Since 1st April 2012, the European citizens can directly influence the EU decision-making process. By introducing the European Citizens Initiative (ECI), the Lisbon Treaty aims to increase participation and direct democracy in Europe and to bring the Union closer to its citizens. The European Citizens’ initiative by definition is an invitation to the European Commission to propose legislation on matters where the EU has competence to legislate. The implementation of the ECI allows one million EU citizens, coming from at least 7 out of the 27 member states, to make their voices heard by proposing changes in the existing legislation and to become a key player in the decision-making process.
A year since the launch of the ECI, Europe can be proud to have fourteen registered initiatives. They cover wide range of areas from mobility, political participation and energy and climate package to speed limit and unconditional basic income. But how popular among the public are these initiatives and what’s the main lessons learned so far? Fraternité 2020 is a telling example.
Europe’s very first ECI, Fraternité 2020, is an example of a young team of united and true believers in the European project. Citizens that want to promote mobility as an answer to the economic crisis. Its goal is to enhance EU exchange programmes, such as, Erasmus or the European Voluntary Service, in order to build a united Europe based on solidarity among citizens. F2020 is essentially about creating the EU from the bottom-up, i.e. by citizens for citizens, allowing the borders to become bridges and create a multicultural European Union.
To do this, Fraternité 2020 is proposing to increase the funds for European exchange programs to 3% of the EU budget in the financial framework 2014-2020, as well to improve the quality and to set better monitoring of these programmes.
To come back to the learned lessons, there are of course many challenges to start up an initiative. From preparing the text according to the European legislation, setting up website and creating a social media strategy to engage with the citizens in order to make the project successful. So far, Fraternité 2020 has achieved a lot in support coming from academia and politicians, but the main target audience is missing: the citizens. For 6 months F2020 collected only 65.000 signatures. But why is the public so reluctant to sign? Is it because they are not aware of the existence of the initiatives as a democratic tool to influence the political process or because they don’t trust the institutions in general?
Still is early to evaluate the ECI. But one thing is sure: Fraternite2020 shows the power of like-minded people across Europe that work hard together in order to achieve their goals and give chance to more people to go on exchange. Jean Monnet once said: the aim is not to unify States, but people.
Can the citizens change the Union? Time will tell.
*Avgustina Vasilieva holds a Master’s degree in Political Science and Public Administration from the Department of Political Science, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. You can follow her on Twitter: @AvgustinaV and read her blog AvVaWorld