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Step three: an "informal" working group surprises us

Step three: an "informal" working group surprises us

01-06-2003

Two meetings were needed to reach an agreement on a text on the referendum. The only concession we had to make was that in those countries whose constitutions currently do not allow referendums at least consultative referendums should be held. Our original aim was to encourage these countries (such as Germany) to change their constitutions to allow binding referendums.

Yet with regard to the second text we were unable to reach consensus. Some favoured creating high thresholds for citizens' initiatives, others didn't want to interfere with the European Commission's exclusive right of legislative initiative. We suggested only covering the basic principles and instruments of direct democracy in order to avoid complicated debates on procedures and numbers.

Collecting signatures

At the end of that meeting (on 27 February), only 5 minutes were left to discuss these differences - impossible to reach a consensus. It was not clear either who should be responsible for coordinating the whole process and especially for collecting signatures in the Convention. We discussed these problems and decided to coordinate the process ourselves in close cooperation with Jürgen Meyer and Alain Lamassoure. We started collecting signatures among the Convention members that day. It was very unusual for members of NGOs to collect the signatures of elected representatives. However, noboy questioned our right to collecting signatures, and we felt obliged to fight for our ideas and for the agreed text. We left Brussels on Friday, 28 February, with eight colleged signatories for the referendum proposal.

But how to proceed with the citizens´ legislation? After almost one month of discussions with individual Convention members, we decided to seek support for a text that introduced the instruments of the citizens´ initiative, citizens´ referendum and an obligatory referendum only in the case of constitutional or treaty amendments, without specifying the procedure, the majority requirements or the number of signatures that had to be collected. When we started pushing for our second text we had already collected 33 signatures for the referendum - most of them at the Convention meeting on March 17-18 which six of us attended. Others came from the federalist intergroup in the Convention.

Calling Convention members

In between the meetings we distributed our text to many Convention members by e-mail and fax and phoned them over and over and over again… It was a very hard and sometimes frustrating job because it was much easier to contact the politicians directly in Brussels. Yet, at the same time, it was not possible to contact them all directly. On 31st March Alain Lamassoure sent the referendum text - signed by 37 members, alternates and observers - as a contribution to the Convention secretariat. At that time we had only 3 signatories for the second text. Continue reding our story...

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