European Commission Vice President Maroš Šef?ovi? is confident that the Citizens’ Initiative, one of the new democratic tools pushed forward by the Lisbon Treaty, will bring Europe closer to its citizens and create a "genuine European public space".
In the last weeks while the EU executive finalised details on making the initiative work, Šef?ovi? has been tweeting to galvanise attention and prepare the ground for the launch of the first initiative on 1 April.
“The European Citiziens’s Initative provides a direct gateway for citizens to make their voices heard in Brussels and will foster a real cross-border debate about issues,” Šef?ovi? told EURACTIV.
Critics, however, question whether the instrument will be hijacked by organised civil society, swallowing up ordinary citizens’ campaigns.
“I think pan-European campaigning will not be as difficult as one might think. In my view what we underestimate is the extent to which EU citizens from different countries and different walks of life have common ideas and concerns,” said Šef?ovi?.
He dismissed fears that ordinary citizens will not be able to organise themselves to collect the required one million signatures from at least seven EU member states.
The Commissioner is not shy in giving advice to individual citizens wanting to start their own campaign.
“Nowadays they don't need to rent a bus and tour every town, city and village in at least seven EU countries. Thanks to social media they can build support for their cause with just a few clicks of the mouse,” Šef?ovi? said.
With still-fresh memories of how social media helped the Arab Spring, democracy activists do not worry about citizens wanting to get involved and have a say in the future of Europe. However, some are worried that many will not grasp the full scope of the initiatives, which can be launched only if they are in the remit of the EU competences.
Activists warn that if citizens do not get the right legal support to know whether they can propose an initiative, the process could be undermined and seen as useless.
Šef?ovi? rebuffs such a possibility.
“The criteria for rejecting an ECI at the registration stage are fairly restrictive – i.e., if it is manifestly outside the Commission's competence, manifestly abusive or frivolous or manifestly against EU values – and are clearly explained in our guide. Therefore I do not think there is a risk of damage to the reputation of the ECI or the Commission,” he said.
The Commission intends to promote these new sources of information through the media, the EURACTIV website and also through a number of dedicated information seminars and publications in the coming months.
Maroš Šef?ovi? was interviewed by EURACTIV Managing Editor Daniela Vincenti. Click here to read the full interview.