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Campaigners call for a Universal Basic Income across Europe

A new project led by citizens aims to collect one million signatures in support of a radical welfare overhaul.

Basic Income Performance in Bern Oct 2013

Swiss basic income activists offload eight million coins in Bern as part of a campaign in 2013.

Stefan Bohrer (Wikimedia Commons).

A new campaign by European citizens aims to create a movement across the continent in support of a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Organisers of the European Citizens' Initiative for Basic Income hope to collect a million signatures from citizens of EU states by 25 September 2021.

British nationals with dual EU citizenship and EU citizens living in the UK are all eligible to put their names to the project. If successful, it will compel the European Union to explore proposals for a UBI in all 27 member states.

"The EU should support a basic income to ensure the right to life and basic human dignity is guaranteed to all EU citizens," said Clara Sigheti, a Romanian basic income campaigner and co-founder of UBI Lab Bucharest.

Photo of Clara for article

Clara Sigheti said a UBI would "greatly raise the standard of living for all citizens" in Romania.

"In Romania, UBI would greatly raise the standard of living for all citizens and it would help people stay in their country of origin and maybe even set up businesses here."

UBI is a regular and unconditional payment given to everybody regardless of their income, wealth or employment status. The highest earners would effectively pay their UBI back in tax, helping to fund a basic income for all.

Supporters say the scheme would guarantee income security to everybody and that it has the potential to end poverty and homelessness altogether.

A councillor for the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland has urged residents who hold an Irish passport to put their names to the project.

"Under the Good Friday Agreement, anyone born in Northern Ireland has the right to both British and Irish citizenships," Cllr Patrick Brown told Now Then.

"This gives Irish passport-holding NI citizens a unique opportunity to vote in this important campaign and provide a pro-UBI voice for EU citizens within the UK."

Brown believes UBI could help heal sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland, transforming communities that are still “blighted” by poverty and paramilitarism.

“We know from trials across the world that a UBI can eradicate material poverty, improve health and wellbeing, reduce crime and provide a better future for young people,” he said.

“But crucially for post-conflict societies a UBI, through enhancing freedom and empowering communities, could build social trust and help heal the divisions of our past.”

A previous citizens' initiative calling for a continent-wide UBI fell short of the million mark, collecting 284,402 signatures in 2013.

Organisers hope that a recent rule change will make it easier for EU citizens living away from home, including those in Britain, to support the campaign.

"The fact that people who had moved to another country couldn't sign was a huge problem during the first ECI for UBI in 2013," Barb Jacobson of Basic Income Europe told Now Then.

"Given that freedom of movement is one of the primary rules for membership, it makes sense for the EU to finally allow citizens living away from their birthplace to sign. I think it will make a big difference in the number of signatures collected this time."

Since 2013, interest in Universal Basic Income has soared across Europe as a result of the growing economic insecurity that has been made worse by the pandemic

.In the UK the Liberal Democrats recently became the biggest nationwide party to support UBI as an official policy, and Leeds City Council became the seventh city to call for a local pilot.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in May that the "time has come" for the radical idea, while Spain have put in place a similar system called a Minimum Income Guarantee.

A recent pilot in Finland found that UBI recipients had better physical and mental health, as well as improved confidence, life satisfaction and trust in institutions. They also worked slightly more on average than those in a control group.

Campaigners believe these effects could be repeated across the EU, tackling social problems, reducing unemployment and lifting citizens in the poorest member states out of poverty. Seven years after their first attempt, they believe the time has come for UBI.

The new initiative, which launched on 25 September, will need to collect an average of 2,740 signatures a day to meet the 1 million threshold within 12 months.

It will also need to meet smaller thresholds in at least seven EU member states as part of the one million signatures. The project has already gained 26,862 signatures as of 3 October, exceeding its target in the first week.

"People can support the initiative by signing the petition and sharing it with their friends," Sigheti told Now Then from Bucharest.

"Talking openly about the idea of UBI will also broaden people's perspectives and shape a better future for all of us."

Learn more

UBI Lab is a project supported in part by Opus Independents, who also publish Now Then and co-ordinate the Festival of Debate.

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