Democracy International welcomes the approval of the ECI regulation
By: Carsten Berg and Armin Steuernagel
Gerald Häfner, spokesperson of Democracy International:
“Today the European Parliament formally approved the binding procedural rules for the European Citizens’ Initiative. With this decision, the Lisbon Treaty promise of greater popular participation in the affairs of the EU is finally honoured. The ECI will make an important contribution to narrowing the gap between the representatives and those represented and give EU citizens more influence on the decisions which affect them. From 2012 on it will give EU citizens the possibility of becoming directly involved in Brussels policy-making, allowing them to take part in setting the EU agenda. We wholeheartedly welcome this new right - but at the same time criticise the fact that citizen participation at the EU level will for the time being be restricted to a non-binding right of proposal. In the longer term, the rights of EU citizens must extend beyond this new non-binding right of proposal to include a direct and binding right of decision-making on important substantive issues.
The adoption of the ECI by the European Parliament is also a great success for Democracy International, for it was not politicians who were the true midwives for this new democratic tool, but citizens and their initiatives. It was Democracy International, Mehr Demokratie, the Initiative and Referendum Institute and the ECI Campaign which developed this democratic tool, proposed it, and in talks with the members of the European Constitutional Convention successfully pressed for its inclusion in the Treaty. And it was the same initiatives which accompanied the debates in the Parliament, the Council and the Commission with expert advice and criticism.
What will become of the ECI now lies in the hands of the citizens and of the Commission: whether it will be an effective instrument of citizen participation or merely a toothless tiger. Democracy International is aware of a whole series of Citizens’ Initiatives which are already being planned. They will invigorate the cross-border debate on future European policies and contribute to the creation of a Europe of the citizens. We call upon the Commission to take successful ECIs extremely seriously. Every ‘statement of support’ (signature) will be the reflection of the express will of individual citizens. One million signatures of EU citizens can and must not be ignored. The citizens’ initiatives must have consequences. If the ECI is not to result in increased frustration, but rather in a strengthening of the democratic involvement of the citizens, people must be able to see that their sensible and reasonable proposals are being taken seriously and are being reflected in the policy decisions of the institutions.”