The European Citizens’ Initiative: bringing the EU closer to its citizens?
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In defiance of accounts which see the European Union (EU) as structurally incompatible with democracy, the Lisbon Treaty set out the general right and specific means for citizens to participate in EU decision-making. Whilst the Treaty codified long-established practices of representative democracy and of dialogue with civil society organizations, it also notably introduced a new measure, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), commencing in 2012. The ECI has limited formal powers, with no ability to mandate political institutions. It is promoted by the European Commission as an agenda-setting and participatory democracy measure, rather than one of direct democracy. Nonetheless, it has an elevated status within one of the current European Commission’s ten strategic priorities and is remarkable in a number of ways. First, it differs from the European Commission’s established partnerships and dialogue with organized interests by focusing on direct forms of wider citizen participation. Second, it is the world’s first transnational citizens’ initiative, with aspirations to help build an EU-wide public sphere. These aspirations were assessed in a 2017 review of the measure, proposing the introduction of a number of reforms aimed at tackling limited impact to date. This article evaluates the impact of the ECI in its first 5 years and then discusses the proposed reforms in terms of their potential to increase public deliberation. It develops and appraises evaluative criteria that help to assess whether institutionalizing contention, even in ways highly critical of EU institutions, might enhance public deliberation and bring the EU closer to its citizens.
KeywordsEuropean Citizens’ Initiative Lisbon Treaty Democracy Political participation
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