Successful ECIs Must Be Given a Fair Chance of Having a Political Impact The Commission proposal on ECI revision and what is crucially missing
On September 13, 2017, the European Commission published its proposal for the revision of the regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the first-ever tool for transnational, participatory democracy. The first five years of experience with the tool have taught us that significant improvements are needed in order for it to fulfill its democratic purpose rather than leading to further popular disillusionment. While the Commission’s proposal entails a number of technical changes that make the tool more accessible and user-friendly for citizens, the key challenge remains unaddressed: how to respond to successful ECIs in a way that does justice to the ECI organisers and the 1,000,000+ supporters they represent?
Of the 3 successful ECIs that have been submitted to and processed by the Commission, none of them have been answered with a direct legislative proposal. The result of this is that ECI organisers and citizens do not feel that they are being taken seriously and the tool is increasingly perceived as toothless, as having no real impact on policy- and decision-making. Without seriously addressing this problem of political impact, the ECI will die a slow and painful death, as citizens will lose interest in it.
In order to make good on the ECI’s promise of connecting citizens directly with Europe-wide politics and policy-making in a meaningful way, we urgently recommend that the following changes be included in the revised regulation:
- in the normal run of events successful ECIs are forwarded to the Parliament and the Council in the form of legislative proposals/draft legislation;
- the European Parliament should not only organize a public hearing on successful ECIs but above all vote in plenary on the successful ECI’s legislative proposal;
- successful ECIs should also be followed by Citizens’ Initiative Reviews based on randomly‐selected and demographically‐balanced voters being brought together from across the EU in order to deliberate on an ECI proposal in a structured manner, and to fairly evaluate it on the basis of expert-input. Their result should be made available to the Members of the European Parliament prior to their plenary vote on a successful ECI.
Living in a ‘post-paternalistic society’, to use the words of the First VP Frans Timmermans himself, it is crucial that the Commission interprets its role as representing the interests of the Union in a non-narrow, responsible manner, and not take ‘invitations’ from successful ECIs lightly. Even if the Commission itself is not convinced by the proposal of a successful ECI, it should not stand in the way of a meaningful dialogue between citizens and their directly and indirectly elected representatives in the European Parliament and the Council respectively, because this is what European democracy should look like.
Credit image: Fred MARVAUX / © European Union 2017 – Source: EP