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Europe Offers Direct Democracy A Second Chance

 Apr.20.─ In a rare moment of positive international news for more democracy, the European Commission has announced it will revise the regulations for the European Citizens’ Initiative. And what at first glance seems to be just an overdue acknowledgement by the executive branch of the European Union could become a true window of opportunity.

The unexpected announcement was made by the European Union’ss First Vice-President Frans Timmermans just before the Easter Holiday. The place of action was the annual European Citizens’ Initiative Day hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee, one of the advisory EU institutions. The ECI is a five-year-old process that allows citizens to bring forward their legislative proposals to the commission if they are backed by the signatures of at least one million Europeans across at least seven member states.

Mr Timmermans, who was absent at last year’s ECI Day, used his time during the opening panel on the enthusiastic pleas for the often criticized Union: “We are a force for liberty, openness and cooperation”. But then the former Dutch Foreign Minister continued with rather critical analysis on the state of democracy: “We are living in a post-paternalistic era stuck with a paternalistic system of government”.

This in turn led the 56-year-old Timmermans to address the need of greater citizens participation in modern politics: “citizens need to get a chance to engage more directly”. And then Timmermanns made an announcement that took most ECI day participants – a crowd of about 200 experts and supporters of the tool – by obvious surprise: “We will next week publish a roadmap for the revision of the ECI regulation.”

More participatory ground

Timmermans’ tone was cautious, but he made clear that he envisaged to have the revised law adopted by the time when the next European Parliament is to be elected in spring 2019 (and a new Commission will be elected). In and of itself, the statement broke more participatory ground that any comment from a leading EU commissioner since the former Vice-President Margot Wallströms strong promotion of participatory democracy a decade ago ...

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