citizens-euYou may not be aware of it, but 2013 is officially the European Year of Citizens (it’s also officially the Year of Air, but we’ll stick to citizens for today’s post). As part of the festivities, the European Commission has been travelling on the road and meeting face-to-face with Europe’s citizenry in town hall meetings across the continent. We’ve been covering some of these meetings, and you can read through our previous posts on these “Citizens’ Dialogues” here.

At each meeting, the moderator usually kicks things off by asking the audience whether they feel they are listened to by the European Union. Overwhelmingly (even when the crowd is sympathetic and broadly supportive of European integration) the response has been negative. People at the events feel the EU institutions are distant and unresponsive, and their voice does not really matter.

The most recent of these events took place in Slovakia with Maroš Šefčovič, a Vice-President of the European Commission. We’ve interviewed Commissioner Šefčovič previously, and one of his responsibilities is overseeing the implementation of something called the “European Citizens Initiative” (ECI).

The ECI is a direct-democracy instrument introduced by the Lisbon Treaty (and you can read more about how it works in our infographic below – click for a higher resolution image). If an initiative can gather one million signatures (passing a quorum in at least seven EU member states) then the European Commission will consider adopting legislation in response. At its launch on April Fools’ Day 2012 (possibly not the most appropriate launch-date from a PR perspective), it was hoped that the ECI might help to dispel the perception that the EU was distant and unconcerned with the opinions of ordinary citizens.

One of the biggest criticisms of the ECI, however, is that the European Commission is not obliged to adopt legislation in response to a successful initiative. We put this to Commissioner Šefčovič in our interview with him last year, and he responded that the political pressure following a successful initiative would be immense, making it difficult for the Commission to ignore.

sefcovic-speaksI think, honestly, the pressure on the Commission from a successful ECI will be quite significant. It will be clearly the will of a million or more citizens, and I presume that this will of course be accompanied by public debate and campaigning from all parties. I think it will be quite obvious that this will trigger a wave of debate and political consideration.

Once a ECI gathers these one million signatures, there is a follow-up. It will be officially received by a Commissioner, a public hearing will be organised in the European Parliament, which will add additional discussion and public debate. Then the Commission will have three months to decide. Of course, the Commission will preserve its right of initiative. A proposal suggested by one million citizens can’t go against 499 million other Europeans. But the public pressure will be there.

Last month, the first ECI succeeded in its goal, so now we can finally see what happens. The Right2Water initiative opposes the privatisation of water utilities in the EU and argues that water should not be subject to the normal “internal market rules” (and you can read a fascinating case-study of why this initiative succeeded whilst others have struggled here). Interestingly, the Right2Water ECI collected 75% of its signatures from a single member state – Germany. It met the goal of 1 million signatures comfortably (it currently has almost 2 million) but then struggled to reach the quorum in six additional member states. This suggests the campaign remained a largely national effort, despite the pan-European aspirations of the ECI.

How the Commission reacts to the first successful ECI remains to be seen. The Commission has three months to verify the signatures, organise a hearing in the European Parliament and officially give their response (though the Right2Water organisers believe they have reasons to be hopeful).

European Citizens Initiative02

54 comments Post a commentComment

What do YOU think? Do you feel the EU listens to the voice of citizens? Or are the European institutions distant and unconcerned with the opinions of ordinary people? Would more direct democracy in the EU help? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we'll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

  1. Miquel Subirà Ribas

    Does de UE worries about the seccession right of catalonia? No. So It is ignoring the voices of a lot of people there. You should start to change your position or you will lose us. Tell the spanish goverment to LET US VOTE!!!!!!!!

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Miquel Subira Ribas
      The EU will NEVER let Catalonia escape from the clutches of Spain – if it did THEN the EU would no longer be a latin-dominated bloc and thus France would be relegated to a junior role in the EU!!

  2. Miquel Subirà

    You can tell us all the stories that you want, but the truth is different. The UE is ignoring the claim of a lot of Catalans who want to vote and exercise their seccession right.

    You are ignoring the claim of a lot of people who only want to vote! It is that democratic? I don’t think so. We are not “an Spanish” afair. People wants freedom and we are going to get it, you should start acting different about us If you want the UE as a real democtratic project.

    I am europeist, but I hope things change soon, because euroesceptisim is increasing a lot here. Change your position about our problem and help us to vote!

  3. Gratian Mihailescu

    There is a “fundamental democratic dilemma“ between citizen participation and system effectiveness at the European level. Electoral alternation refreshes hope in democracy, but when all parties turn out to be the same once in power, people lose faith in all parties, and ultimately in democracy Is anyone from EU hearing what scholars and theoreticians are sayin?

  4. Tom Cox

    The first and most important step the EU must take is to reduce firmly the privileged access of industry to EU policy making. The 1 million required signatures stands in stark contrast with the ease with which industry representatives can make their voice heard. They are just invited on a daily basis in all EU institutions. And that’s the real insult to the European public.

  5. Javier Mendoza

    As far the Council meetings are being secret for example, I do not think EU listen enough. Qualifying the ECI as a direct democracy example is going a little to far in my opinion. ECI are not directly approved or even taking into further consideration if Commission (that by the way is not elected by citizens) decides so. Profit the communication technologies to make a more direct democracy (for example with a number of votes in the EP depending on electronic voting) could be an issue but it is also needed than the EP elections don´t continue being a sort of second national elections.

  6. Tony Westfallen

    In a poll today, 55% of British people asked, want a referendum on our membership of the EU…. and most will vote for the UK to leave the EU. because it is not democratic and does not respond to the wishes of the people.The fact is, the dictators in Brussels do not consider us as people who can THINK for ourselves, No Empire has ever been run democratically, and this is no different. If the EU wants democratic legitimacy, then allow the people to vote for or against it, create a chamber of true opposition, not simply a room of “nodding monkeys” which is all the EU Parliament is. Parliament must create the laws, not the EU COMMISSIONERS, because MEPs can be removed by the people. Democracy does not exist if our representatives do not make the laws, or if we cannot vote to remove the law makers. If you do not allow us to vote for our leaders, then there can never be democracy, and that will ultimately lead to rebellion.

  7. Jude De Froissard

    European institutions are distant and unconcerned with the opinions of ordinary people….it is obvious.E.U. was created for economics…and this is why they want a central and powerful management center…(.Brussels and Strasbourg together are one).But all this will crumble one day because of the lack of jobs and purchasing power.

  8. frankieduberry

    …listens to the EU citizens? Absolutely not. They’re a bunch of “croquemitaines” telling member states that they are such bad boys and promising to put them into quarantine all the time. They don’t GOVERN, they just scold. How many of us are in favor of a FEDERAL GOVERNMENT? Could we be one million and sign a petition? We want a true federal government with genuine federal ministers.

  9. Worldwide Lyme Protest - Let Europe know

    We contacted via email all member of the Public Health Committee about an urgent issue which concerns millions of citizens. We did in in January and again in May without any response. The only “informal” feedback we received is that we should “invite” a member of parliament for dinner in a nice (expensive) restaurant and than we will be able to talk to them. Now – there job is to represent PEOPLE, not industry. But they only talk about people when election time is coming. So the answer – my opinion is not heard.

  10. Katarina Vella

    hate to hear that the bailout was a must but the burden sharing is not mandatory, what are we chopped liver

  11. Chris Morrison

    I feel the proper question must be whether the citizens feel like their voices are heard. Sadly as long as the real law making power stays with an unelelcted commission and the only machine with direct democratic accountability namely
    the Parliament has no de facto authority over it, then it will NEVER truly carry the credibility it should have on this issue. To have so much power in the hands of such a few unelected people is or should be anathema to democratic rule and no amount of window dressing will cover it over.

    • frankieduberry

      Well said.

  12. Darren Grasso

    Euroscepticism will continue to escalate unless the EU starts taking decisions which truly reflect the will of the citizens of Europe…Before proceeding with further integration, it should first and foremost hold a referendum in each MS to get the feedback of the ppl and evaluate whether this political union which it is creating is really desired by europeans.

  13. Kaydeee

    The EU never listens and could not care less about the peoples of Europe ,they are unelected by the people,answerable only to themselves and serve no one but their own interests,the sooner we all vote to leave the EU the better,we will continue to be friends,allies and trading partners without the resentment that so many feel towards others to whom they feel indebted.The Brussels elite should be sacked,dismissed unceremoniously but as they were never elected in the first place there is no mechanism to remove them.All we can do as individuals is vote for those political parties who would fight for our independence,and support each other to that end.

  14. Marian Pana

    It is very hard to listen to the citizens. We might take into consideration that their representatives should listen to them more often. Democracy, communism, or other political doctrine generated forms, just live their last minutes of life.

  15. Marian Pana

    The most important thing is to realize that politics are in fact prisoners of the economic achievement and not of a well being for people. It’s like the people it’s the father of a family with 2 kids working hardly to earn the necessary money for living and the politicians are the mother spending them all on fashion shopping and turning all the 3 of them one against each other. I don’t think we need to listen to the people. We need to become again part of the people so we can here what is needed to be done for better living

  16. Karen Fabbri

    Hearing is not listening. We need far more active listening and less broadcasting.

  17. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    As instituições europeias estão distantes e despreocupadas das opiniões de cada cidadão hoje temos na europa um tunel onde existe exclusão social e o emprobrecimento a árvore de cada pais não está a produzir os seus frutos por isso é necessário que os paises emergentes tomem medidas de crescimento económico e com a solidariedade dos poderosos da UE É preciso travar o Eurocepticismo

  18. Annija Martinsone

    Lots of European Citizens are not sharing their ideology, maybe they should start to talk and after all their votes will be heard. The Citizens who expressed, they are heard.

  19. Christos Mouzeviris

    they listen alright…there is no doubt about that.. but do they, or can they do anything about the issues that we raise? that is the question!! When our governments do not want to fully cooperate or implement what is being decided on European level, and when what is being decided on European level is influenced heavily by lobbies with no legitimacy and accountability towards the citizens…

  20. Spyros Tsakos

    As long as the current system is in place(intergovernmental system) there will be obstacles in hearing out the citizens both in EU and national level, a closer political union and cooperation is needed and not the chaos of mistrust and political conflict that is fueled by elite groups(political or not) across Europe making the EU distant and by some hated. A gradual change in the current democratic model is vital by achieving the right mix of representative and direct democracy and that would be a good start to find solutions in economic matters as well.The EU must be big on big things and small on small things.

  21. Annija Martinsone

    European Citizen should be heard by their country government first of all.

  22. Annija Martinsone

    European Citizen should be heard by their country government first of all

  23. Marinescu Daniela

    Yes, they listen but only organization with EU representativeness, as EU federations or confederations, not individuals….. or not enough!

  24. Katerina Kyratsou

    Fine. And may we vote Eupopean Citizens from other member states as our representatives. No time for the European Parliament Election 2014, but the soonest possible, please.

    • Marcel

      Absolutely not. It would be undemocratic since there is no European ‘demos’.

  25. Bastian

    The EU system has already usurped too many responsibilities. This contradicts its decleared objectives to produce “values” for Europe, because the strength of Europe always was and still is its historical diversity.
    Although the EU pays lipservice to this, in reality it is destroying it by the attempt to standardize in a one fits all manner (its “single” policies; single market, single currency etc.) the whole continent, in its hidden intentions even the whole world (enlargement policies).
    To save Europe from this wrong technocratic track, competencies must be repatriated to the member states to get back under democratic rule.
    ECI, for example, is a farce. The lobby prone Commission should not even get the idea that drinking water is in its responsibility.
    EU democracy will always be limited, simply because there is no European demos. And I doubt that such a demos could be created by the obvious attempt of certain EU circles to transform Europe into a mass society of uprooted immigrants, a society of people unattached to the historical Europe.

    To summarize: The EUrocracy should, first of all, not be in a position, where to be heard would be relevant for us.

    • Marcel

      The EU’s “single” policies, as you well identify them, are proof of the Soviet character of all of it. Stamping out all diversity is their goal, and this should be stopped.

  26. George Zeglinas

    Not enough…citizens of Europe,should be more active in Europe’s policy.European Union should change too many things,to be an open democtratic society!

  27. Marcel

    Brussels hears us alright, but it doesn’t hear what it wants to hear so it pretends that we ‘do not understand’ or ‘are xenophobic nationalists’.

    Whilst all we want is to preserve democracy (ie on the national level since EU democracy does not exist) and not have foreign politicians vote on our laws or foreign politicians vote themselves our money or politicians giving our money to bankers.

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Marcel
      AGREED 100%!

  28. Angela Sanchez-Tirado Bergon

    If they would be hearing the spaniards, they would know that the Minister of Justice Mr Gallardón has modified our penal code and now to assist to any demostration can get you into jail and or a expensive fine, the same would happen if you let know your friend through facebook or twitter about any demostration .Also, if you are very poor and have nothing to eat and you look in the rubbish to find some food or ask for money anywhere in the street ,our Goberment will impose us a fine of 700 euros minimun. In this situatión where our civil rights have been stolen while the European Union does nothing about it ….¿How can we think they hearing us?

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Angela Sanchez-Tirado Bergon
      Unfortunately, Spain and its ex-colonies do not seem to appreciate the concept of democracy – just like the Latin-dominated EU!

  29. catherine benning

    The question is whether we feel our voice is heard by Europe’s leaders.

    Well, what does that mean? It has many levels too deep to address on a forum such as this. But, if you are asking if we ‘the people’ feel satisfied of the notice taken when we speak, you already know the answer to that. Of course we don’t.

    Those at the top of the EU table who make the decision on our behalf know full well what the majority of the nations people want and they refuse to address it, let alone take into account the sentiment.

    You refuse to see us as selective tribes united by a land mass. You refuse to accept our need for cultural norms and stability within those confines. You deny us acceptance of those norms and expectations that make us so attractive to the rest of the planet, and seemingly, do all you can to destroy our unity.

    That makes it appear as if you despise the European way of life and our heritage. What we have as a united people, is wonderful as it is, but not appreciated because of some ridiculous idea you can and will change human nature if you deprive it of what it needs to survive healthily. What you seem to be doing is herding us, like animals, into a pen you have created and because we fight to be free of it, feel you must misuse us in order to force down our throats a Corporate idea of one fits all breeds. It doesn’t, cannot and will never work.

    Unless you have consent of the people. There will be no acceptance of your idea on Global policy. As what you are offering within it is way too uncomfortable to live with. Therefore creating unrest at a terrifying rate

    What puzzles me in all of this is, how is it that you know this, live it yourselves as humans beings, yet, remain enveloped in policies you know are wrong, disruptive and are leading to our downfall? It strikes as psychotic behaviour to those suffering within.

    Surely you have a comprehensive reason for your stance? How is it you cannot or will not reveal that stance to all of us so that we too can get behind it?

  30. Limbidis Arian

    The only voice the EU hears now are the poison from the rich and corporate interests.
    The people have become a mass of sheeple to them.

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Limbidis Arain
      Despite your racially disconcerting surname, for once your point of view is not commensurate with the typical EU FUNDAMENTALIST bilge you habitually propound.

    • Marcel

      Unfortunately the people have indeed become a mass of sheeple. Do you see people protesting anywhere? Maybe a feeble little protest here and there every now and then. But the unions have been succesfully neutered, and are now afraid of ‘upsetting the status quo’. No one stands up for ordinary people anymore.

      With the EU and the Euro it is government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. Just look at all the ‘Euro-saving’ measures, each and every single one of them tantamount to bailouts for the rich.

  31. Luc Sabbe

    The EU is hearing our voice, but most of the time rather late, due to the overorganised democracy (too many politicians must have their say) and the slow decision making due to the right on veto. The national profit of one country is often not compatible with that of another European country. Thus their seldom is a European voice, but lots of nationalistic voices.

    • Marcel

      The veto right is the only democratic bit about the EU.

      After all, a veto represents national sovereignty and national democracy. Since democracy doesn’t exist on EU level (no demos = no democracy) the veto must be preserved where it is, and (re)introduced where it is not.

      It is our democratic right to veto EU decisions that are not good for our country.

  32. Brian Cutts

    The EU must listen to, and react to, its citizens if it has any hope of keeping our trust. Ignoring the wishes of 7 million Catalans to hold a simple referendum on their future does not bode well for this. By simply saying it is an internal issue for the Spanish, they ignore that as well as being Catalan, and Spanish, we are also EU citizens. Feeling rejected and ignored by Spain, we ask EU to listen and find a solution – it would be a pity to lose the trust of millions of pro-EU Catalans.

  33. Paul X

    You only need to look at the current list of ECI’s to realise it’s just a soapbox for fruitcakes and their ideologies

    • Nadezhda Vasileva

      Ich glaube, ehrlich zu sagen in Interpol Division Europe ,als es ist gut zu denken fur die Zukunft in EU, aber gibt es so viel probleme mit der Criminalitat und s.w. da vor dem alles Europa braucht Ruhe und Gesetze nachvolgen.

  34. Constantinos Constantinou

    this is funny and propably a little of propaganda as well….

    how is eu listening to its people??

    has any of the decisions being forwarded to the people??

    what did eu do for its people??

    absolutely nothing so far….

  35. klassen

    Give me a break.
    1. Referendums disregarded.
    2. Constitutions disregarded
    3. Political medeling
    4. People disregarded
    5. Backroom dealing, lies and threats
    6. Financial power being removed from sovereigns
    7. Political parties with other views publically ridiculed, by eu newspapers
    You could go on!!
    Its like a bad b movie. Must be the poorly thought out script??

    These debates are nice but the reality is they have no bearing on the euroextreemists. The troika/eu is a runnaway train.
    The doomed ship europhilia, with the euroextreemists at the helm and the troika with the whip, the only opinions they listen to is their own.

  36. astrixbritania

    Not only do i think that Europe does not listen but i feel that all the associations and authorities take it upon themselves to skirt around any such problems and never fairly aid a victim or assist them in any way that will upset the establishment at all. The EU laws are non specific and allow all local laws to still abuse and behave in an appropriate manor! In France one is Guilty until proved innocent, but if no one takes your matter seriously, then there is no case to answer for!!!
    Its all very well having rules and regulations, but when the member states local governments all ignore any such complaints or feel that one is simply wasting their time, then there will still never be any proper justice as a result. People will simply be ignored and recorded as a nuisance and persecuted even further and taken financially taken advantage of and milked out of money for any such legal representations anyhow which defeats the whole object anyway.
    One has sort the help from local Avocats and authorities as well as organizations to so called assist, yet there is still NO help of advice given, yet a trail of damages and devastation remains to add to the equation.
    MEPs have been asked to help and well as well known campaigners in the field of these problems yet they too seem disinterested and dont even respond to any help at all. Even the world press cannot be bothered and i sometimes wonder why there are all there for in any event?
    “Be careful as it isn’t what it says on the packet”!
    So YES i do believe that all my opinions and requests for genuine help are NOT heard nor taken seriously at all.
    I am quite sure that when this article is read that it too may be removed or made unsuitable to reading and so will be posting it in many other areas as well as recording full details of posting. I do hope and pray that someone will take these sort of matters more seriously, rather than pretending to be wanting to change the rules and been seen to help others in the EU community!
    Good luck with this one anyway…
    astrixbritania

  37. astrixbritania

    Not only do i think that Europe does not listen but i feel that all the associations and authorities take it upon themselves to skirt around any such problems and never fairly aid a victim or assist them in any way that will upset the establishment at all. The EU laws are nonspecific and allow all local laws to still abuse and behave in an appropriate manor! In France one is Guilty until proved innocent, but if no one takes your matter seriously, then there is no case to answer for!!!
    It’s all very well having rules and regulations, but when the member states local governments all ignore any such complaints or feel that one is simply wasting their time, then there will still never be any proper justice as a result. People will simply be ignored and recorded as a nuisance and persecuted even further and taken financially taken advantage of and milked out of money for any such legal representations anyhow which defeats the whole object anyway.
    One has sort the help from local Avocats and authorities as well as organizations to so called assist, yet there is still NO help of advice given, yet a trail of damages and devastation remains to add to the equation.
    MEPs have been asked to help and well as well-known campaigners in the field of these problems yet they too seem disinterested and don’t even respond to any help at all. Even the world press cannot be bothered and i sometimes wonder why there are all there for in any event?
    “Be careful as it isn’t what it says on the packet”!
    So YES i do believe that all my opinions and requests for genuine help are NOT heard nor taken seriously at all.
    I am quite sure that when this article is read that it too may be removed or made unsuitable to reading and so will be posting it in many other areas as well as recording full details of posting. I do hope and pray that someone will take these sort of matters more seriously, rather than pretending to be wanting to change the rules and been seen to help others in the EU community!
    Good luck with this one anyway…
    astrixbritania

  38. astrixbritania

    Even my massages cannot be heard on this forum. This does go to show maybe how the whole system is and answers its own questions i feel…
    Well its true that cannot be heard if one cannot post a response !!!
    Well done those marketing people of this forum….

  39. Just Got Europe

    Yes I do believe this but I don’t think all the people of this state understand what Europe is saying to them. I also don’t think Europeans understand what Europe is at this moment in time, who they are and how unbelievably huge and powerful the EU is going to become!

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