Thursday

21st Mar 2019

Opinion

Does EU really want to make citizen politics work?

  • ECI allows 1 million EU citizens from at least seven member states to propose legislation to the European Commission (Photo: Felix Kindermann / Campact)

The European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) is the world's first and only instrument of transnational participatory democracy that is currently undergoing a much-needed revision.

The EU institutions have arrived at the most critical stage of this revision process: the trilogues, or three-way talks between the main EU bodies - the European Parliament, European Commission, and EU Council.

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.

... or join as a group

The question that the EU negotiators need to ask themselves is: do we really want to make this instrument work or not?

If their answer is 'yes', they need to get their priorities straight and heed the emergency call from 18 ECI and online campaigning experts: to preserve ECI organisers' already existing and increasingly used right and freedom of choice for online collection tools.

The ECI simply cannot afford a step backwards.

The ECI allows 1m EU citizens from at least seven member states to propose legislation to the European Commission.

The ECI was hailed by the EU institutions as one of the key innovations of the Lisbon Treaty that would bring the EU closer to its citizens. In practice, however, the ECI is extremely difficult to use due to massive bureaucratic hurdles and legal flaws governing the ECI process.

After a first wave of ECIs in 2013, the instrument was hardly used in 2015 and 2016 and remains at a low level of use up until today.

The legislative revision is a critical opportunity to blow new life into this instrument, but if the newly raised expectations are once again not met, it could be a fatal blow.

Online campaigning

EU institutions are currently negotiating in trilogue on how to reform the ECI.

Surprisingly, the digital dimension of the ECI has become a key point of contention.

The Council wants to ban the use of so-called 'individual online collection systems', which would leave future ECI organisers no choice but to use the EU commission-run central online collection system.

What may appear like a technical detail in fact has far-reaching implications for the future of the ECI.

As argued by 18 ECI and online campaigning experts in a recent open letter to the EU institutions, banning individual online collection systems would "create uncertainty for future ECI organisers" and "undermine the ECI's digital dimension".

With 62 percent of the ECI signatures collected online, the question of how to go about online campaigning is a very important one.

Only since September 2015 - and only after the many problems experienced with the commission's online collection system - ECI organisers have a real choice to make: the use of the free-of-charge commission's online collection system or an alternative software developed by ECI organisers and for ECI organisers, called 'OpenECI'.

While this alternative is still relatively new and unknown, and while it requires an extra financial investment by ECI organisers, it is currently used by 50 percent of the ECIs.

Its effectiveness has been demonstrated by ECI Stop Glyphosate, which collected the necessary 1m signatures in fewer than five months - a record.

'OpenECI' has not only been helpful for ECI organisers using the software, it has also given the commission an incentive and a learning opportunity to further develop its own online collection software and services.

On top of this, by not having to rely on a single centralised collection system, one spreads the risk of a possible system breakdown.

Worth it?

The EU Council opposes individual online collection systems because of "lack of proportionality and administrative burden in having several online collection systems."

The "administrative burden" spoken of is the result of member states' responsibility to certify online collection systems.

While at present there seems to be no solid information on the exact administrative costs involved, one could have a sensible discussion on whether one can organise certification in a more cost-efficient manner.

However, this should be kept separate from the discussion on whether or not to preserve ECI organisers' right and freedom to use alternative collection tools.

This leaves us with the question of 'proportionality': while 'Open ECI' has given the commission a free civil-society lesson on how to further develop its online collection system, the ECI costs the EU's taxpayer a significant amount of money.

The question arises: is it all worth it?

This is a question that ECI organisers ask themselves every day.

From the EU institutions, we expect only one answer: if they are serious about building a Europe of and for citizens, then it is simply worth the investment, because it will pay off in the long run and the ECI is at present the only real vehicle for bottom-up change in Europe.

While it is difficult to foresee exactly how much damage a ban on individual online collection systems would cause, ECI and online campaigning experts are unified in their call to preserve this existing and increasingly used right and freedom of ECI organisers.

If the EU institutions are equally serious about making transnational citizen participation work, they should realise that the ECI simply cannot afford any step backwards, and they should make this their priority during the negotiations.

Carsten Berg is the director and Maarten de Groot coordinator of The ECI Campaign

Feature

'Macron vs Orban' is no quick fix for EU democracy

A Macron versus Orbans styled election battle might lift turnout in next year's European Parliament elections, but under laying democratic problems would remain, warn experts.

Focus

Trust is 'gold' in digital age

Trust is perhaps the most important resource and the key to building successes, but new Nordic research indicates that challenges may lie ahead in the digital age.

Macron is confusing rigidity with strength

Jan Zahradil, EU Commission president Spitzenkandidat for the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, responds to Emmaneul Macron's European vision ahead of the May elections.

A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension

At this week's summit, EU leaders should extend Article 50 until the May European elections. But they should postpone the effective date of the UK's withdrawal from EU rights, rules, and regulations for another year - to May 2020.

Italy should capitalise on Brexit

Now that the UK is leaving, Italy can, and should, step up. It is the third largest country and economy in the EU. Spain and Poland follow, but they are significantly smaller economically and population-wise.

The Magnitsky Act - and its name

It is disappointing that so many MEPs in the Socialist and Green group caved in to Russian interests, in fear of challenging a plutocratic regime, by saying 'no' to naming the Magnitsky legislation by its rightful name: Magnitsky.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  2. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength
  3. May tosses Brexit spanner into EU machinery
  4. Centre-right EPP faces showdown with Orban
  5. A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension
  6. US glyphosate verdict gives ammunition to EU activists
  7. Have a good reason for Brexit extension, Barnier tells UK
  8. EU countries push for new rule of law surveillance

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us