June 29, 2011
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Question 1: Will the European Citizens’ Initiative transform the European democratic life and reduce the widening ‘Democratic Gap’ between its citizens and decision-makers?
“The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) will introduce a whole new form of participatory democracy to the EU. It is a major step forward in the democratic life of the Union. It’s a concrete example of bringing Europe closer to its citizens. And it will foster a cross border debate about what we are doing in Brussels and thus contribute, we hope, to the development of a real European public space,” Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, who is in charge of ECI at the European Commission said.
The European Citizens Initiative is one of the major innovations of the Treaty of Lisbon (TEU 2009, Art.11.4) opening up the door to “the first transnational instrument of participatory democracy in the world” (German Green MEP Gerald Häfner).
Question 2: Will the European Citizens’ Initiative “bring Europe closer to its Citizens”?
Since the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon and the Citizens’ Initiative regulation 211/2011, many large NGOs and preeminent civil society actors have been successful in reaching over ‘1 Million EU citizens supports’ necessary to request new EU legislation from the European Commission on topics ranging from a “Europe free of GMOs” (Greenpeace) to “1 Million for Disability” (European Disability Forum) and “One Seat for Europe” (Members of European Parliament).
As the official launch of the Citizens’ Initiative has been set for 1 April 2012, these successful initiatives are remaining emblematic illustrations of the potential of this novel ‘participatory instrument’. In addition, the very low threshold required for launching an ECI (“at least seven persons who are residents of at least seven different member states”) and the ever-increasing usage of referenda and petitions (i.e. Scotland, Germany, Austria, United Kingdom or Switzerland) across EU governments at all levels (1991-2003: 301 referenda took place in Europe), one can predict from 1 April 2012 a large number of ECIs submissions by civil society.
“By limiting the signature of the Citizens’ Initiative to natural persons, we wish to come back to the spirit of the proposal, which is aimed at citizens, all citizens and only citizens” French centre-right MEP Alain Lamassoure (European People’s Party) said.
While large NGOs have the means to organize large-scale collection of supports for their Citizens’ Initiatives, smaller organizations and European Citizens will still face tremendous obstacles and barriers to reach 1 million supports across Europe.
Question 3: Will Internet and Social Media unleash the potential of the European Citizens’ Initiative?
The bottom-up Revolution 2.0 that has inflamed the southern shore of the Mediterranean Sea is demonstrating to the world that Internet and Social Media have become the ultimate enablers to mobilize, engage, educate and organize change, as well as to enhance participatory representative democracy at local, national or European Union levels of governance. While Electronic Participation initiatives are mostly organised by Governments and Public Institutions with a more ‘top-down’ approach, Electronic Campaigns are generally led by civil society (i.e. French Referendum on EU Constitutional Treaty (2005), Avaaz.org’s online campaign calling on the UN Security Council to impose a no-fly zone on Libya (2011)) and political parties (i.e. UK National Elections (2001, 2005 and 2010) French Presidential Elections (2007) US Presidential Elections (2008), Spanish Legislative Elections (2008)) with a more ‘bottom-up’ approach, eCampaign have emerged as a powerful instrument to effectively mobilise, engage, educate and organize civil society around specific public affairs issues. In addition, eCampaigns have proven to have a multiplier effect in mass- engaging and mobilizing civil society as opposed to eParticipation.
Therefore, for the vast majority of European Civil Society, the success of the European Citizens Initiative, as the new ‘participatory instrument’ of the Lisbon Treaty to empower EU Citizens in the decision-making processes of the Union, will depend greatly on the ways stakeholders will use the power of social networks and media to build alliances and mobilize citizens across Europe to support their initiatives.
Question 4: Will the ECI become a ‘participatory instrument’ for stakeholders to shape Europe’s Agenda?
“This (ECI) is a milestone in the development of European democracy. I warmly encourage the European public to make use of the European Citizens’ Initiative to bring matters of their concern to the top of the European agenda” said European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek.
By empowering civil society at large to shape Europe’s Agenda, the EU is offering a unique opportunity in the development of European democracy, but also unleash heterogeneous actors with conflicting interests in the ‘European Grand Chessboard’.
Question 5: Will the ECI change EU decision-making balance of power? Are European political parties ready for the ECI? Will the ECI be an opportunity to create pan-European political parties in light of the 2014 European Elections?
When reflecting on the ECI, one cannot forget European politics and its actors (i.e. Political Parties, Member States, Media and Opinion Makers, Local Governments, Interest groups, NGOs, citizens and EU Institutions). With the ECI, classical European policy actors will need to consider citizens not only as ‘voters’ but also as ‘grassroots influencers’.
As in any political arena, ‘building alliances’ amongst policy stakeholders is key to shape a political agenda and to create a vibrant European Public Sphere.
“One million citizens cannot be ignored. A successful ECI must have consequences and lead to political decisions. Only when citizens realize that they are actually being heard will this instrument strengthen the democratic engagement of citizens. Otherwise it will simply lead to more frustration,” Carsten Berg, who is ECI Campaign Director at International Democracy.org, said.
Question 6: Can 1 million citizens be ignored in a democracy? Will the ECI lead to more frustration or be a success for Europe? What do YOU think? What are YOUR opinions?
Question 7: What are YOUR ECIs? How can YOU help US federating ECIs? How should InitiActiv.eu look like? What are you expecting from such a platform?
We would like you as a stakeholder or a citizen to contribute actively to our first pan-European online debate and to stay tune for the 2nd part: “The European Citizens’ Initiative Online Dimension”…
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