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The strengthening of European democracy

INTRODUCTION

The Treaty of Lisbon puts the citizen back at the heart of the European Union (EU) and its institutions. It aims to revive the citizen’s interest in the EU and its achievements, which sometimes appear too remote. One objective of the Treaty of Lisbon is to promote European democracy which offers citizens the opportunity to take an interest in and participate in the functioning and development of the EU.

Such an objective necessarily depends on better recognition of European citizenship in the founding Treaties of the EU. The Treaty of Lisbon also endeavours to simplify and clarify the functioning of the Union in order to make it more understandable, and therefore more accessible to citizens. Finally, the Treaty of Lisbon strengthens the representation and participation of the citizen in the European process. The creation of a citizens’ initiative is one of the main innovations.

BETTER RECOGNITION OF CITIZENS IN THE TREATIES

The Treaty of Lisbon introduces a new article in which it fully recognises European citizenship. Article 10 of the Treaty on EU provides that citizens are directly represented at institutional level by the European Parliament. The article adds that this representative democracy is one of the foundations of the EU. Such recognition does not give citizens new rights but it does have strong symbolic value in that it enshrines the principle of European citizenship in the founding Treaties.

Article 10 also establishes a principle of proximity which provides that decisions must be taken as closely as possible to the citizens. This principle applies especially in the implementation of competences within the EU. This implementation should involve national and local administrations as effectively as possible, so as to bring the EU closer to its citizens.

A EUROPEAN UNION MORE ACCESSIBLE TO CITIZENS

The EU has often dismissed the image of a body with a complex structure and procedures. The Treaty of Lisbon clarifies the functioning of the EU in order to improve citizens’ understanding of it. The vast numbers of legislative procedures are now giving way to a standard procedure and special legislative procedures detailed on a case by case basis. Similarly, the old pillar structure has been abolished in favour of a clear and precise division of competences within the EU.

In the same context, the Treaty of Lisbon improves the transparency of work within the EU. It extends to the Council the principle of public conduct of proceedings, which is already applied within the European Parliament. Moreover, this greater transparency will result in better information for citizens about the content of legislative proceedings.

STRONGER REPRESENTATION AT INSTITUTIONAL LEVEL

The Treaty of Lisbon greatly strengthens the powers of the European Parliament (see European Parliament). The most significant changes include:

  • the strengthening of legislative power: the ordinary legislative procedure, in which the Parliament has the same powers as the Council, is extended to new policy areas;
  • a greater role at international level: the Parliament shall approve international agreements in the fields covered by the ordinary legislative procedure;
  • the strengthening of budgetary power: the Parliament is henceforth placed on an equal footing with the Council in the procedure for adopting the EU’s annual budget.

Moreover, the Treaty of Lisbon enhances the role of national parliaments in the EU (see national parliaments). The latter are also able to defend the views of citizens within the EU. More specifically, national parliaments must henceforth ensure the proper application of the principle of subsidiarity. In this respect, they are able to intervene in the ordinary legislative procedure and have a right of referral to the Court of Justice of the EU.

GREATER PARTICIPATION OF CITIZENS IN THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS

The Treaty of Lisbon establishes a right of citizens’ initiative for the first time, introduced by Article 11 of the Treaty on EU: not less than one million European nationals may invite the Commission to submit a proposal on a specific matter. This provision expresses the EU’s wish to involve its citizens in European projects and in the taking of decisions that concern them.

Such a right is subject to several conditions. The minimum threshold of one million citizens may seem high at first sight. However, it is relatively easy to achieve in a European population approaching half a billion inhabitants and through the use of new communications technologies. Article 11 also provides that the signatory citizens should come from a significant number of Member States, in order to avoid the defence of essentially national interests.

Moreover, the right of citizens’ initiative does not take away the initiative monopoly of the European Commission. The latter remains free to act, or not to act, on the initiative proposed by European citizens. If the initiative gives rise to a legislative proposal, the act will be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure or a special legislative procedure.

Last updated: 26.03.2010
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