Apr 13 2012
An Initiative for the Taking
On 1 April the European Union ventured further into participative democracy when it opened to registration the first petitions under the newly-launched European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) which allows European citizens to formally propose EU legislation if they receive 1 million signatures in at least 7 Member States.
European public sector trade unions will be the first to file a petition on Sunday by demanding that EU institutions declare water and sanitation a human right and keep it out of internal market rules. Other citizen’s petitions in the pipeline include an initiative by the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament to introduce a financial transactions tax (FTT).
Erika Mann, former MEP and current Facebook managing director for EU affairs has stated that the internet, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social networking sites will be crucial for spreading the buzz about initiatives in the making, believing that if an initiative gathers a critical mass of virtual supporters, then a real campaign could shape up. Ominously however, as reported this week in The Indepedent, two of Britain’s largest lobbying firms have already launched bids to help big business exploit the ECI and help potential clients muscle in and possibly hijack the Initiative to gain more influence and access to the corridors of power in Brussels.
Civil society groups are also concerned at the prohibitive administrative and security procedures of filing an Initiative. Greenpeace, has said the rules are too restrictive, to the point of discouraging participation by individual citizens. One year ago, Greenpeace collected one million signatures to request a moratorium on the cultivation of new genetically modified crops in Europe. The group said it ensured that all the data collected – full name, address, nationality and date of birth – were been screened to ensure the rejection of incomplete, invalid or duplicate signatures. Yet the European Commission said the signatures could not be accepted as an official ECI as it did not respect the formal administrative requirements.
EU rules are meant to ensure that the names, addresses and signatures of citizens backing a petition are truthful, ensuring the reliability of the data provided but despite the 1 April launch an EU official has said three countries have still not formally indicated to the Commission which national authority will verify the signatures of initiatives. These are the Czech Republic, Malta and the United Kingdom.
But despite the reticence, cynicism and apathy, by some, I believe this is an initiative worth taking and, once over the teething troubles, is one that will increasingly help to set the agenda of a citizens European Union – no bad thing!