Wednesday

28th Feb 2024

Online petitions to put EU under public scrutiny

With just weeks until to go until the EU dips its toe into the unpredictable world of participatory democracy, internet giants are warning the European Commission it had better be prepared for scrutiny by a critical and highly-wired public.

On 1 April, over 10 years since EU leaders publicly declared that they need to make the union more democratic, a system giving citizens the chance to shape European debate and potentially its legislation will go live.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Anti-austerity protest - the first subject of a pan-EU petition? (Photo: CGTP-IN)

The so-called Citizens Initiative requires the European Commission to consider legislating in an area on the back of at least 1 million signatures from a minimum of seven (or one quarter) of member states.

"This new right will open a new chapter in the democratic life of the EU. Not only will it provide a direct gateway for citizens to make their voices heard in Brussels, it will also encourage real cross-border debates about EU issues," said EU commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic at a conference launching the initiative website on Thursday (26 January).

Danish Europe minister Nicolai Wammen indicated the most important aspect of the new tool will be that citizens will have the chance to "set the agenda," noting that getting a "conversation" going about an issue means already being "half way there."

With the Arab Spring showcasing the power of social networks such as Facebook to spread news and ideas, some at the conference suggested the Citizens Initiative will see the fairly disparate protests against unemployment and austerity measures in various member states become a single, widely-supported petition.

For her part, Facebook's policy chief in Brussels, Erika Mann says that "humans love to have a connection and to live in a better world" and that this "all connects to the political world."

Simon Hampton, European public policy director at internet search company Google, believes it is likely to be a game-changer for the way the commission interacts with citizens. "The internet-powered citizen expects to be listened to. They want to be part of the conversation," he said. He added that the new tool "puts the commission under scrutiny too."

In a recent example in the US, the White House reconsidered a new anti-piracy law after thousands of people voiced concern about free speech on the internet and popular websites, such as Wikipedia, blacked out their homepage in protest.

Some social network sites say they will be natural allies of the European initiative.

Giuseppe de Martino, secretary general of video-sharing website Dailymotion, said his company could be a "video platform that uses images to explain the initiative."

Further down the line, successful initiatives are likely to be taken up by European political parties which will next year begin thinking about their campaigns for the 2014 European elections.

But the first few months are likely to see a period of experimentation by both sides - citizens seeing how it works and the European Commission seeing how to respond.

Critics have warned the initiative could be hijacked by one-horse issues pushed by a particular interest group.

But the commission says this will be countered by the threshold of member states and signatures required. It also has several get-out clauses - initiatives cannot be called for actions which lie "outside" its powers or which are "abusive, frivolous or vexatious." They are also prohibited from being "contrary to EU values."

The success of the EU's foray into participatory democracy is likely to depend on how fairly citizens think the commission applies these criteria.

EU citizens' initiative raises political and legal headaches

Hailed as the EU's first real step towards direct democracy, a right contained in the new Lisbon Treaty allowing EU citizens to ask the commission to initiate a law is shaping up to be a political and legal minefield.

First citizens' petition set to be on water

There is just over a week to go until the EU makes its long-awaited foray into the world of participatory democracy. The first formal attempt is likely to centre around securing a promise from Brussels to never privatise water.

Investigation

Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line

In a fractious parliamentary vote, the level of party discipline often decides the fate of legislation. Party discipline among nationalists and far-right MEPs is the weakest, something potentially significant after the June elections. Data by Novaya Gazeta Europe and EUobserver.

Latest News

  1. EU supply chain law fails, with 14 states failing to back it
  2. Joined-up EU defence procurement on the horizon?
  3. Macron on Western boots in Ukraine: What he really meant
  4. Amazon lobbyists banned from EU Parliament
  5. MEPs adopt new transparency rules for political ads
  6. EU nature restoration law approved after massive backlash
  7. Memo from Munich — EU needs to reinvent democracy support
  8. For Ukraine's sake, pass the EU due diligence directive

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us