A reader has drawn our attention to an article in today’s edition of the Telegraph commenting on the minutes of the European Commission’s 2149th weekly meeting, held in Brussels on 9 December 2015, in which the Commission registered two new European Citizens’ Initiatives, “Mum Dad & Kids” and “European Asylum Initiative”.
The section of the minutes dealing with the new citizens’ initiatives is rather unusual both for its length and its content. In it, one reads the following passages:
“The PRESIDENT also emphasised the purely legal nature of the decision to register a citizens’ initiative. The mere fact of determining whether the decision was justified by elements of substantive law was without prejudice to the subsequent stages of the procedure, if the initiative in question had to collect the necessary number of signatures. [N.B. the last sentence, which seems unintelligible, appears to have been incorrectly translated from the French original, which says: “Il remarque que le fait de constater si les éléments de droit matériel sont réunis pour justifier cette décision ne préjuge en rien des étapes suivantes de la procédure, si l’initiative en question devait rassembler le nombre de signatures nécessaires”. The correct translation is: “… should the initiative in question collect the necessary number of signatures”.]
At the invitation of the PRESIDENT, the Director-General of the Legal Service explained that in law, the conditions of admissibility of both citizens’ initiatives had been complied with and that the Commission was therefore bound to register them. If these initiatives collected the requisite number of signatures in compliance with the conditions laid down in law, then the Commission would have to take a policy decision on the substance at a later date.
During the ensuing discussion, the Members (i) regretted that experience to date had shown that citizens’ initiatives did not always move European law or the European project forward, but tended instead to involve highly controversial and emotionally charged issues of greater interest to minorities than to the vast majority of EU citizens and, ultimately, generated Euroscepticism, (ii) called for a debate on how to rectify this situation and (iii) stressed that, in the current European context, the Commission should take account of the political consequences that this mechanism could have in the longer term.
The PRESIDENT was in favour of discussing these matters at the Commission seminar to be held early in 2016.”
It seems obvious that the Commissioners’ regret at being bound to register the new initiatives must be understood as referring to “Mum Dad & Kids” rather than to the Asylum Initiative, given that the latter in fact calls for more EU legislation in a field over which, in view of the current migration crisis, many Member States would want to retain their sovereignty. “Mum Dad & Kids” by contrast, even while recognizing in principle the EU’s competences in the area of Family Law under Art. 81 of the Treaty, could jeopardize Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans’s frivolous project of imposing on all EU Member States an obligation to give legal effect to same-sex “marriages”. No wonder that the Vice-President and some of his fellow Commissioners resent this. However, it appears that the Commission’s Legal Service found the application leading to the registration of this new initiative to be legally water-tight, so that there was no possibility of rejecting it.
But the Commission’s criticism is misguided. A definition of marriage and family, based on what is the common ground between Member States (and indeed between all human societies since the dawn of civilization) would move the European project forward, not backward. Indeed, one can suppose that the Polish and Hungarian governments would not have blocked a (potentially useful) new regulation on jurisdiction, applicable law and the recognition and enforcement of decisions regarding matrimonial regimes, had a definition of marriage been in place to dispel concerns that the proposed regulation will be used as a wedge to introduce same-sex “marriages” into the legal orders of Member States that neither have nor want it. Thus, the EU-wide definition of marriage and family as proposed by “Mum Dad & Kids” would actually facilitate progress in the area of judicial cooperation. And, coming to speak of “highly controversial and emotionally charged issues of greater interest to minorities than to the vast majority of EU citizens”, is this not precisely what homo-“marriage” is about? It is of interest to no one except a noisy minority. Real marriages, i.e. those between a man and a woman, are by contrast of great importance for the whole of society, as “Mum Dad & Kids” rightly points out. Anjd finally, which is the attitude that generates Euroscepticism? Is Euroscepticism not generated by the EU’s structural unwillingness to listen to what citizens have to say, which once again is exemplified in the Commission’s wish to “rectify” the scope of possible citizens’ initiative???
Anyway, the Commission’s lack of neutrality becomes apparent in the difference in treatment that it imparts to different citizens’ initiatives. Consider, for example, that in its press release of 9 December the Commission said that the 1-year-period for collecting signatures would start on 15 December for “Mum Dad & Kids”, although the necessary online collection system for signatures was not yet in place, whereas for the “Asylum Initiative”, which was registered on the very same day, it was announced that the period would start as of 4 January. No explanation for this difference of treatment, which places “Mum Dad & Kids” at a clear disadvantage, was provided, nor is it clear why the release referred to 15 December while the minutes of the meeting refer to the 11th. This discrimination has been further exacerbated in the meantime: “Mum Dad & Kids” has been officially registered on 11 December, so that the official one-year-period for this initiative has been running since then, whereas the Asylum Initiative is still not officially registered at the time of writing this. In other words, the way in which the Commission is handling this appears rather chaotic – but it definitely looks like if the Commission considered itself entitled to fix the beginning and end of the periods during which signatures must be collected according to its own preferences and sympathies, prolonging or curtailing them as it sees fit. This is not only contrary to the neutrality with which it should handle different citizens’ initiative, but it also stands in clear contradiction to the European Parliament’s Report 2014/2257 on the ECI, which has inter alia requested the Commission “to reconsider the automatic link between the registration of an ECI and the beginning of the 12-month period within which expressions of support can be collected, so that the organisers of an ECI themselves can decide when they wish to start to collect expressions of support.”
Concerning the Commissioners’ wish to “rectify the situation” with regard to initiatives that, according to their own view, “do not always move European law or the European project forward”, one is tempted to wonder what will be the outcome of the Commission seminar to be held early this year: will the Commission seriously propose to introduce an additional filter, so that besides falling within the EU’s competences and complying with the EU’s fundamental values (as has found to be the case with “Mum Dad & Kids”), each new initiative must be shown to promote (the Commission’s) “European project”? That would surely the final blow to what was intended to become an instrument that makes the EU more democratic.
So, who is fuelling Euroscepticism?