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Mr. Jahier, President of Group III, launched the initiative to organise a seminar on the European Citizens’ Initiative, the most innovative and concrete transnational tool of the Lisbon Treaty. He stated that this seminar offered the possibility to bring together forty participants from outside the “Schuman box”. Coming from nineteen European countries and representing a wide range of interests within civil society, they initiated the first steps towards creating networks amongst them. For Luca Jahier, “the ECI, after ten years of preparatory work, now represents a major opportunity for citizens to be active at EU level and the possibility to increase what we call the European public space”. For Mrs. Sigmund, former President of the EESC, after having retraced the history of the ECI, she stated that “the ECI is a communicational instrument between people from different countries with different languages and cultures, who are aiming at the same objectives which will allow them to develop a common cross-border identity that could lead them to see themselves as more European, rather than simply, French, Polish, Swedish or Romanian”.

From the point of view of the European Parliament, Mr. Häfner, MEP, said that the question of democracy is the key element of the period we are living in: “the ECI is a first contribution towards achieving direct citizen’s participation in the formulation of European policy, highlighting the desires and problems of the European citizens. It is an incredibly important step towards Europe but it is also of worldwide interest and in the coming months, people will see if it succeeds, or not.” For him, the most difficult trap is the legal limitation of the ECI to the Commission’s competency, but without any possibility to amend the Treaty.

Nevertheless, for now the most important question raised during the Brainstorming exercise by Mr. Kaufman, was “how can we raise the consciousness of the majority of the citizens about this new right, in a way that would avoid that it becomes only a right of a wellinformed minority?” To tackle this question, various challenges were put forward regarding the actual process of implementation into national legislation: the verification of the signatures, the setting-up of an online system, etc. Mr. Jahier considered that we should apply the KISS rule to this new instrument: “keep it simple, stupid” in order to make it understandable to five hundred thousand citizens, speaking 23 different languages and involving 27 sovereign countries. These foreseen barriers, underline the fact that “the ECI will not change European policy in an instant, but it will represent an important development for the culture of democracy and political dialogue, in which the EESC has certainly a bridging role to play”, as Mr. Kaufmann said. For Mr. Häfner, considering that the whole task of the EESC is to give a European voice to civil society, the EESC could be a focal point

offering legal, technical and financial support to the potential ECI protagonists. Last but not least, he referred to the revision clause contained in the regulation, where the EESC could monitor the process, in order to highlight the successes and weaknesses of the implementation procedure, in the form of own-initiative opinions. Mrs. O’Neill, VicePresident of Group III, quoting Mrs. Sigmund’s opinions on the ECI, recalled the role of the EESC as a facilitator and a mentor. Nevertheless, she pointed out various needs: a balance between these two above-mentioned functions; clarity in the process for those who are involved in an ECI (both protagonists and the EU Institutions), and interaction between the EESC and the other EU institutions. She concluded by saying that “in order to have a legal eligibility and standing, we need to take a long-term view in relation to effectiveness, so there is a lot of planning, a lot of coalition building, a lot of advanced preparation, and a political understanding and analysis to make the best of any ECI”.

In conclusion, as the complete success of the ECI should be ensured, Mr. Jahier underlined the fact that “we, Group III and the EESC, must play a role as a focal point, as we are the house of civil society. In this sense, we need to assume the responsibility to construct a civil society infrastructure by developing networks, creating alliances and improving communication.” In order to achieve this, Mr. Jahier proposed to organise a special event: “A European Citizens’ Initiative Day” around the beginning of April 2012, in at least 7 different Member States, with the objective of marking the occasion of the definitive entering in force of the ECI regulation in all the 27 Member States of the European Union.

Further reading:

  • For more information about the meeting, click here.
  • The direct web link to the EESC’s manual on the ECI, click here.

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