Citizens’ initiative brings direct democracy to the European Union

Group1: Julia Virtala, Ossi Mansikka, Matti Vesikansa, Brian Otieno

The European Citizen’s Initiative (ECI) brings democracy out from Brussels to every citizen’s doorstep. It was approved of by the European Parliament and the Council on 15th of December 2011 and it is expected to come into force on April 1st, 2012. From then on, the citizens of the European Union will have equal rights as a majority in The European Parliament and the Member states; to set the agenda for the whole union.

 

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 “It is the first time that European citizens can get together and let us know in one strong voice, if they think that we, European decision makers, are not doing our job properly,” says Zita Gurmai, representative of the constitutional committee. Her full speech can be found here.

 

The ECI is the fulfillment of the promise in the Lisbon treaty. Previous treaties had included a possibility of a petition initiated by natural or legal persons. These petitions are however addressed to the European parliament who represents the EU citizens. The ECI offers a tool for direct proposal to change legislation.

 

Launching an initiative requires one million signatures from EU citizens gathered by a committee consisting of at least seven people from a minimum of seven EU nationalities. They must be gathered within a year, after which the Commission will have three months to decide on actions on the initiative. The initiative will also be given a public hearing and a discussion at the parliament.

 

The new system has been considered positive Europe wide, by officials and institutions alike. According to the Time-magazine, a group representing non-governmental organizations such as Greenpeace welcomed ECI as an “important new step to increase public participation in EU decision-making.”

 

The initiative has also aroused criticism. ECI is in danger of being rendered unusable by the excessively restrictive regulations. The range of topics is narrowed down by preventing initiatives that would violate e.g. the freedom of religion or speech.

 

Problems already rose from the ECI gathered by Greenpeace to limit the introduction of genetically modified crops. The Commission said it was not admissible, because the ECI had not been officially launched. The EU Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros commented on the issue, that  ”it would be a political disaster to have a very large number of signatures and then obtain a decision by the Commission saying that it’s not admissible.”

 

 

 

Citizens’ initiatives are not new on the continent. For instance Finland issued a citizen’s initiative act just this March.

EU has released a questions and answers document about the ECI. They even have a Facebook account for unofficial discussion about the ECI.

 

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