A conference held last Friday (30 March) by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions called for European Citizens’ Initiatives to be taken up by actors outside the Brussels bubble. They stressed in particular the need for petition organisers to work with local authorities and stakeholders ahead of the 2014 European elections.
Margaritis Schina of the Bureau of European Policy Advisers, the European Commission’s internal think-tank, said “the ECI is not a Eurocrats’ matter; it has to reflect the European civil society.”
The newly-launched European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) allows European citizens to formally propose EU legislation if they receive 1 million signatures in at least 7 member states.
Mercedes Bresso, president of the Committee of Regions which represents city, local and regional governments at EU level, stressed that the participation of these entities in the ECI meant a new kind of multinational democracy.
“This is multi-level governance which is finally arriving,” she said.
Many participants acknowledged that the ECI was something of an experiment which would involve a learning process and periodic adaptation.
Staffan Nilsson, president of the European Economic and Social Committee which represents civil society organisations, unions and employers, said the EU was open to suggestions on how to better reach out to the public through the ECI.
“We have asked ourselves how civil society organisations and local, regional authorities can enable people and their organisations to mobilise, network, formulate their initiatives, get the good advice,” he stated.
He said that in addition existing networks to inform citizens a new, independent helpdesk could be required.
Both Bresso and Nilsson agreed that a “European Citizens’ Initiative Day” should be organised by their two consultative committees, to annually take stock of experiences and lessons learned from the operation of ECI.
EURACTIV’s publisher Christophe Leclercq, who moderated the event, summarised the conclusions. This includes the opportunity to liven up European debate with the ECI in the run-up to the European parliamentary elections of 2014.