Strengthening European Civic Society

Written by | Tuesday, July 7th, 2015

Alice Vadrot (European Liberal Forum)

Active involvement of citizens in the political discourse and their participation in the democratic processes is an indispensable part of pluralist democracy. Therefore, a deepening democracy deficit in the EU and a lack of their participation are reasons for concern. This was also the rationale behind the decision of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe to support the Lisbon treaty, which introduced European citizens’ initiative (ECI). ECI enables one million EU citizens coming from at least seven Member States to propose legislation to the European Commission as it is in its field of activity.

Since 2012, when the initiative came into force, ECI has been supported by almost 6 million citizens. 43 proposals have been presented to the European Commission, out of which 24 have been registered and subsequently admitted for the collection of signatures. ECI is an important democratic innovation, which, however, has its downsides. For example, each Member State needs different personal data when collecting signatures. It means that the proponents of the legislation must create 28 different forms and then submit the collected signatures to 28 different national authorities. In order to make ECI an efficient tool for the citizens’ initiative, a reform planned for this year should remove existing legal and technical obstacles.

European citizens can get involved on European level also via the Civil Society Organization (CSO), which lobbies for specific interests on regional, national, European or international level. The Lisbon Treaty introduced a special tool for civic society, which provides CSO with financial resources needed for it professionalization. For this reason, a number of various platforms were introduced, such as a web forum, where organizations can share ideas and political initiatives or public hearings taking place mostly in Brussels. Nevertheless, not all civic society organizations share the idea and mission of civic engagement. Some argue that the development of CSO on the European level could mean a deepening of the democracy deficit if it served as a tool to promote interests of lobby groups. Given the fact that they can open their offices in Brussels and thus be close to the center of European decision-making, it is important to define the function of CSO as a tool for civic engagement on the European level.

(The study can be downloaded here)

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