Sunday, March 25, 2012

Citizens of Europe unite

The Eu suffers from a democratic deficit. Ten years ago, EU leaders declared that they need to make the Union more democratic and to give citizens a voice in shaping European legislation. On 1 April, the new Treaty on the functioning of the European Union will give this possibility. The so-called Citizens Initiative requires the European Commission to consider legislating in an area on the back of at least 1 million signatures from a minimum of seven (or one quarter) of member States.

The Arab spring has shown the power of social networks to spread ideas and initiatives. EU leaders may, however, be concerned about protests against austerity and poverty in various countries, which would become a single widely supported petition. Citizens will have the opportunity to connect directly to the political world. But there is always the risk that political parties will take up some successful initiatives for their campaigns for the next European elections in 2014 or that  the citizens' initiative could be hijacked by a particular interest group including extremists anti -European groups. 

The next few months will see a period of experimentation to see how it will work from both sides. These initiatives will be constrained by the threshold of member States and signatures required. It has also some 'get out' clauses : initiatives cannot be called for actions which are outside the powers of the EU or which are 'abusive, frivolous or vexatious" or contrary to EU values. Instead, they should have as their main thrust the promotion of the European 'common good'.

The success of the EU's foray into participatory democracy  will depend on the degree of mobilisation of civil societies but also how fairly citizens think the European Commission will respond. This is a unique opportunity to confer more credibility to the European Union that it has lost during the crisis where it failed to communicate to its citizens. 

As Jean Monnet said,  we have to unite States, but above all citizens. 

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