Few Europeans, out of so many burdened with earning a living in a more and more hostile economic climate, know that this ECI is about giving them a chance to forward law proposals directly to the European Commission.
Even fewer of those few who are aware of this innovation made possible by the Treaty of Lisbon care about whether this invention will ever be brought to life, and if it will ever prove to be an effective tool of participatory democracy.
Most of the people I know (including readers of this blog) are more likely to be part of the ever growing ‘skeptical camp’… Thus, they would probably exclaim something like the following, bewildered with my naivety:
“What participatory democracy?! There’s no such thing in the EU! Can’t you see that it’s all some sort of couch-potato democracy? How can you be so stupid not to see that all decisions that matter are taken behind closed doors?”
“What faith can you still have in the EU or in democracy in general, when you see the MEPs asking for an increased budget, when the eurocrats recently had their pay rise confirmed by the European Court of Justice?”
On the spot, while under the heavy bombardment of such questions, I admit that one can hardly find much to say against such a diatribe, sprung from the embittered hearts of so many people. Politics has gravely disappointed many people in the EU.
If dialogue with such decidedly ‘anti-EU’ people would still be possible, I’d first say to them that I don’t put faith in any human construction. How could anyone have faith in earthly institutions, and not in the Maker of all things visible and invisible?
Maybe this is precisely what explains their disillusionment… People all over the EU put all their faith in this ‘paradise on Earth’ that allows us to abort millions of children, to live carelessly, and enjoy benefits that Americans couldn’t dream of.
But the piggy bank of the Welfare State is now broken. Having fun till in the late 20s, retiring in the early 60s, having holidays abroad every year, choosing not to work if staying on the dole is more convenient may slowly become a thing of the past.
A golden age of hedonism may be over. It wasn’t (exclusively) the EU’s merit while it lasted, nor it is EU’s fault because it’s no longer possible. A day of reckoning has come, and we should thank God for this chance of coming to our senses.
On the other hand, I would also admit that both in the old EU (EU15), where people had decades of benefits from being part of the Union, and in the newer EU (EU12), there are objective reasons for citizens to feel confused, irritated, and disheartened.
They are witnessing a widening gap between the EU elite and themselves, the ordinary people. Much of what’s on Brussels’ agenda may not be on the citizen’s agenda and vice versa.
Yet this is what the ECI could do – bridge the gap. Wouldn’t it be an interesting to see people (not so many: one million) being able suggest what should become law in the Union? It may not work wonders, but it could prove useful.
Keeping all politicians under a (healthy, not paranoid!) presumption of guilt, some of those who know about the ECI have noticed immense pressures from governments, and quite possibly industrial lobbysts, to make it as ‘useless’ as possible.
Initially, gathering signatures was supposed to take no more than 12 months, from a 1/3 of EU’s Member States (9 countries). Now, the draft bill refers to more time available, 18 or even 24 months, and to fewer countries – 1/5 of 27.
Another barrier against an effective ECI is the request of several governments want that each signer should provide the number of their ID card or passport number. This is a requirement that would radically decrease participation.
For fear of not having their data collected many people would probably give up the idea of supporting a proposal. According to an ECAS survey, up to 66% of those required to put their ID number on a ECI could refuse to sign.
The battle against deterrent restrictive conditions for the validity of a ECI is carried out these days in the European Parliament, and those favouring a ‘citizen friendly ECI’ are asking their support for this petition.
It’s pointless to complain about the democratic deficit in the EU, while not trying to address it. Hardly could the ECI turn almost 400 million Europeans of voting age into politically-conscious citizens like the Swiss, but why not try to have a say?
A petition which could one day turn into a ECI is the one that asks for a complete ban of GMOs in Europe. That would be a great victory against a huge army of transatlantic lobbyists, wouldn’t it?
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