The EU is preparing to consult its citizens again (or some of them – those who might be interested) under the European Citizens’ Initiative.
Here is the objective of the Initiative:
“The European citizens’ initiative, foreseen in the Treaty on European Union, allows EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. To be considered by the Commission, an initiative must gather the support of at least one million EU citizens from at least seven member states. The Commission must decide whether or not to make a legislative proposal, and explain the reasons for that choice.”
This offers yet another indication of the EU’s view of democracy. The propaganda phrase here is “participate directly”, by which they mean gathering at least one million fellow citizens to ask the Commission to make a legislative proposal, which the Commission will decide whether or not to act on. It’s not hard to see how much is missing here from any worthwhile notion of democracy.
The Commission decided to revise the initiative; here is one of the two aims of the exercise: “This revision aims at … achieving the full potential of the European citizens’ initiative as a tool to foster debate and citizen participation at EU level and contribute to bringing the EU closer to its citizens.”
A consultation took place between May and August 2017; the questionnaire has since been “unpublished” so we can’t comment on it but the results are published here: http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/regulation-review
Q: Has any reader been asked to participate in the consultation? (Most likely Britons were not invited, because of Brexit.)
In the UK we now have ‘Petitions’ which, if they get 100,000 signatures, require Parliament to debate the question raised (if a petition only gets 10,000 signatures the Government will ‘respond’). We don’t suppose many of our citizens know much about petitions either, nor how to start one (they come from citizens not the government). British Petitions conform with representative democracy but the EU’s Initiatives cannot be that bold, naturally.
We note that the initiative referred to was a questionnaire, raised by the EU not by citizens, which we can no longer see. Petitions remain published on the British government’s website with the number of signatures and the results.
In the explanatory press release the Commission tells us that “more than eight million citizens have already supported Initiatives…in the past five years”, which amounts to about 1.5% of the EU’s population. They claim that this has “shaped the EU policy agenda”, by which they don’t mean that any policy has been modified or introduced, simply that the agenda has been shaped, whatever that might mean. (Too many Remainers are persuaded by these vacuous claims.)
First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said: “With these proposals, we are empowering Europeans to participate in the democratic process.”
We wonder why, with such power, Europeans don’t participate to a greater extent. This may give a clue: “Our proposal to reform the existing Regulation will make it easier for citizens to set up and support initiatives by lifting burdensome requirements”.
Of course a more likely explanation is that citizens on the whole are wise enough to recognise that this has nothing to do with democracy as they understand it, which necessarily includes voters having opportunities to dismiss their government. The European citizens’ initiative is cumbersome, bureaucratic and irrelevant.
More consultations are planned for later this year.
The Economist, nearly always a reliable supporter of the EU, and opponent of Brexit, has this to say in its Charlemagne column of 12 May:
“Why is this? Partly because the much-maligned distance between the EU and its voters is a feature, not a bug. National governments have by and large preserved their rights to legislate on matters that most exercise citizens, such as the appropriate level of taxation or the management of public services. Wheezes like direct elections to the European Parliament, or … respecting the result of the European Parliament’s election, are presented as injections of democratic adrenalin into Europe’s flabby body politic. But they have signally failed to budge voters from their national silos.”
Two things stand out here for us; first, “a feature not a bug” is something we have claimed many times, that the EU is designed to avoid any obligation to take into account the views of its citizens (see, for example, Attitudes and Ideology and its follow-on posts, and also Plan v. People from April last year). Second, that this is the fault of citizens and “their national silos”.
What neither the EU nor The Economist want to acknowledge is that their national context is where things that do matter to citizens get addressed and, if they are not adequately addressed, the faulty government can be replaced. Both the EU and The Economist believe that more union is the answer. But the EU is where things that don’t matter (or matter in the wrong way) get imposed on citizens.
“When the EU’s 27 governments signed off on Mr Macron’s plan to create a system of citizens’ consultations in April, they … insisted that the consultations retain a national character. … Such pressures make it easy to assume that Europolis will remain for ever out of reach.”
We would support more unity in Europe and believe that could be achieved only with less union (aka uniformity).