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The fake democracy of the citizens' initiative
by Newropeans-Magazine
2010-02-12 07:30:41
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Soon, the real European direct democracy will start. The treaty of Lisbon includes the option of a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI): European citizens can send a proposal to the European Commission to make a bill on a certain issue. The only condition is that one million European citizens support the ECI. At the moment, there are still negotiations about the question whether these citizens should come from a quarter of a third of all European count

ries. When this question is settled, the European direct democracy can start.

The expectations are high. The Spanish secretary of state for the EU says that the ECI should be a priority during the Spanish EU presidency and the Spanish newspaper El Pais thinks that the distance between citizens and politics could become smaller because of the ECI. For the first time, citizens will get legislative power, while this power was always been concentrated at the European institutions.*

The ECI is not a European invention, national and local governments experiment with these ‘citizens’ initiatives’ too. A Dutch evaluation** of the citizens’ initiative on the local level shows that citizens seldom make use of this new possibility. In addition, many initiatives are rejected by the city council or the city council does not have the power to execute the proposal. The study becomes even more interesting when local governments claim that there are no problems with citizens’ initiatives. The only problem that some local governments see, is that citizens do not know that this option exists.

In other words: local governments created a new democratic instrument that is seldom used by citizens or that does not give citizens real power. Local governments think that this is fine, because it does not interfere with their old ways of working. Critical citizens who claim the citizens’ initiatives are not a democratic innovation, can be blamed that they did not inform themselves well enough.

This is what will happen in Europe too: the European Commission can be proud that they found a new way to attract citizens to European politics. The chance that this will really happen is extremely small, but this is not the Commission’s problem. It is the other way around: ECI does not even have the intention to give citizens a real voice, it is meant to fight critical citizens who claim that the EU is not democratic enough.


Chris Aalberts*
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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