Why we should sign the petition to save the European Citizens Initiative

2016-04-11 Hiddden


A review of the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) is a legal requirement; civil society groups want change and have made clear recommendations; the European Parliament asked the European Commission for a full revision of the ECI; and even the Commission itself recognises that the ECI legislation and process is flawed. Despite all this the Commission has delayed and prevaricated and, finally, 4 years after the ECI was launched, the European Commission was publicly outed recently as having no intention of revising the ECI Regulation. (See: Commission won’t revise ECI)

The petition launched this week to save the ECI is needed because its revision is not in the Commission’s work plan for 2016, and conspicuously absent from the Commission’s “priority” of democratic change. This only addresses transparency. To persuade the Commission to not allow the ECI to die, civil society organisations have joined forces to launch this petition demanding that the European Commission revise the ECI regulation and strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the EU.

Who should sign the petition to save the ECI? You should sign, if you want a stronger democracy in the EU, if you want citizens to influence EU decision-making, if you want to embed the important democratic changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. You should also sign if you want EU policies made closer to its citizens, and if you want the EU to be able to respond more effectively to the multiple crises facing it and its Member States today.

The crises facing the EU – migration, banking, and extreme right wing politics – might not be solved directly by strengthening the ECI process, but the implementation of EU decision-making will not be helped by retreating from citizen deliberation. Revise the ECI and there will be more cross border debate and EU citizen participation to enhance the legitimacy of inherently political EU decisions. The Commission should embrace democracy. A retreat to technocracy and distant citizens will further fuel extremist or anti-EU politics.

The ECI is only one democratic instrument and its political and legal impact has been limited so far, but its symbolic importance as the first supranational instrument of direct democracy is widely recognised. Revising the ECI is an important opportunity for the Commission to show that it values democracy and citizen participation, and that it is making genuine practical steps to bring citizens closer to the EU institutions.

The overwhelming majority of ECI proposals have sought to positively develop EU policy in areas such as the environment, education and human rights. Even the ECIs that have been more radical or more challenging to EU policy, such as the Stop TTIP, Universal Basic Income, and the Anti-vivisection initiatives, are not anti-EU or its values. Any initiatives that are contrary to EU values cannot be registered and there are numerous opportunities for EU institutions to prevent ECI proposals from leading to legal acts. There may be an occasional initiative registered that is not in favour of the EU – confrontation of ideas is part of democracy – but these ideas will not become law as a result of the ECI.

Signing the petition will continue the pressure on the European Commission to enhance citizen participation through ECI revision. Signing the petition will ask the European Commission to take this opportunity to use the ECI as a beacon of citizen engagement and of EU democracy. Much of the work is already done, not least by the Commission itself, and there is widespread agreement about the changes needed. All that is lacking is the political will to implement these changes. Please click here to join the thousands of people that have already signed the petition in the first few days.

As well as signing the petition, you can join us at the ECI day on April 20th, where amongst other things you can put questions directly to Commissioner Timmermans. We would also like to welcome you at a major conference in Liverpool on May 5th. This collaborative conference will bring together democracy activists, campaigners, academics and policy makers to explore current challenges and future opportunities for EU public participation. Participants will together imagine new ways and means to develop a more participative and democratic European Union. For more information and to register: Democratic Participation in a Citizens’ Europe. What next for the EU?

Dr James Organ

This blog piece represents the personal views of the author and does not represent the views of his employer.