On April 1st 2012 an interesting innovation of the Lisbon Treaty will see the reality. At that date, the implementing legislation for Art. 14 EUT will enter into force and enable a minimum of one million citizens from at least seven member countries requesting the European Commission to launch legislative action in areas of common European interest that fall within the scope of its competence.
Despite the restrictive pre-conditions 10 initiatives are reportedly already under preparation. But we should not expect a flood of proposals to emerge from citizens initiatives:
- Most EU legislation is too technical to lend itself easily to citizens initiatives. Only political, environmental, social and cultural areas offer some scope. But here the EU competence for legislative action is quite narrow.
- The Commission will have to take a critical look at each request and check its common interest as well as its compatibility with the Treaty and existing legislation.
It is therefore difficult to project the use citizens will make from this new instrument. Civic associations might wish to exploit it to make their views more widely known without hoping for quick or any legislative action. They might be happy to provoke a European debate on issues like climate age, nuclear and renewable energies, ageing, obesity, educational standards, youth unemployment or retirement age. There should be no lack of subjects to be picked up.
To unite one million signatures from seven member states will require citizens to connect by electronic networks and to use a common language. Organised groups across national borders like Greenpeace will have a competitive edge over private citizens.
The new tool will no doubt give a boost to trans-national associations, on-line networks and the wider use of English as the European “lingua franca”.
The mere launch of an initiative is likely to provoke an EU-wide debate, provided the authors pick a sensitive issue of interest to many citizens throughout Europe. This would be positive and go beyond the initial objectives of the Treaty innovation.
But as a start, one or two NG0s should introduce a well-targeted, concrete proposal for amending or introducing legislation and try to obtain Commission backing for it.
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Author : Eberhard Rhein