Conference on the Future of Europe and the European Citizens Initiative

The new European parliament en Commission established a conference on the future of Europe. This is not going to be a single event, but a process that will last until mid 2022 and is all about the future of European democracy (the European Union, not the one in member states).

It true European tradition it will be a long and slow process, with many stakeholders and voices to take into account. Moonshots and big ambitions will probably fail, but a realistic and tactical move would be to make the European Citizens Initiative a tool for the parliament to overrule the Council.

Few readers now remain after the previous sentence. If you are still reading you probably already understand the huge potential. Currently, that Europe-wide petition that collected a million signatures in 7 member-states or more goes to the Commission and stops there. If the Commission would like to carry the initiative further, for example because it is a good proposal, then it probably is also political. Then there are the 27 member states that gang up to block it.

Not very democratic, is it? This is not going to change soon or easily because the member states do not want to give up their powers to Brussels, the Commission. That would also be problematic democratically because the mandate of the Commission is not very democratic. The parliament can’t send the Commission home either. Also, the Commission is there to execute with a very narrow mandate.

The Council is a meeting of the leaders of the member states and they will not easily give up their power. Unless…

Unless it is a very limited power they give up, if many conditions apply. I propose:

  • A European petition with a million signatures (European Citizens Initiative
  • Which fulfills the current criteria
  • And is supported by a majority vote by the European Parliament
  • Results in a legislative act from the European Commission
  • And can not be overruled easily by any European body, except the Court of Justice of the European Union.

This will fundamentally change the dynamic around this instrument. Currently few members of the European Parliament are motivated to make the instrument into something big. Once they can have a vote about it and have their way, they will have more power than they have now. It will not become a tool of direct democracy (which parliamentarians usually object to) but will complement the parliamentary, representative democracy. Crazy stuff by a group of 1 million crazy or bribed citizens will still be blocked by the parliament. But good stuff will shine on them too. They will probably start campaigning to mobilise the European demos for it!

Good for the emergence of a European demos too. Citizens can actually do something and make a difference in European democracy.

Let me know if you want to support this and which organisations you could make enthousiastic. During the conference I would like to contribute it.

I already proposed it during ECI Day on February 25. There is probably even a video of me standing up in the crowd. Based on a discussion that morning I got this idea.

25/02/2020: ECI Day
European Economic and Social Committee Rue Belliard/Belliardstraat 99

Simple design for European Citizen’s Initiative

Today EU commisioner Frans Timmermans at the ECI Day 2017 promised to change the regulation about the European Citizen’s Initiative. It is currently horribly restrictive. Also it is difficult and problematic to store personal data about a million EU citizens. Why should we store so much information? In order to verify? And what about those that do not have internet?

The solution I think is to only collect ‘identifiers’, not full records about citizens. These can also be pseudonyms. Not a single platform is needed, it can also be several in parallel: A Facebook-group, a hashtag on Twitter, a traditional PO Box for postcards, a website with a form. etc. The organiser of the initiative chooses which platforms it will use.

Once the one million threshold is reached, the verification by the European Commission starts. By verifying the identity and consent from a sample of that million you can statistically determine reliably that indeed one million support the initiative.

The verification takes place in two steps. First the citizen is approached through the channel they have expressed their consent through. Please answer two questions: 1. who are you? 2. did you indeed express support to this initiative? The answer to these questions can then be ‘recorded’ in a reliable way: an audio recording of a phone call or a returned letter on paper with a traditional signature.

In practise. Establishing contact can be outsourced to pollsters. They collect phone numbers and addresses, a sample of a few thousand per member state or whatever the statisticians suggest. Local civil servants then call their own citizens to verify. Perhaps they send letters if the phone call fails. Or in small communities they just visit the citizen to sign the letter. Whatever it takes. After all, per civil servant it will only be a handful of citizens that need to be reached.

The added benefit of having civil servants all over Europe calling and visiting citizens on behalf of the EU is also of great symbolic power. They might take some notes of what they hear and compile them into a report.