Europe is not only a big machine made up of political and administrative cogs and wheels. Ultimately, Europe is 500 million citizens who are the beneficiaries of European policies. To move from being an indirect beneficiary of the projects that Europe is developing to taking on the role of stakeholder in the construction of these projects, there are many ways to promote the opinions of citizens and to hoist up the colours of democracy, both participatory and collaborative.
European citizenship confers the following rights:
- The right to move freely between the Member States, for the purpose of living, working or studying;
- The right to vote in local and European elections, but also the right to be elected, even if one is a foreigner;
- The right to solicit European diplomatic services abroad (European Union delegations, embassies and consulates of all Member States);
- The right to appeal to a European ombudsman in the event of any legal-administrative problems with the European institutions.
However, citizenship is also being proactive in the development of public policies and using the mechanisms of expression provided for this purpose.
First and foremost, there is the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), which allows groups of citizens to bring issues to the attention of the European Commission and to make recommendations to the Commission as well.
There is also the right to petition to the European Parliament, which allows Parliament to take action on a specific point.
Finally, there is the opportunity to have a presence in the field through the organization of many informal events which provide the space for elected officials, technicians and citizens to get in contact, such as Citizen Consultations, open until spring 2019, or Citizens’ Dialogues.
Below you will find a short presentation of each of these mechanisms.
I.The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a mechanism to mobilize one million European citizens to push the European Commission to take a stand on different subjects. This right is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty of the European Union, Article 11 (4):
“Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purposes of implementing the Treaties.”
This right is implemented by the regulation on the citizens’ initiative, adopted in 2011 and reviewed in 2015.
The ECI must therefore meet the following criteria:
- It must be carried by a committee of seven European citizens;
- It must gather at least one million signatures of European citizens over a one-year period;
- The signatories must come from at least seven Member States and be of voting age in their State of residence (18 years old normally, except for Austria and Malta at 16 years old, and 17 years old in Greece).
If the ECI fulfils these criteria, it is then received by the European Commission, which must respond within three months, and may, if appropriate, make a legislative proposal.
Unfortunately, the complexity of this procedure means that this mechanism remains infrequently used: Since 2011, out of 64 initiatives launched, only four ECIs have been received by the Commission (limitation of glyphosate and pesticides; right to safe water; cessation of vivisections; dignity and integrity of the human embryo). Others are ongoing, such as an ECI on European Citizenship!
In conclusion, the ECI is a beautiful instrument of participatory democracy and must serve to highlight major societal challenges. However, it turns out to be unsuitable for everyday problems, in which case it is better to use the right to petition in the European Parliament!
Click here to learn more about the ECI procedure.
II. The right to petition to the European Parliament
The right to petition to the European Parliament aims to provide European citizens, and those who live in the European Union, with a simple means of addressing the EU’s institutions in formulating grievances or requesting that measures be taken. This right is based on various articles of the Treaty of Operation of the European Union, in particular Article 227:
“Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, shall have the right to address, individually or in association with other citizens or persons, a petition to the European Parliament on a matter which comes within the Union’s fields of activity and which affects him, her or it directly.”
Unlike ECI, there is no minimum number of signatories required, only one person can petition the European Parliament, as long as it is more or less directly concerned with the subject of its request. However, to be admissible, a petition must affect one of the areas of activity of the European Union. The petition is then examined by the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament. This commission can take a whole series of measures to respond to a petition. This can range from the initiation of a preliminary inquiry to the passage of legislation. It receives more than a thousand petitions each year on the most diverse subjects: individuals, businesses, associations, and citizens groups use this mechanism to make their points of view known in the development of public policies.
III. Other ways to make your voice heard
Voting, ECI and petitioning are the official channels for feedback, but other avenues also exist. These avenues include citizen consultations on the future of Europe and the option of lobbying your elected officials and decision makers.
Citizen consultations on the future of Europe
Citizen consultations, launched in the spring of 2018, allowed nearly 70,000 people to speak at 1100 events throughout France, but also elsewhere in Europe. Citizen consultations have been designed to promote citizens’ voices in a horizontal manner and to circulate ideas. The ambition is to start a re-foundation of the European project, based on a broad participatory and popular debate, open to a large diversity of participating citizens. It is to open a time of discussion and exchange accessible to all the citizens of the European Union, without bias and without exclusiveness, in order to give them a new opportunity to express themselves, to get involved, and to say what they think of Europe today and help to plan out the Europe of tomorrow that they wish and hope for.
The result of these citizen consultations will feed the work of the European Council at the end of 2018. A first summary is already available here (in French).
Lobbying elected officials and decision makers
The most effective method of reaching policymakers is still direct contact. While it is not always easy to get in touch with MEPs, it is still possible to address their teams of parliamentary attachés. Click here to find out how to contact MEPs.
Lobbying practices exist in the private sector as well as in the civil society sector, which is one of the most active lobbies and presents on a very wide range of topics. The practice of lobbying is provided for in the institutional functioning of the European Union. For example, there is the TransReg register, which lobbies working with the European institutions must register.
Elected officials and decision makers are at the end of the chain of feedback and the messages addressed to them must, as much as possible, reflect the opinion of a large number of people. It is therefore important to focus on the collective and networking; to present petitions, reports and recommendations developed by different stakeholders; and to constitute a legitimate interlocutor on the subject.
In particular, Key Action 3 of the Erasmus+ programme makes it possible to build projects aimed at connecting citizens and decision makers.