation of the citizens in Campillos and Spain is not only down to the economic crisis, but also to politics:

 

“We are in times of crisis, with little money, but it is also certain that this is a question of political will. There is a great gap between theory and praxis.”

 

Rosi presented the associations Alzheimer and Dementia and Campillos against Cancer. Campillos suffers from a high number of cancer cases and although there is a good hospital, it does not have sufficient capacity to care for the necessities of the patients. Lots of the care is provided by these citizens associations with little or no subsidies. One solution suggested by Rosi is to have more citizens' participation in the health system to improve care.

 

And indeed, there are numerous activities where it is the people of Campillos who make any kind of care and services possible. Isabel, member of the Asociación AFPOM de Fibromialgía y problemas Óseos-Musculares, explained that their association continues to research this desease, offers rehabilitation and relaxation workshops and much more.

 

Rosario on the other hand talked about the association of addictions, dealing with addictions of all kinds, including drugs and alcohol. Many people require the kind of support the association offers, but they are left without any subsidies – and as a result they feel abandoned. Adrian, voluntary psychologist of the group, believes that the connection with the European level is important for communication and awareness. There are many types of addictions and many cases can be found in Spain, but there is a lack of information and awareness.

 

Jeso, president of the association for people with disabilities, talked about the need to integrate disabled people into society and the labour market. He is particularly concerned about the considerable waste of public funds in the EU and pointed out that this is not felt the same in all Europe, but especially in the villages. Spending two million Euros on the route between Brussels and Strasbourg, when people in Europe's villages are getting little or nothing is a scandal. The efforts that the non-profit associations make, with not one Euro, Jeso says, are not appreciated.

 

“With what motivation should the citizens of Europe vote on the 25 of May; you want participation, but what happens afterwards?”

 

“There shall be no regression of our rights, these are rights that we have and we will keep fighting for them.”

 

The association on Multiple Sclerosis, Catarina tells us, frequently does tombolas through which they received many useful items. But still, in order to offer rehabilitation for example with a swimming pool and many other means they require funding. In Europe, in Spain, we already know the problem.

 

“There is lots of depression, little work, the youth is going through very hard times. It is the not-for-profit associations that help us.”

 

Campillos is also active for the protection of the environment and a healthy lifestyle. Gregorio, member of the environmental and outdoor sports association talked about the improvement of foot and bicycle paths as green alternatives to using cars which also encourages physical exercise. Moreover, there is the association of the villagers, where Paki is a member, that intends to find solutions to the problems in the village.

 

Amina forms part of the migrant association “new world”, that (mainly eight people) deal with the problem of legal documentation and work. They have the help of a voluntary lawyer and as a result almost all migrants in Campillos have legal documents, but part of them are still without work. There are some democratic issues, the women are not integrated. Some women do not know how to read or write either in Arab or Spanish. Amina gives classes in Arab where she can, but she criticises the fact that the college does not provide these in a professional manner.

 

Isabel Ibano of the local council talked to us about the impacts of the cuts to the social system and issues around immigration. She works with all associations who were present, but

 

“there is a limit as to how much can be done within the local parliament/council with the level of cuts. It affects welfare, there has not been one subsidy in years.”

 

Isabel is content that the Campillo municipality works with the associations and all the immigrants. However, the Andalusian and the national government are making things difficult for them.

 

Finally, Lorenzo wrapped up the conference with a few last comments: He raised the need for a strong presence of municipalities at the European level, and demanded more European politics through direct citizens participation in particular in the fields of work and welfare.

 

       “Citizens associations should have more powers, since they are in direct contact with the citizens and can provide the better solutions. Citizens should also be able to pressure their own governments to comply with European directives. There is a disparity in the realization of European directives, the EU has to have more power to reinforce the realization of EU law in the member states.”

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