Citizens’ initiative: necessary modifications

It is necessary to ensure that the participatory democracy institution embodies the value enshrined in the Treaty of Lisbon. The experience of "One of Us"

“The European Citizens’ Initiative” introduced with the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in 2012, needs to be reviewed. The constitutional right granted to citizens to intervene in the Community legislative process is sacrosanct, but in order to be effective it requires some rewriting, in substance and form. The point was made in a hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels on February 26. The meeting was tabled by the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Assembly, as part of the process enshrined in the implementing Regulation of the Initiative. The meeting was attended by European politicians, experts, and promoters of various people’s initiatives. Among the speakers figured Carlo Casini, former President of the same Parliamentary commission and one of the “promoters” of the initiative “One of Us” aimed at the protection of human life in the fields of action of the European Union. It should be remembered that One of Us had collected almost 2 million signatures to halt the research carried out with EU funds that destroys human embryos, and also to counter development cooperation projects for Poor Countries based on family planning through abortion. The initiative, promoted by pro-life organizations from across Europe, was dismissed by the Barroso Commission at the end of May 2014, thereby thwarting the demanding commitment of its organizers, without giving them the possibility of a rejoinder. “A reform is evidently needed” Casini said at the EP hearing. “As known”, said the MEP, “on May 28 2014 the Commission decided not to proceed with the initiative One of Us. The Communication omits reference to the human identity of the conceived child while upholding the lawfulness of EU funding for scientific research entailing the destruction of human embryos and economic support provided to organizations that propose and implement abortion as part of measures for the protection of sexual and reproductive health”. For Casini, “no answer was given to those European citizens who were not contesting the legality of the present European action but rather demanded changes to regulations, nor were the promoters of the initiative given a chance to respond”. The Commission, an executive body, “closed a procedure that implied legislative action, namely, aimed at changing the current regulatory framework”. “The purpose of the new institution – added the Italian jurist – should be to draw citizens closer to the EU”, making it “accessible” to them, encouraging their “participation in the democratic life of the EU”. “But the effect of the outcome of the initiative One of Us was precisely the opposite”. “Many citizens acknowledged the uselessness of their fatigue. To them, the fact that a restricted number of people have nullified the request of two million people without in-depth debate and without a vote on that decision is a breach of democracy. The risk is that instead of being drawn closer to Europe, citizens could have been further distanced from it”. These reflections “apply not only to the One of Us initiative but also to any other initiative with a similar outcome”. Thus the need to carry out a set of amendments to the regulation and to the “spirit” of Citizens’ Initiatives, requiring a mandatory parliamentary procedure for those initiatives which, having met the eligibility criteria, collect one million signatures as required by the implementing regulation. Moreover, the European Parliament is in fact the EU institution, elected by universal suffrage, which represents the citizens of the Union. Now the Commission is working on a proposal of “revision” of the Initiative, to be done every three years as enshrined in the implementing Regulation. In turn, the European Parliament will be called to vote on a guideline document to be presented to the Commission. Member States could do the same at the EU Council. Thus, regardless of the content of an initiative, it is necessary to restore to this participatory democracy institution that very dignity and scope established in Lisbon. It would be a strong sign towards 500 million EU citizens.

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