Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Democracy - EU-Style, ie NOT

Commission sets out rules for citizens' initiative
Commission sets out rules for citizens' initiative
By Constant Brand
31.03.2010 / 16:46 CET

One million signatures needed from nine countries

The European Commission today (31 March) set out the rules for using a “citizens' initiative” which allows one million people to ask the Commission to propose new laws.

Using the initiative, which was introduced by the Lisbon treaty, will require at least one million signatures from at least nine of the 27 member states.

Organisers will also to make sure they get a minimum number of names from each country, based on the so-called digressive proportionality system, which is used to divide up seats between member states in the European Parliament.

Maroš Šefčovič, the EU commissioner handling the “European Citizens' Initiative”, said the measure will mark “a real step forward in the democratic life” of Europeans.

Šefčovič presented a draft guidebook on how the initiative will work on Wednesday. “It should not be too difficult, not too technical or complicated for citizens”, he said.“It is a concrete example of bringing Europe closer to its citizens and it should foster a lively debate about what we are doing in Brussels”.

The plan, which still needs the backing of the European Parliament and member states, will give citizens across the 27-nation bloc their first direct say in setting the EU's legislative agenda, a procedure which could lead to gridlock in EU decision- making.

But it will not go as far as other similar direct democracy instruments like those in Switzerland or California, where citizens can bypass parliaments to pass new rules and regulations via ballot initiatives or referenda.

Šefčovič acknowledged the initiative would also allow interest groups and political parties to launch signature drives, raising doubts about how effective the initiative would be in bringing citizens closer to the EU.

“We are trying to be as open as possible, we would not like to limit who would be the organisers ... so political parties clearly fall within the remit,” he said.

The initiative opens the door for people to voice their position on an array of contentious issues, including the use of genetically modified crops to Turkey's entry talks, all of which fall under the remit of the Commission, which has powers to draft and amend EU rules and regulations.

Under the proposed rules, those wanting to change EU legislation will have to organise and collect at least one million signatures from at least nine of the 27 member states.

Added to those requirements is another complex one that will force organisers to make sure they meet a minimum number of names from each country, based on the so-called digressive proportionality system, which is used to divvy up seats between member states in the European Parliament.

At least 72,000 signatures will be needed from Germany for example, 54,750 from the UK and only 4,500 each from tiny Malta and Luxembourg.

The initiative will have to be formally filed via a special Commission website, after which organisers will have one year to collect the signatures.

Šefčovič said he had introduced several safeguards to prevent extremists or other “silly” initiatives from hijacking the process. An initial check will be done once an initiative is filed on the website to see whether the proposed signature drive abides by European rights and values.

A second check is done once organisers reach 300,000 signatures to see whether it falls under its legislative powers and is viable.

The names collected either online or on paper will have to be verified by national authorities and the organisers of the initiative will have to disclose who finances their campaign.

A group representing thousands of EU-based non-governmental organisations, including Greenpeace, the European Trade Union Confederation and the European Women's Lobby welcomed the proposal calling it “an important new step to increase public participation in EU decision-making.”

Seventeen member states already have similar initiatives at national level.
So there you have it: instead of just voting directly for the people who make your laws, you now have the ability to go through a complicated and ridiculous procedure, which will be vetted by unelected officials - all on the off-chance that the (unelected) commissioners think it's worth bothering about.

Welcome to democracy, EU-style.

How about starting an initiative to get the UK expelled from the EU? I'm sure we could make ourselves so disliked that we could easily get 1,000,000+ signatures.


Slartibartfas said...

Ehm, Switzerland is not an EU member state. None of them feature such a great extend of direct democracy as Switzerland does. It's a bit extreme to demand from the EU to be far more (direct) democratic than its member states.

Apart from that, many member states know the right of citizen's initiatives. Soon the EU does so as well. A step into the right direction I would say. Rome was not built in a day either.

You really have to be a solid anti EU guy to see something bad in this step.

Chief of the Inner Station said...

Yes, I am a solid anti-EU sort of guy. That's because I don't want anything to do with a European superstate run by an unelected political elite who have no regard for the peoples of its member states.