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Vice-President of the European Commission - Responsible for "Interinstitutional Relations and Administration
"Treaty of Lisbon: Implementation and Citizens' Initiative"
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Foro de la Nueva Economía
Madrid, 31 May 2010
The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1st December 2009 and I am very glad that the Commission can already point to an impressive "track record" concerning the implementation of the Treaty.
In the short period since the entry into force of the Treaty and despite the prolonged care-taker period, the Commission has fully assumed its responsibility and cooperated very well with the other institutions. Notably cooperation with the Spanish presidency of the Council – for which the implementation of the Treaty is also a top priority – has been excellent.
In these few months, the Commission has already adopted a number of important proposals: for example, the draft negotiating mandate for the Union's accession to the European Convention on Human Rights; or proposals linked to the Treaty's budgetary aspects, including in view of setting-up the European External Action Service.
To come to the specific issue at hand, the Commission presented also a proposal on an important element introduced by the Treaty of Lisbon: the European Citizens' Initiative. I'll now take you through the main elements of this proposal, and I'll try to sketch out its implications for the how the EU will work in the future.
The Citizens' Initiative is an important innovation in the democratic functioning of the Union whereby one million citizens may invite the Commission to bring forward legislative proposals.
This is a completely new element in the EU's decision-making architecture: for the first time, EU treaties include an instrument of participatory democracy, as an additional layer to the one of representative democracy (represented by the EP and by National parliaments).
Citizens can invite the Commission to take action on any issue that falls within the remit of the Commission’s competence to implement the Treaties. This covers areas as diverse and important as consumer protection, environmental standards or working conditions – just to name a few.
With their initiative, citizens can invite EU decision-makers to address certain problems and thus contribute directly to improving EU governance. By indicating where they consider common action to be of ‘value added,’ they can raise political pressure for action.
The citizens’ initiative will thus not only be an additional means to engage citizens and civil society in the EU policy process, but also opens new avenues for a common European debate across linguistic and cultural boundaries. From Ireland to Bulgaria and from Finland to Portugal, European citizens will be able to suggest concrete action on issues that are of direct concern for them.
Given the importance of this new instrument to citizens and the issues it raises, the Commission launched a very extensive consultation process before coming with a legislative proposal.
One of the key messages that came across is that stakeholders want this tool to be truly at the service of citizens. They want it to be simple, understandable and most of all easy to use.
Our proposal therefore draws on the outcome of the consultation. The guiding principles on which it is based are as follows:
First, we must ensure that initiatives are sufficiently representative of a Union interest.
Then, the procedures should be simple and user-friendly, whilst preventing fraud or abuse of the system.
The key elements of the proposal are as follows:
The minimum number of Member States from which citizens supporting an initiative must come should be set at one third of Member States (i.e. 9 countries out of 27). To ensure true European representativeness, there should also be a required minimum number of citizens per country.
The minimum age to be able to support a citizens' initiative should be set as the age to vote in the European Parliament elections;
You should be able to sign for an initiative on the street or on-line, without restrictions.
The legal admissibility of an initiative is to be decided by the Commission once 300.000 statements of support coming from 3 Member States have been collected.
Member States should be responsible for verifying the validity of statements of support collected from citizens.
At the end of the process, and within a period of four months, the Commission should say how it intends to follow it up.
I believe that the Commission proposal represents the right balance between the need to avoid abuse on the one hand, and the objective of promoting citizen's participation in the EU's political life. I hope this delicate equilibrium will be preserved in the legislation ultimately adopted by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
From the first, the Commission has been determined to work quickly to make a reality of what the Lisbon Treaty offers for Europe – a more democratic and more efficient EU.
The Citizen's Initiative is a symbolic example: this instrument brings citizens as new players in the EU's institutional scene. It has high political significance, as it represents a genuine step forward for democracy within the European Union.
It is difficult to predict the implications of Citizen's initiative. What we know so far is that it has already raised an enormous interest in political circles but also on the public at large; also, the possibility of online signatures facilitate immensely the collection of the necessary support; finally, we already see in the media that projects for Citizen's initiative are already being floated.
Bearing all this in mind, my best judgement is that the Citizen's initiative will be widely used and will have a strong mobilisation capacity.
We shall see what will be its political impact, but I hope that what I have outlined today shows that we in the Commission clearly want it to be a major advance in the way citizens can relate, access and participate in the EU.