The Union's founding principles
Title VI of the first Part of the Constitution (Articles I-45 to I-52) contains
provisions on the "Democratic life" of the Union. This title comprises eight articles
on, respectively, representative democracy, participatory democracy, transparency,
access to documents, protection of personal data, the European Ombudsman, and the
role of the social partners and the churches.
This title should be read in conjunction with Article I-10 on European citizenship, Articles II-99 to II-106 relating to the Charter of Fundamental Rights , which restate all the rights associated with European citizenship, and Articles III-125 to III-129, which also deal with this subject.
The Constitution reaffirms the rights associated with European citizenship and defines, for the first time, the democratic foundations of the Union. These are based on three principles: those of democratic equality, representative democracy and participatory democracy. Finally, Title VI also brings together certain provisions that were previously scattered throughout the Treaties, including those on transparency, access to documents and the role of the European Ombudsman.
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The rights arising from citizenship of the Union are now set out, in unchanged form, in Article I-10:
- the right to move and reside freely;
- the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections;
- the right to enjoy diplomatic and consular protection;
- the right to petition the Parliament and to apply to the European Ombudsman;
- the right to write to the Union's institutions and advisory bodies in any of the Constitution's languages and to obtain a reply in the same language.
Article I-10 also states that citizenship of the Union is additional to national citizenship and does not replace it.
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The inclusion in the text of the principles of democratic equality and representative democracy does not confer new rights on European citizens but confirms principles corresponding to the spirit of the Treaties. Thus, citizens are directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament. In addition, national governments which send their representatives to the European Council and the Council of Ministers are accountable to national parliaments, which are themselves elected by European citizens.
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Participatory democracy becomes one of the principles on which the working of
the Union is founded.
The main innovation in this area is the inclusion of a right of citizens' initiative. Article I-47 stipulates that a petition with at least one million signatures obtained from a number of Member States may be sent to the Commission inviting it to take a legislative initiative, provided the latter is compatible with the Constitution and, in particular, with the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This citizens' initiative does not affect the right of initiative of the Commission, which is itself free to decide whether or not to respond to the request to present a proposal.
Nevertheless, it is a major innovation which means that, for the first time, the idea of participatory democracy has been brought into the European political arena. It gives those European citizens who complain about the "democratic deficit in Europe" a means of directly making their voices heard. This innovation goes hand in hand with the efforts to clarify the distribution of competences and to simplify legal instruments, whose ultimate purpose is to bring citizens closer to the Community institutions.
The concept of participatory democracy embraces other important aspects. The same article also requires the institutions to maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society, and to carry out broad consultations with parties concerned.
Apart from Article I-47, the Title on democratic life brings together a number of provisions that are currently scattered throughout the treaties and which are either reproduced in full or extended:
- The principle of proximity ("decisions shall be taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen"), and the role of European political parties and of the European Ombudsman, are set out in unchanged form in Articles I-46 and I-49 respectively;
- As regards transparency of the proceedings of the institutions, Article I-50 clearly requires the Parliament and also the Council of Ministers to meet in public when considering and voting on a draft legislative act. The same article extends the right of access to documents of the Union bodies and agencies, whereas the equivalent article in the EC Treaty specifically referred to Parliament, Commission and Council documents only;
- Finally, Article I-51, which deals with protection of personal data, reproduces
the content of the equivalent article in the EC Treaty (Article 286) and also includes
provisions taken from Directive No 95/46/EC on the protection of individuals with
regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data.
The role of the social partners and of the churches is set out, for the first
time, in the Constitution.
Article I-48 states that the European Union recognises and promotes the role of the social partners, facilitating dialogue between them and respecting their autonomy. It also reiterates the role of the Tripartite Social Summit for Growth and Employment in contributing to social dialogue.
Article I-52 reproduces and extends the provisions of the "Declaration on the status of churches and non-confessional organisations" adopted by the intergovernmental conference that resulted in the Treaty of Amsterdam. The Constitution officially recognises the identity and specific contributions of churches and religious associations as well as those of philosophical and non-confessional organisations, and advocates an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations.
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|I-45 to I-52 (Title VI)||The democratic life of the Union||New rules
|I-47||Participatory democracy (right of citizens' initiative)|
|I-48||The role of the social partners|
|I-50||Transparency of the proceedings of the institutions||Major changes|
|I-51||Protection of personal data||-|
|I-52||Churches and non-confessional organisations||New rules|
|II-99 to II-106||Charter of Fundamental Rights (title on citizenship)||-|
|III-125 to III-129||Citizenship|
These factsheets are not legally binding on the European Commission. They do not claim to be exhaustive and do not represent an official interpretation of the text of the Convention.