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25th Jan 2021

MEPs push for simpler rules on EU quasi-referendums

  • Recently citizens handed over more than 3 million signatures oopising the TTIP agreement to the Commission (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

MEPs voted Wednesday (28 October) to push for reforming the EU’s participative democracy tool, amid criticism the proposed steps aren’t going far enough.

Three years after its introduction, with the aim of bringing citizens closer to European politics, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) has so far failed to have practical impact on European policy-making.

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ECI enables 1 million EU citizens (coming from at least seven of the 28 member states) to call on the European Commission to legislate on any issue where the EU executive has competence to propose new rules.

Since its birth in 2012, only four out of the 28 registered ECIs have reached the 1 million signature benchmark, and none has led to new legislation.

Wednesday’s report proposes making the process easier by allowing people to sign initiatives at the age of 16 everywhere, making the online signature collection simpler, allowing to register only a part of an ECI if the entire issue doesn’t fall under the competencies of the Commission, and other practical measures.

But some lawmakers and members of civil society, while commending the effort, voiced criticism.

They say citizens should be able to initiate treaty change and the Commission should automatically be obliged to legislate in case of successful citizens' initiative.

Carsten Berg, a democracy activist monitoring the ECI’s progress fears even a reformed ECI will not have the political impact it was designed to make in the first place.

He recalled that the Commission turns down 40 percent of the initiatives, and the issue is not addressed by the report.

“None of the successful ECIs have resulted in practical result,” reminded Berg, who said the said the report was watered down in the last minute, when MEPs took out a call for the Commission to start preparing a legal act on successful ECIs within 12 months of their acceptance.

Barbara Spinelli, Italian left-wing MEP said this means the Commission will retain “total monopoly” on the process.

“In my view this empties out the context of the ECI,” she said,

Spinelli added, that while ECI was the attempt to “break out of the crisis of democracy”, but is not delivering on that in its current form.

Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, German social democrat MEP defended dropping the automatic legislation by saying “1 million people cannot force the EU institutions with 500 million citizens on their mind” to legislate.

Hungarian center-right MEP Gyorgy Schopflin, in charge of the EP’s report, recalled that he needed to secure a majority for the text.

Schopflin said it is “a good basis to talk to the Commission”.

He will hold talks with Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans about the possible ways to reform ECI. The EU executive is then expected to come up with a proposal on the reforms early next year.

“The Commission is open to changes,” Schopflin said on Wednesday.

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