Initiator of Successful ECI Stop Vivisection Reveals Shocking Treatment by EU Institutions
Successful ECIs are entitled to a public hearing in the European Parliament and a written response from the Commission. However, the design of the hearing and related Commission dialogues has been left to the discretion of EU institutions. As a result, each of the three successful ECIs — Right to Water, One of Us and Stop Vivisection — has received very different treatment. At ECI Day 2016, Andre Menache, a committee member of the ECI Stop Vivisection, explained in horrifying detail the failings of this system — for ECI organisers, ECI supporters, EU citizens and EU democracy as a whole. Listen to his full speech here.
The ECI Stop Vivisection was launched to change EU policies on animal experimentation by demonstrating that newer, non-animal test methods are better for human health. To this end, it sought to ensure that scientific studies demonstrating this fact are adequately considered in EU policy-making.
Atypically, the public hearing in the European Parliament for Stop Vivisection was organised as a debate with both proponents and opponents given time to speak. During the 3 ½ hour hearing, all Stop Vivisection organisers combined were only allowed 34 minutes to talk! In contrast, Right to Water organisers spoke for 1 ½ hours during their hearing. In addition, the Stop Vivisection campaign had to raise 6,000 Euros to pay for first class airfare for an American scientific expert chosen by the Commission. This is an outrageous sum, especially for a grassroots citizens’ campaign run primarily by volunteers. This expert was then only given 12 minutes to present the scientific evidence supporting their position.
Mr. Menache expressed regret that the press was not allowed to attend the closed meeting with Commission DGs held prior to the parliamentary hearing. He noted that “some of the things that were said would shock the EU public.” In the end, the Commission’s response to Stop Vivisection was a simple “no” without any follow-up dialogue. Mr. Menache concluded that “the message…is that the EU is not really listening to citizens”.
He further noted that “the Commission only really finds out what the ECI is about the day of your hearing”. That should be the start of dialogue, not the end of it. Mr. Menache suggested providing organisers of successful ECIs with trained lawyers who can represent them in negotiations with the Commission. Through structured dialogue, the ECI’s topic may be thoroughly discussed and “something might come out of the ECI” he noted.
Mr. Menache further proposed that successful ECIs should trigger the use of other tools of participatory democracy. He estimates that, given the number of potential supporters turned off by the ECI’s intrusive personal data requirements, each ECI signature in fact represents at least five EU citizens in support of the proposition. “If you manage to reach the impossible one million signatures…you should be entitled to an EC-sponsored EU referendum or a citizens’ jury or a consensus conference.”
Importantly, although the ECI Stop Vivisection organisers were understandably disappointed by the Commission’s response to their ECI, they still believe in the promise of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) instrument. According to Mr. Menache “A well organised ECI is a public awareness exercise that will contribute to political change. However, the European Commission currently lacks the political will to see a successful ECI through to its logical conclusion (legislative change).”