European Citizens’ Initiative: How serious is the European Parliament in addressing the issue?

On 26 February the European Parliament intends to hold a Public Hearing on “The European Citizens’ Initiative” – more specifically on the Implementation of Regulation 211/2011. This apparently comes as a reaction to widespread criticism that the ECI, an instrument of participatory democracy newly created by the Lisbon Treaty 2009, is not living up to its promises. Such criticism is voiced not only by NGOs, but also in an investigation currently conducted by the European Ombudsman.

Regrettably, the draft programme reveals that the European Parliament follows its habitual pattern of behaviour: the Europarlamentarians prefer listening to themselves rather than to the citizens.

eci event 1eci event 2

In the 3 ½ hours event, 1hr. and 40 minutes of speaking time are allotted to the MEPs, and only 15 minutes to citizens who actually tried to use the ECI to make their voice heard. These 15 minutes are subdivided into three speaking slots, one for a successful ECI, one for an ECI that did not manage to collect the necessary 1 million of signatures, and one whose registration was rejected by the Commission. In that way, the organizers of the hearing intend to learn of the difficulties that ECI organizers face at the various stages of the procedure.

With regard to the successful ECIs, the choice of the invitee is surprising. Only two ECIs have so far managed to cross the threshold of 1 million signatures – but among those two, ONE OF US clearly had more signatures than “Right2Water”. Why then is the European Parliament inviting the less successful rather than the more successful ECI? Moreover, ONE OF US arguably would have a far more important contribution to make in this debate: not only has the group initiated proceedings before the Court of Justice of the EU to challenge the European Commission’s rather poorly argued refusal to adequately follow-up on the ECI’s legislative proposal, but it has also, in a written contribution to the European Ombudsman’s own-initiative investigation, lambasted the rather strange way in which the European Parliament has handled the matter. As many of our readers will recall, some ideology-driven MEPs tried to hijack the parliamentary hearing in which ONE OF US, like any successful ECI, was supposed to present its proposal to the Parliament, turning it into an occasion for some particularly radical anti-life MEPs (such as, for example, Françoise Castex, Michael Cashman, or Sophie in ‘t Veld) to express their hostility, hatred, and contempt, for the proposals that had been directly endorsed by nearly 2 million citizens. (A video of this hearing, held on 10 April 2014 at the EP in Brussels, is available here.)

Maybe the reason for the EP to invite “Right2Water” rather than ONE OF US is that the EP is not keen to listen to criticism directed at its own behaviour? Then as now, the MEPs wanted to express their own views, but they didn’t want to listen to the concerns and frustrations of real citizens. But why, then, are those events called “hearing”?