This being the year for Europe to steer out of the economic hardships, there will undoubtedly be long-term effects on society like increased unemployment, insecurity, exclusion and poverty. These are the challenges that are leading to an ever greater demand for social services, especially in the areas of health, housing, education, energy, transport and communication methods in Europe.
Civil dialogue is an ambitious and complex process with no ready-made formula for its modus operandi. However, two-way participation by European institutions and civil society is a right and a duty that makes it work and has the potential for enhanced effectiveness. This two-way process has been formalised. On April 1, European citizens will be acquiring a new civil right introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon. Which means that if at least one million citizens, who are nationals of at least one quarter of the member states, want new legislation on an issue where the EU has the power to make laws, they can call on the European Commission to take action.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions have played an active part in the development of participatory democracy and have been instrumental in ensuring the inclusion of this principle in the Lisbon Treaty. They raise a number of issues about the role of both committees and members in stimulating, monitoring and reaching out to EU citizens. They place emphasis on building a bridge between EU institutions and the citizens as required by the rapidly changing European society, presenting us with new challenges.
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) aims at increasing direct democracy in the EU on a transnational level. It enables the participants to network and, possibly, meet counterparts in other European countries and, while acting as an institutional mentor, issues an opinion to assist the Commission in evaluating a successful initiative, holding hearings, and so on.
The Commission stresses that the ECI is an important instrument that will definitely be livening up the European-wide political debates. It will feed into the European discourse, on a broad range of suggestions and ideas. Due to lack of experience in this new, transnational instrument, the Commission recommends reviewing it after only three years while consulting the EESC on that occasion.
All EU citizens (nationals of an EU country) old enough to vote in European Parliament elections (18 years old, except in Austria, where the voting age is 16) have the possibility to be organisers of initiatives.
To kick off, they must ﬁrst form a citizens’ committee composed of at least seven EU citizens living in a minimum of seven member states. The citizens’ committee is responsible for managing the initiative throughout the procedure.
A detail worth remembering is that a citizens’ initiative cannot be run by organisations. However, organisations can promote or sponsor initiatives provided they do so with full transparency.
More and more people across Europe are already preparing the first official transnational ECI campaigns on a very diverse range of issues. These range from environmental to social and institutional topics such as those related to challenges in the ﬁelds of the environment, agriculture, transport and public health.
Almost nine million young people under the age of 30 are unemployed in Europe today. This, coupled with an ageing population, calls for urgent action.
The integration of young people in labour markets in the EU is more important than ever before if Europe wants to be a prosperous region in the future. In order to do that, the areas that need further and long-term attention must have a social dimension.
Europe-wide lobbying to secure sustainable economy, poverty eradication, the promotion of sustainable consumption and production patterns and governance structures is necessary to ensure the active involvement of civil society in paving a way for their own future. Various stakeholders will be striving to strike a balance between growth, social and environmental impacts.
For instance, the Erasmus Student Network helps students get connected with their host countries by encouraging them to take part in activities beneficial to the local community. By lobbying through ECI, Erasmus students can create real European integration.
AD encourages the full participation of EU citizens. The achievement of the ECI will definitely be leading us on the road to progress towards a more democratic, cohesive, transparent, efficient and open EU that is more respectful of the values underpinning the European model of society and is more able to promote those values globally to exert its rightful influence on the international level.
Further details about the ECI can be found on European Greens’ websitehttp://gef.eu/publication/european-citizens-initiative-pocket-guide/.
To receive hard copies of the guide, free of charge, contact Ceratonia Foundation, the cultural wing of AD, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The author is Alternattiva Demokratika’s spokesman for social development and health.