One of the outcomes of the Conference on the Future of Europe should be a better follow-up of ECIs by EU legislators. Local and regional authorities can play a key role in making both initiatives – the Conference and ECIs – a success and turn Europe into a truly participatory project The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) was represented at the 2021 EESC European Citizens Initiative Day by Karl-Heinz Lambertz (BE/PSE) and Vincent Chauvet (FR/ Renew Europe), both having been ECI organisers themselves. In line with the CoR’s political priority of bringing Europe closer to its people, the CoR is committed to supporting ECIs which fall into its political remits and which are politically relevant for local and regional authorities. Being a representative of the level of government which is the closest to citizens, the CoR is a key partner to promoting ECIs as the EU’s first transnational instrument of participatory democracy.
The European Citizens Initiative (ECI) is a participatory tool that was created by the Lisbon Treaty in 2011 and reviewed in January 2020 in order to make it more accessible, less burdensome and easier to use for organisers and supporters. It allows 1 million citizens from at least seven EU Member States coming together in support of an initiative to invite the European Commission to submit a proposal for a legal act to implement the EU Treaties. According to the 2020 OECD report on interest in deliberative democracy across the EU , representative deliberative processes have been used more often at local (52%) and regional (30%) levels in the last 40 years. Local and regional authorities are therefore natural partners to promote European Citizens Initiatives with a territorial impact.
As the EU is currently taking steps towards more direct involvement of citizens in European policy making with the launch of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the panel in which Mr Lambertz intervened at the EESC Day discussed about what this evolution means for the ECI and what is, can, and should be the role of the ECI in the EU’s participation infrastructure.
Karl-Heinz Lambertz , Former CoR President; President of the Parliament of the German-speaking community of Belgium and organiser of the ECI Minority Safepack – one million signatures for diversity in Europe said: “The goal of the European Citizens’ Initiatives goes hand in hand with the one of the Conference on the Future of Europe: making the voice of our citizens not only heard, but also count. This means that we will succeed only if the wishes expressed by citizens are effectively addressed at EU level. Together with civil society organisations, local and regional authorities can play a key role in making both initiatives a success and turn Europe into a truly participatory project.”
Vincent Chauvet , Mayor of the French city of Autun and CoR rapporteur of the opinion “Stepping up Europe’s 2030 climate ambition towards COP26” reported about an ECI that he initiated at the very beginning of the existence of ECIs, the Single Communication Tariff Act which had a successful impact despite the fact that the one million signatures couldn’t be collected. This ECI aimed at establishing a unique mobile phone tariff across the European Union and that contributed to the drafting of the EU directive on roaming tariffs. Mr Chauvet said: “ECI’ s can be a powerful tool for climate issues as well: this initiative, which is still not widely known, little used, is however so simple to use and doesn’t require large financial resources. We need to promote them more, and maybe even enlarge them, for instance in allowing citizens to sign them from the age of 16 already or by organizing with local authorities media spots for larger public recognition.”
The CoR has adopted three opinions on the European Citizens Initiatives:
– European Citizens’ Initiative (CDR 167/2010), adopted in 2010, by rapporteur Sonia Masini;
-European Citizens’ Initiative (CIVEX-VI/005), adopted in October 2015, by rapporteur Luc Van den Brande;
– Regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative (CIVEX-VI/028), adopted in March 2018, by rapporteur Luc Van den Brande.
The opinion ‘Reflecting on Europe: the voice of local and regional authorities to rebuild trust in the European Union’ adopted in October 2018 framed the ECI within the wider topic of democracy and citizens’ participation: “… participative instruments such as the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) should be strengthened; as a complementary tool to the existing structures of representative democracy at EU level, and to innovative additional elements of participative decision making and permanent dialogue, ECIs can help to mobilise citizens around a common cause, highlight the European dimension of key political issues and foster the creation of pan-European debates and corresponding public opinion” .
In the same perspective, the CoR Resolution on the Proposals for the new European Union legislative mandate , adopted in June 2019, included the ECI among the existing instruments of participatory democracy that strengthen the legitimacy and democratic foundations of EU, and which should be complemented by new instruments – such as a permanent system of dialogue with citizens.