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The voice of the people
The citizens´ initiative is in force from April 1st
The implementing legislation of “the Citizens’ Initiative”, the institution of participatory democracy created by the Lisbon Treaty, came into force on April 1st. Europeans now have a new tool to voice their claims directly to EU seats. A new challenge begins, aimed at bringing EU citizens closer to EU institutions.
Cross-border debate. The citizens’ initiative (ECI) offers citizens from across the EU a chance to put a particular issue onto the EU policy agenda if they can gather sufficient support - from a million or more people in the EU, from at least seven member states - from their fellow Europeans. “A new era in participatory, citizen-led democracy in the EU begins”, said Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic. “It is a way to provide citizens with direct access” to convey to Brussels and Strasbourg their positions on a given issue. “I’m sure we will see more cross-border discussions on” community integration, he added. The President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz said: “Citizens can directly introduce in the legislative process points they think are worthwhile”. The EP president underlined that it is necessary to ensure that it is all done transparently avoiding the pressure of lobbies on community legislation.
Strategy of graduality. In the past days there was much talk of the Citizens’ Initiative promoted by pro-life movements in over twenty countries, named “One of Us”, aimed at protecting human life from the moment of conception and avoid that the EU devolves funding to embryo stem cell research. The promoters, gathered in Brussels on March 29, despite their determination to call for a procedure directed at respecting the supreme value of human life, recognized the need to carry out a “strategy of graduality” adding that if it isn’t possible to reach the “final goal” (i.e. stopping all violations of the right to life) we must strive to reach “partial goals” nonetheless. The initiative “One of us”, which falls within the fields on intervention of the EU (ranging from the economy, to the environment, from regional development to consumer protection, from energy to cultural promotion…), is aimed at echoing citizens’ will without compelling the Commission to develop a related draft law: the Executive can reply “no”, motivated by the promoting committee that collected signatures. If also the Commission acts upon the proposal of a juridical act, EU Parliament and Council, that represent the EU legislative authority, while bearing in mind the will express by European signatories are still not compelled to put forward a legislative proposal.
Peoples’ protagonism. There remains the fact that the citizens’ intiative is a tool of democracy and as such it should be enhanced on a continental scale. Europe, “union of values”, (as stated in the Treaties) is based on principles rooted within the Christian understanding of the human person, notably, human dignity, equality, freedom, solidarity and subsidiarity. These are the pillars that ought to be reiterated, valued and supported day by day. The initiative could trigger a debate at European level, thus also a European public debate on issues of primary importance. In this sense the promoters of “One of us” describe it as a “cultural and educational tool” to “awaken the souls of European peoples”. Democracy and “European citizenship” include rights and duties – reaffirmed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, that came into force with the Lisbon Treaty – that can be promoted only thanks to the true protagonism of the peoples of the EU.
Involving the youth. In united Europe building processes “we need to know and assess also citizens’ proposals and opinions and it is our task to facilitate procedures , enabling everyone to resort to this important decision-making tool”. Staffan Nilsson, president of the Economic and Social Committee (EESC), believes that the initiative may represent a means to boost continental democracy. In order to promote citzens’ participation, said the vice-president of the European Parliament Georgios Papastamkos, “we must improve networking inside the EU, availing ourselves of all communication tools available. It is crucial to transmit this message especially to the youth, who need to feel involved in the decisional process”. Further information can be found on a dedicated website in all official EU languages: http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/welcome[>>].