Recently the European Parliament gave its view on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). Unfortunately, we missed a good opportunity to strengthen one of the few and most important tools of participatory democracy in the EU.
The ECI allows for one million citizens from at least seven EU member states to ask the European Commission to propose a legal act on a matter of EU competence. This exercise in participatory democracy could not only help EU institutions get closer to citizens but also enhance a sense of transnational identity. Yet, since the ECI came into force more than three years ago, only 24 out of 53 ECIs have been registered and only 3 of them have successfully reached more than one million signatures. Burdensome procedure and lack of legal and technical support are just some of the obstacles that organizers have had to face. The report adopted by the European Parliament tackles some of these important issues.
However, even if all these obstacles were overcome, we are still missing the key point: the European Commission’s failure to act positively in response to ECIs. Until now the Commission has responded poorly or not responded at all to successful ECIs. Unless the Commission is willing to positively engage, then the ECI becomes a useless exercise.
As things stand, the Commission evaluates if a proposed ECI is manifestly contrary to the values of the Union or if it is manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious. This is of course a necessary exercise. What is completely unacceptable however is for the Commission to reject an ECI that has gained a million signatures for purely political reasons. Not only does failing to respond with a legislative initiative risk increasing frustration amongst European citizens, it also impedes the necessary political debate that should take place in the European parliament on such a proposal.
Parliament’s rapporteur from the EPP group claimed that ECIs should be able to have an impact on EU legislation and, thus, the Commission should propose a legal act on successful ECIs. Unfortunately, this view wasn’t really reflected in Parliament’s final report. Indeed, the final text reinforces the notion that the Commission should be able to make a political decision. Once more, we have witnessed the big coalition in the European parliament put their own narrow political interests before what even the rapporteur believed should be done to strengthen the ECI.
Following Parliament’s approval of the ECI report, two dimensions of the initiative become clearer than ever: firstly, that the ECI was in essence a good idea and worthwhile project; but secondly, we must admit that as conceived so far, the ECI fails to realise its potential in terms of democratic engagement.
To avoid more public frustration and wasted opportunities, we urge Parliament’s rapporteur in the ongoing negotiations with the Commission, to be as ambitious as he possibly can in achieving a European Citizens Initiative that is truly worthy of the name.
Josep-Maria Terricabras, MEP and Vice President of the Greens/EFA Group
Helena Argerich, Greens/EFA adviser on constitutional affairs
i assabenta’t de totes les últimes novetats des d’Europa