On the 23rd and the 24th of September, civil society organizations and engaged citizens overtook the Esplanade courtyard of the European Parliament. This citizen “invasion” of the EP was the 2014 European Citizens Summit. Summit events included “fish bowl” citizen commentary, Q&A with members of European Parliament (MEPs), keynote addresses and a series of workshops on salient issues in Europe.
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was a recurring topic at the Summit. Over an hour was dedicated to the ECI during Tuesday’s workshop on balancing power and promoting healthy democracy in the European Union (EU). During the workshop representatives from two previous ECI campaigns shared their experiences and observations, as well as a few “lessons learned” during the ECI process. Group dialogue about ECIs followed. While the representatives’ messages reflected some frustration with the challenging ECI process, they expressed hope for the program’s future. Both spoke earnestly about the importance of investing in the ECI program as a key means of engaging European citizens and clearly communicating the citizens’ interests to EU institutions. Even when ECIs are rejected, withdrawn, closed or declined by the Commission (statuses that would be considered failures by official standards) they achieve unofficial success. Initiatives send a direct message to EU institutions and have the power of agenda setting.
Susan George also discussed the ECI during her keynote address on the STOP TTIP ECI, which was rejected by the Commission on the 10th of September. George, the ECI steering committee representative from France, expressed her deep frustration with the Commission’s actions toward the STOP TTIP ECI. In her address she explored the logic behind resisting TTIP. She also outlined the next steps for the rejected ECI. According to George and to STOP TTIP press releases, the initiative organizers plan to continue to pursue the collection of signatures of support in an unofficial capacity – meaning without Commission approval. This collection process has now begun (see campaign website for more details or to give support). The organizers are also in the process of appealing to the European Court of Justice on the Commission’s legal justification for the ECI rejection.
The European Citizens’ Initiative, the policy resulting from the Lisbon Treaty’s call for “open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society,” is of great relevance to all citizens and civil society organizations concerned with the continued refinement of European democracy. The European Citizens’ Initiative is a pathway for citizen empowerment and was recognized as such at the Summit.