12 Recommendations in-depth: #2 Allow treaty amendment in ECIs

2015-04-15 News

This is the second in a series of articles taking an in-depth look at each of The ECI Campaign’s 12 recommendations for building “An ECI That Works!”

#2 Allow treaty amendment in ECIs

Perhaps the ECI’s greatest value to the EU as a whole is to provide a public forum for discussion of important issues and an official tool for citizens to influence the future direction of the EU. For the ECI to fulfil this vital democratic function, it must be available for issues that require amending EU treaties. This is currently a “legal grey area” that needs formal clarification.

We recommend that a clause be added to ECI Regulation 211/2011 specifying that an ECI can ask the Commission to propose a treaty amendment, as well as request an outcome that would require treaty amendment to implement.

There are four reasons that ECIs should be allowed that might lead to treaty amendments. First, it would strengthen the ECI’s impact on EU democracy. Second, it was the ECI’s creators’ intention. Third, proposing treaty amendments is within the framework of the Commission’s powers. Fourth, the Commission has registered at least one ECI that would require treaty amendment to implement. Let’s look briefly at each of these.

1. It would strengthen the ECI’s impact on EU democracy. It is important to remember that the ECI only invites the Commission to consider an issue. It requires no action. Its value is primarily as a tool for public dialogue and citizen involvement. Some of the most important and difficult challenges facing the EU will require treaty amendments to address. Allowing ECIs that propose solutions to these challenges could increase the number of ECIs, their levels of public support and total EU-related public debate.

2. It was the ECI creators’ intention. The ECI was originally drafted by members of the Constitutional Convention and kept unchanged in the Treaty of Lisbon. There was no discussion that treaty amendment not be allowed. National citizens’ initiatives that forbid changing primary law make this point explicit. The Treaties contain within them methods for their own revision. Therefore, it is logical to assume that ECIs were meant to be used for the full range of EU legal acts — including proposing treaty amendments.

3. It is within the framework of the Commission’s powers. As ECI Regulation 211/2011 is now written, an ECI can address any topic that does not “manifestly fall outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.” Article Art 48(2) TEU gives the Commission the power to propose treaty amendments. Therefore ECIs should logically be able to ask it to use this power.

4. The Commission has registered an ECI requiring treaty amendment to implement. In its ECI registration decisions, the Commission is setting legal precedents. It registered the ECI Let Me Vote which asked for the extension of national voting rights to residents who are citizens of other EU Member States. To implement, this ECI would require modifying article 20(2) TFEU by using the informal treaty amendment process from article 25, TFEU.

It is unlikely that the Commission would respond to a successful ECI by proposing a treaty amendment to the Member States. However, that does not mean that a public discussion on such a topic has no value. Major governmental reforms take years of public debate to gather support and acceptance. The EU may not survive without treaty reform. Why not open up the ECI so citizens can also suggest amendments they think are important?

For additional background, see “The ECI Campaign’s Position on Treaty Amendments”.