European Citizens' Initiative: designed to fail?

06'05" 16/04/2015
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Not much has come out of the EU's much-touted tool for participatory democracy. So where did it all go wrong and can it be fixed? Frustrated citizens ask, György Schöpflin answers.
The European Citizens' Initiative is the first transnational tool of participative democracy. It allows citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies. But the system needs reform. It hasn't been a great success as too many such initiatives have fallen by the wayside, says Hungarian MEP György Schöpflin. He is the man responsible for the implementation of the regulation of the European Citizens' Initiative at the Parliament. Mr Schöpflin, we have received quite a few questions concerning the Citizens' Initiative.

Is it a success or a failure? On behalf of the ECI campaign, I would like to ask you two questions. First, many in civil society believe that the ECI was designed to fail. How do you propose to restore trust in the ECI and convince them it is worth using? Second, what will you do to ensure that the registration procedure and the data requirements are more citizen-friendly? Thank you. Failure: yes or no? Conspiracy: yes or no?
No conspiracy. 'Failure' goes a little too far. You might say, what are the failure criteria? But it's not been a success.

If we said it's a failure, we might as well throw the whole thing in the bin. And I'm saying no, it's not been a great success, but I think it can be made much more effective than it is at the moment. Now the registration issue which also came up in Mr Glogowski's question... Yes, there are serious problems. For a start, there are 28 Member States, and each of them has a somewhat different procedure for registering names. So that has to be - homogenised is the wrong word, but I think it has to be unified. And my thought is - it can't be done overnight - is to have a European digital citizenship based, if you like, on the Estonian e-citizenship.

Anybody can register as an Estonian citizen, an e-citizen.
György Schöpflin
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
Let's go to the Right to Water. People were demonstrating in front of the Parliament and asked us to bring you this comment and this question. One million people around Europe have asked the European Commission to recognise water as a human right. So it would have been important to have a proper reaction, and not just a so-called positive reaction meaning, 'OK, we know it's important'. We want something more. We want action that makes it real for European citizens.

It's not only about saying, 'nice to hear that, you're right, water for everybody is important'. We would like to have something more.
All I can say is, I agree. This Elisabetta Cangelosi is quite right. Now I don't really know the inside story, but it's quite clear to me that the Commission has been, shall we say, rather dilatory, not to say tardy, in doing something about this. And I entirely agree that given that it's gone through all the stages it should be brought into law.

Now as to whether or not the right to water is a human right, we'll leave that to the philosophers. It is a right, and above all because it's gone through the stages - million signatures, recognised by the Commission - action should follow.
György Schöpflin
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
Now a very concrete question. My name is Pablo Sanchez and I'm one of the coordinators of the European citizens' initiative Right to Water, and I would like to know how citizens should organise themselves to ensure that their voices are heard and their demands are taken into account in a binding way by the European institutions.

This is a fair question. As far as the organisation is concerned, I think if you look at the framework, a lot of leeway is given to citizens. And after all it's supposed to be a mobilising instrument to bring citizens into contact with one another, from as many countries as possible, minimum seven, as I'm sure all those people know. And therefore the Commission or EP or any of the EU institutions are not going to say, this is the way you must do it. What is a reality is the money.

It's clearly much more expensive than anybody understood at the outset. How do you organise a million people? It's a lot of people. It is disappointing and I do share their concern, because I think this is a useful instrument for transmitting ideas from below, and to some degree disturbing the bureaucratic order of life in the Commission and perhaps even in Parliament. But there are genuine problems, and it is balancing these two that's the difficulty.
György Schöpflin
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
OK. Last question. What are the measures that the European Parliament envisages to put forward in view of the upcoming revision of the regulation for European Citizens' Initiative provided that 40% of the initiatives have been refused registration so far.

Is there any chance of increasing the success rate?

I sincerely hope that the success rate will increase. It's not going to happen overnight. At the end of the year there will be a review by the Commission, which I think is the next big moment. What Parliament is envisaging, which is basically up to me and my colleagues, depending on what amendments they put in, various new devises, one of which is a dedicated office in each Member State who could then give advice - they can't actually draft it, but they can give advice on how to go forward.

We've got to solve the problem of the servers, we've got to solve the problem of the citizenship and the registers etcetera. So I think that we are aware, we are working on the revision of the regulation and I do entirely agree that 40% rejected looks very bad as a headline figure, but bear in mind that some of those were perfectly properly rejected, like the ones that were not an EU competence.
György Schöpflin
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats)
György Schöpflin, thanks a lot.