The European citizens’ initiative allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. Despite some successes, such as the Right2Water initiative which has managed to get the human right to water and sanitation on the European political agenda, there is much more than can be done to promote participatory democracy and facilitate the process which aims to give citizens a voice, according to the European Committee of the Regions’ Commission for citizenship, governance, institutional and external affairs (CIVEX), which adopted its draft opinion today.
The European Commission undoubtedly introduced administrative, technical, logistical and communicative improvements to the European Citizens’ Initiative in the draft regulation, which make it more user-friendly. But the Commission missed a great opportunity to really give citizens a voice in the European political debate
These are the words of rapporteur, Luc Van den Brande, who also expressed concern that there is not enough political scrutiny and follow up to these citizens’ proposals calling for a greater role for the European Parliament. He therefore proposes that the best place for a group of organisers to explain their initiative is the European Parliament and urges MEPs to adopt their own positions following the hearing. This should reduce the conflict of interest whereby the European Commission is both judge and party for new proposals.
The current opinion should be understood as a follow up to the CoR’s 2015 opinion on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), which was drafted by the same rapporteur. At this time, Luc Van den Brande underlined that the ECI in its original form would not promote participatory democracy, because “the procedure and the various rules entailed too many administrative and technical constraints, obstacles and hindrances that would discourage citizens from taking part in the European democratic process“. He is therefore repeating the CoR’s call for the creation of a “wise-persons council” or “European Citizens Advocacy” explaining: “One of the key sticking points with the new regulation is still the Commission’s conflict of interest and its monopoly over all stages of the procedure. It is therefore proposed – in line with the CoR’s 2015 opinion – that the registration decision should be entrusted to an independent committee of lawyers, academics and representatives of European civil society.”
Lastly, the opinion includes a call for an extension in the period for collecting 1 million signatures from 12 to 18 months and a greater follow up of initiatives which do not meet the full criteria so that citizen’s wishes and messages are not lost.