European citizens’ initiative
Will they make it?
By Elise Mertens | Monday 02 April 2012
Numerous initiatives are already in preparation with the approach of the official launch date of the European citizens’ initiative (ECI), on 1 April. Some even unofficially already have the one million signatures required, like the initiative organised by Greenpeace for the ban of GMOs. But are these initiatives in conformity with the European Commission’s rules? Which will be considered admissible by the Commission and which will never come into existence? At the second annual conference on citizens’ initiatives, sponsored by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) on 20 March, five were submitted for opinion to Professor Paolo Ponzano of the European University Institute.
Europolitics takes a look at three of these initiatives.
LET ME VOTE
This ECI, which will be presented on 1 April, is meant to supplement European citizens’ rights with a right to vote in any election in the member state of residence under the same conditions as nationals of the state. The objective is to “develop the political dimension of European integration by strengthening its citizens’ sense of belonging”. Its organisers wish to consolidate the concept of European citizenship and encourage free movement in the European Union. Philippe Cayla, one of the instigators of this ECI and president of Europeans without Borders, is “confident the initiative will be accepted but concerned procedure-wise. There are still a number of technical issues: 50% of the member states do not have a valid certification system [see
Europolitics 4352] and the signature collection software put in place by the European Commission is not appropriate”. He fears that the procedural arrangements may undermine the smooth working of the democratic process.
Ponzano’s opinion: “This ECI is perfectly eligible because it refers to Article 25 TFEU (whereby the Council, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, and on the basis of the Commission’s three-year report on European citizenship, adopts provisions to strengthen or add to the rights listed in Article 20(2)). Any action meant to extend citizens’ rights falls within the Commission’s powers and is therefore legally valid. On the other hand, the member states must act unanimously on these provisions, which must also be ratified by all the national parliaments, which makes any change very complicated”.
MEDIA FREEDOM AND PLURALISM
This ECI aims to promote the idea that the EU institutions should do more to safeguard the right to independent and pluralistic information, as stated in Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. The freedom and pluralism of the media shall be respected”. The aim is to push the European Commission to create its own media pluralism surveillance programme using clear indicators of threats to pluralism in the 27 member states, and to define clearer and more effective anti-trust legislation at EU level governing concentration in media and publicity. “Given the multiple affronts to the media in recent years, particularly in Italy and Hungary [see
Europolitics 4348], this ECI is crucial even though we know that it does not come exactly within the European Union’s competence. The ECI is a way of making noise politically and putting pressure on the institutions to listen to the type of Europe that citizens want,” said one of the initiators and Co-President of European Alternatives, Niccolo Milanese. ‘Media freedom and pluralism’ will be presented on 26 or 27 April “to avoid the problems the very first initiatives are bound to encounter”.
: “Although this ECI is grounded in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, it will not be admissible because it is not within the European Commission’s powers. It would be better if it were based on a Lisbon Treaty provision, on transparency, for example. Furthermore, in 2004, the European Parliament tried to propose a directive on pluralism and concentration in the media but it was rejected by the Commission”.
This initiative aims to create a specific legal framework to safeguard citizens’ diversity of choice and the use of anthroposophic services and products. Anthroposophy, a ‘science of the mind’ created by Rudolf Steiner, applies to agriculture, medicine and education. It aims to give priority to human beings and nature through an approach based on raising awareness, creating accountability and ensuring individual freedom. “Without a real single market, it is impossible to make a choice. Citizens have to be able to decide freely what living conditions they want,” explains project coordinator Michaela Sieh. Although Action ELIANT has already unofficially collected 1,001,671 signatures, it will not be submitted until 2013 because for now it covers a multitude of different subjects, which is not in line with the regulation. The initiative will therefore be refocused on a single issue.
Ponzano’s opinion: “The European Union’s competences in these areas (nutrition, education and health) are very limited because it can only intervene to provide support for member states’ actions (generally by providing funding). It does not have legislative power in these areas. The ECI as it stands today would surely not be accepted for registration”.
The ECI is a way of making noise politically