Apologies for the title. But when the European Citizens’ Initiative launches on April 1st (who chose the date, you have to ask?) it invites you to wonder whether it will be citizens who will be made fools out of.
This time last year, our European Public Engagement Associate Janice Thompson discussed the potential for the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) in a short briefing paper for Involve.
From this Sunday, the new legislation comes into action. This means that the European Commission will be legally obliged to consider and react to any proposals for new legislation if it has been signed by one million citizens through a Citizens Initiative. (There is nothing binding that the legislation will actually be proposed).
The ECI, she argued, could be a real step in the right direction, creating a culture where citizens are seen as partners, encouraging more media reporting of the EU, creating more spaces for discussion of European issues and laying the groundwork for more robust participation tools to follow.
Or, it could be participation at its worse – a tool too complex and bureaucratic to be used by anyone except well-funded lobbyists and interest groups, treating citizens as pawns in an undemocratic process and fuelling further disillusionment.
The answer has yet to be seen, and the first few ECIs (this one on Water Rights is likely to be signed up soon) will be crucial for the European Commission to demonstrate it’s serious about listening to citizens. To do this, it must be seen to openly and seriously consider the proposals put to them. Even further than that, a majority of ECIs need to result in legislative proposals. Without this, citizens will remain unconvinced that they really have a voice inside Europe.
Thanks to Janice Thompson for prompting this blog.
Image by Samantha Decker