Tuesday

17th Jul 2018

Opinion

Citizens Initiative risks being strangled by EU commission

  • An initiative on nuclear power is one of those that has been turned down by the commission (Photo: Chris Goldberg)

The expectations attached to the EU’s new participatory democracy tool are high.

The European Citizens Initiative (ECI), allowing citizens to influence EU law-making, is seen as the most significant democratic reform in Europe since the introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament in 1979.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

Yet for all the pre-implementation hype, the new democracy instrument has gotten off to a poor start.

Of the first six officially registered initiatives, not one has begun to collect signatures.

This poor state of affairs is due to the fact that the online signature collection system offered by the Commission is not yet up and running. This costs the ECI organisers valuable time.

In addition, officials at the EU’s central information services are still unable to answer the simplest questions about the ECI process. There is not enough staff. And training on the ins and outs of the ECI - which must have at least one million signatures in a minimum of seven member states - is inadequate.

Worst of all is that the commission has refused outright to register several initiatives. The ECI – “My vote against nuclear power” – which seeks to phase out the use of nuclear energy within the EU – is one such rejected initiative.

The commission argued that the current EU treaties “cannot be interpreted as giving the Commission the possibility to propose a legal act that would have the effect of modifying provisions of primary law (namely the Euratom Treaty).”

It also argues that it is not in the commission’s power to submit a legal act of the union for the purpose of implementing the treaties. In other words, the justification for the rejection of the Anti-Nuclear ECI is that proposals contravening primary law are inadmissible.

This stance has angered both the environmental and pro-democracy movements as it would substantially devalue, if not actually invalidate, the entire ECI instrument.

This overly restrictive interpretation is likely to mean that many future initiatives will be judged inadmissible from the outset.

According to the EU Treaties, the commission is itself entitled to propose amendments to treaties. So it should also be possible for citizens to launch initiatives that would result in treaty amendments.

The anti-nuclear ECI was thus rejected on grounds which are difficult to reconcile with the spirit of the ECI rules. There is no reason why citizens should be denied the possibility of making suggestions about the general direction of the EU through proposals borne by an ECI.

Indeed, those involved in drawing up the ECI clause during the constitutional convention in 2002-3 say it was never intended to be applied only to secondary law.

One of two things is needed now. Either European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso must speak up and give some political guidance on the matter or the European Court of Justice needs to decide on the commission’s narrow interpretation of the scope of the ECI.

The ability to make proposals that could eventually lead to an amendment of the treaties is essential if the ECI is to have a real democratizing impact on the EU.

Citizens need to feel that it is worth sharing personal data - in some cases significant amounts - to show their support for a proposal. For that to happen, it must be possible to pursue ECIs on issues that people feel strongly about and which directly affect their lives.

The writer is General Coordinator of The ECI Campaign and board member of Democracy International.

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.

Happy New European Citizens' Year?

People filed 23 EU citizens' initiatives last year, but the programme needs financial help and education if it is to take off.

EU democracy tool hanging in the balance

Less than three years after its launch, the EU's participative democracy tool has all but ground to a halt, amid criticism it is too complex and failing to result in change.

EU climate diplomacy can make the difference

At this critical time, with climate change increasingly urgent and with reactionary, anti-science forces threatening processes of cooperation, the EU climate mission can reassert the common values and aspirations which Europeans share.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Latest News

  1. Putin asks Trump to go after British activist
  2. May caves in to Brexiteer demands, risking 'no deal'
  3. EU and China agree on words, not yet on action
  4. EU is 'foe', as Trump seeks to make friends with Putin
  5. Let's not be 'naive' with Chinese partner, says senior MEP
  6. Trump, trade, and Brexit in EU headlines This WEEK
  7. EU and China edge closer in Trump's 'America First' world
  8. How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us