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18th Apr 2021

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An 'open door' for EU citizens

  • Dolors Montserrat (EPP, Spain), chair of the petitions committee, wants to hear more from EU citizens (Photo: Council of the European Union)

Ordinary EU citizens should get a say in Brussels lawmaking and hold officials to account via the European Parliament's petitions committee (PETI) in the next five years, according to its chairman, Spanish centre-right MEP Dolors Montserrat. The "open door" to Brussels should also create "proximity" between people and EU officials in troubled times, she said.

"We need to give more visibility to personal experiences, enabling citizens to contribute to the EU's legislative work, while also bringing them closer to MEPs and making institutions more accountable," Montserrat said. "Institutions have to be at the service of people and not the other way around," she added.

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PETI has a mandate to discuss EU nationals or companies' gripes on any subject governed by European laws.

It exerts soft power, which "sometimes" amounted to "considerable influence", Montserrat said, by issuing reports and recommendations.

It can prompt plenary debates, dispatch fact-finding missions, send memos to EU states' embassies, or even call for commission legal action against European countries.

And it regularly invites individuals to confront MEPs and European Commission officials in grand auditoriums in the EU capital.

PETI stands alongside the European Ombudsman (a malpractice watchdog) and the European Citizens' Initiative (filing mass petitions to the commission) as one of few ways enshrined in the EU treaties for people to get directly involved in times of sharp division between 'masses' and 'elites'.

The "most important point is that petitioners feel heard and protected," Montserrat said.

In one petition last year, 'E.P.'(a German national), got to voice "her opposition to the establishment of the European Defence Fund", a €13bn EU juggernaut project on joint arms procurement.

Other petitions, which trickle in at a rate of five or so per day via PETI's website, dealt with electoral standards, free press, and anti-Islamic hate speech. They also dealt with disabled people's rights, sexual education, and cannabis laws, as well as with smaller issues, such as a Polish petition on the distance between school desks or an Italian one on letting dogs fly with their owners.

Montserrat, a 46-year old Catalan, who was health minister under former Spanish leader Marian Rajoy, is no stranger to division between remote capitals and popular feeling. The Rajoy government in Madrid tried to crush Catalan independence in 2017, emboldening popular resistance.

But the MEP said: "We need to work for equal consideration of petitions, regardless of their political colour". The European Parliament represented "a diversity of opinions and ideologies," Montserrat said, and "in a democracy like our own, it is normal for us to have different points of view".

PETI's European Parliament group coordinators are: Peter Jahr (EPP, Germany), Jude Kirton-Darling (S&D, UK); Yana Toom (Renew, Estonia); Margrete Auken (Greens/EFA, Denmark); Gianna Gancia (ID, Italy); Kosma Zotowski (ECR, Poland); and Sira Rego (GUE/NGL, Spain).

This article first appeared in EUobserver's latest magazine, Who's Who in European Parliament Committees, which you can now read in full online.

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