Stowarzyszenie Projektów Międzynarodowych „INPRO”

European Citizens’ Initiative: A Platform for Changing Legislation in Europe

European Citizens’ Initiative: A Platform for Changing Legislation in Europe

In the midst of the Brexit process, there have been an increasing number of people advocating for more transparency within the EU. And one of the most prominent advocates for a deep reform has been Yannis Varoufakis – former Greek minister and economic professor at the University of Athens. In a 2016 article for the Guardian, Varoufakis heavily criticised the EU by saying that: “Patiently and methodically, a process of depoliticising decision-making was put in place…taking the “demos” out of “democracy”….and cloaking all policy-making in a pervasive pseudo-technocratic fatalism.” Moreover, he claims that “the price of de-politicising political decisions has been not merely the defeat of democracy at EU level but also poor economic policies throughout Europe.”

What he and the group he helped found, DiEM 25 (Democracy in the European Movement 2025), advocate for is a reformed and transparent European Union. And one idea motivates the group: “to democratise the EU…Our immediate priority is full transparency in decision-making (live-streaming of European councils, Ecofin and Eurogroup meetings; full disclosure of trade negotiations; ECB minutes, etc) and the urgent redeployment of existing EU institutions in the pursuit of policies that genuinely address the crises of debt, banking, inadequate investment, rising poverty and migration.”

It is now 2018 and the hopes Varoufakis had in 2016 look far from becoming a reality. The EU is still struggling with an alienated young population, Brexit, and authoritarian far right governments in Eastern countries such as Hungary and Poland. Moreover, a sketchy deal with Turkey about the flow of immigration in Europe in 2016 raised more than an eyebrow. However, even though a deep reform has not yet been implemented, the EU is making an effort to increase its transparency and democratization.

So, in an effort to enable citizens to have a direct impact on policy making, the European Commission launched the European Citizens’ Initiative. One of its goals is to foster cooperation among people from different countries to influence the EU policy-making. As a matter of fact, according to this programme, citizens can suggest legal changes to the European Commission on matters regarding the environment, agriculture, energy, transport and trade. So how does it work, you may be asking. Well, in order for an initiative to be launched, it has to be proposed by 7 EU citizens from 7 different EU countries and has to be signed by 1 million EU citizens who are old enough to vote. Once the initiative gets 1 million votes, provided it respected minimum thresholds in 7 countries, the European Commission must discuss the proposed legal changes and decide whether or not to take action.  

Since the programme started, only 4 initiatives have successfully collected 1 million signatures. They have focused on protecting animals used for medical experimentation, protecting the life and dignity of the embryo and the right to clean drinking water and sanitation. The fourth and most recent successful initiative was about banning carcinogenic and environmentally-degrading pesticides. This initiative was the quickest one to collect all the necessary signatures as it was started and submitted in 2017. It has also been the most successful, as the Commission answered positively by providing a list of the measures it is going to take to ensure this right is enforced in all EU member states. They have promised to act upon two of the initiative’s proposals and implement a more transparent assessment of scientific studies on pesticides and a sustainable use directive. As a matter of fact, they are committed to reinforcing the implementation of EU water quality legislation, to improve transparency for urban wastewater and drinking water data management, to benchmark water quality and to stimulate innovative approaches for development assistance. The amended legislation should be announced by the end of May 2018.

So, although this programme is far from the deep reform advocated by Yannis Varoufakis, it is a small step taken in the direction of a more democratic and transparent European Union.

 

Sources:

  • https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/05/eu-no-longer-serves-people-europe-diem25
  • http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/welcome