Normally, it’s ministers and EU commissioners, who set the agenda in the EU. But on Sunday 1 April 2012, when the European citizens' initiative was launched, citizens gained the right to propose legislation. For those who wanted greater transparency in EU, the citizens' initiative is a step in the right direction.
“It's a new chapter which makes the EU more present. The initiative brings the EU closer to the citizens - and hopefully closer to each other,” says Minister for European Affairs Nicolai Wammen (Socialdemocrats) about the initiative, which requires one million signatures across seven EU countries.
“It takes one million signatures, yes, but it is 1 million out of 500 million. EU citizens must involve and engage across national borders. It is a new tool that provides an opportunity to complement the existing democratic institutions,“ says the Danish Minister for European Affairs.
Europe for the many
At the launch of the initiative in the Europe House in Copenhagen on 27 March also MP Jacob Elleman-Jensen (The Liberal Party of Denmark) backed the initiative, which aims to make Europe for the many rather than the few.
“When one million people support an initiative it will be listened to. The initiative will create awareness on matters of concern to the European citizens. In this way, the citizens' initiative is part of an on-going process to ensure commitment in the European community,“ he says.
But while politicians applaud the proposal the NGO New Europe hesitates on whether initiatives can be realized.
“We lack a vibrant democracy. I mean, one million signatures to be collected in one year is more than you think. We do not have 500 million active EU citizens, and you'll have to have a sense of proportion”, says Søren Winther Lundby, daily manager of New Europe, about the signatures that can be collected electronically and physically according to what is decided nationally. The assessment and verification of collected signatures are assessed by the national authorities.
At the launch of the citizens’ initiative in Brussels on 28 March President Martin Schulz said: “It's a great day for the genuine participatory democracy (...). I know of cases where signatures and initiatives changed the whole political direction”.
Read more about the Citizens' Initiative
Watch the press conference on the citizens’ initiative