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The European Citizens’ Initiative: bringing the EU closer to its citizens?

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. Before Brexit, this was intended to be a watermark of one-quarter of EU Member States.

  2. Signature thresholds per country are weighted in relation to the size of populations.

  3. Successful challenges were launched by Minority Safe Pack (Case T646/13) and STOP TTIP! (Case T754/14), both now registered in modified format.

  4. At the time of writing, signatures for this campaign have yet to be verified. Following this, there would be a policy response from the European Commission, a hearing in the EP and a meeting with the ECI organizers.

  5. The new reform proposals remove this liability by the establishment of a new legal structure for the host committees of campaigns.

  6. This initiative was first version refused registration, then registered in revised format.

  7. This initiative was initially refused registration, later registered in modified format.

  8. This was not, as some initial coverage assumed, a prank, but a proposal originating from within the European Esperanto Association.

  9. Some of the ECIs which appeared at an early stage of the measure have been registered as part of coursework on a Masters course in European integration, at Sciences-Po Paris.

  10. These include ‘pilot’ unofficial campaigns run in the period immediately before the ECI commenced.

  11. Both campaigns were subsequently registered as ECIs; Minority Safe Pack involved registration of those parts of the demands which were held by the CJEU to fall within the jurisdiction of the Treaties (Case T-646/13).

  12. Conversation with Carsten Berg, now at the ECI Campaign.

  13. For instance, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver endorsed STOP TTIP! (‘I really don’t want beef with growth hormones, nor chicken washed with chlorine … and I certainly don’t want our farmers undermined’, STOP TTIP!, 2018), and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood supported End Ecocide (End Ecocide 2018).

  14. Email exchange with Klaus Sambor, UBI Campaign Committee, 5 February 2014. 32,006 signatures were obtained by the UBI campaign in Bulgaria.

  15. Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European Citizens’ Initiative, COM2017 482 final.

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Correspondence to Justin Greenwood.

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Greenwood, J. The European Citizens’ Initiative: bringing the EU closer to its citizens?. Comp Eur Polit 17, 940–956 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-018-0138-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-018-0138-x

Keywords

  • European Citizens’ Initiative
  • Lisbon Treaty
  • Democracy
  • Political participation