29th Feb 2024


A parody of a proper citizens' initiative

In his article on Spain's referendum in EUobserver Mr Bruno Kaufman states: "At the same time, millions of Spanish voters said 'Si' to the new basic law of the Union, because of the introduction of the first transnational citizens' initiative, which gives one million people across the continent the right to propose a new European Law."

Mr Kaufman, whom I understand is a supporter of the proposed EU Constitution, is incorrect in saying that it gives a million citizens "the right to propose a new European law".

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If some Spanish voters were under that impression in last Sunday's referendum, they were either misinformed or deluding themselves.

Article I-47 of the "Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe" provides for one million EU citizens to "invite" the European Commission "within the framework of its powers" to submit a proposal to the Council of Ministers for a particular EU law that "is required for the purpose of implementing the Constitution".

That is quite different from citizens being able to propose a new EU law.

Petitions can be ignored

This Article I-47 would bar the Commission from even considering any petition from citizens urging it to do something other than what it was already empowered to do - and which it should probably be doing anyway without the need for any petition.

If a million citizens did petition for an EU law, they could be ignored by the Commission, for the Constitution does not require the Commission to respond favourably to what they ask for.

If the Commission did respond favourably by proposing a law to the Council of Ministers - which is the only body the Commission can make such proposals to - the Council in turn could ignore or dismiss the Commission's proposal.

If the Council did not dismiss it, but legislated the EU law that was requested, it would be doing no more than what it should be doing anyway.

A parody of a proper citizens' initiative

This is a parody of a proper citizens' initiative. The EU Constitution does not give citizens the power to propose new European laws and it is mere propaganda to suggest otherwise.

The Constitution allows citizens to ask the Commission to ask the Council to make a law that it should be making anyway, if it were properly implementing the proposed Constitution.

This reference to a million citizens petitioning is a fig-leaf, mere window-dressing, designed to give a facade of democratic involvement to the profoundly undemocratic decision-making set-up in the EU, which the Constitution makes much worse than it is at present.

The Constitution would make democracy worse in the EU by abolishing the national veto on some 60 new policy areas or decisions - more than in the Nice and Amsterdam Treaties put together.

It would thereby give the EU Commission the monopoly in proposing laws in relation to these areas.

Conclave of technocrats

The Commission is an unelected body which France's President Charles de Gaulle once aptly described as "a conclave of technocrats without a country, responsible to nobody."

The Constitution would also increase greatly the power of the EU Council of Ministers - the 25-person oligarchy that has the main power to make EU laws for 450 million people - which is irremoveable and irresponsible as a group.

The EU Constitution would worsen, not alleviate, the EU's basic lack of democracy. In face of that overriding fact, only the ignorant or politically naive would take comfort from the reference in the proposed EU Constitution to this spurious and empty right of petition by one million citizens.

The author is a Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Social Policy of Trinity College in Dublin and Secretary of the Irish EU critical movement, National Platform.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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