On 20 May 2021, the second of 10 national events spreading awareness about the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) took place online. The event looked at the role of the ECI in Denmark and how it can impact the lives of citizens. The ECI is a unique instrument in the democratic functioning of the EU.
Looking beyond local
Our moderator, Rasmus Nørlem Sørensen, kicked off the event by warmly welcoming all the participants and introducing the discussion panel.
The event was divided into two sections, the opening panel discussion on the value of the ECI, both nationally and at EU level, and the second section heard from two ECI organisers to gain insight into their ongoing campaigns, what their experience has been like and what advice they have for those thinking of undertaking the ECI journey.
The panel jumped right into the discussion by tackling the question of what is the value of the ECI in Denmark? Pernille Brandt from the European Commission Representation in Denmark, explained that participatory democracy is close to the European Commission’s (EC) heart and that the ECI plays an important role in the process. "Participatory democracy is no stranger to Denmark. The Danish citizens are well used to exercising their rights and have consistently high turnout when it comes to flexing their democratic muscles".
In order to gauge the participant's knowledge of the ECI, a quick poll was conducted. Adriana-Nicoleta Mungiu Pătrașcu from the ECI team of the European Commission explained some key features of the ECI which allows citizens to get involved in the political landscape and acts as a mechanism that compliments representative democracy. In saying that, its scope is limited to the competencies of the EC, although that is quite a sizable scope! All initiatives that reach the required thresholds are thoroughly examined by the European Commission, and the College of Commissioners agrees on the official reply to these initiatives. There are also multiple examples of initiatives whose aims have been reflected in EU policies even if they hadn’t reached the 1 million signatures.
Kirstine Chege representing the ECI national contact point in Denmark referred to the similar tool available at national level where 10.000 signatures are required to initiate the process; more information can be found here.
Regarding Danish citizens’ involvement, Salis Harrebye, Head of studies and Associate professor at Global studies at Roskilde University in Denmark, elaborated on why people should take an interest in the ECI process. He explained that it gives each citizen the ability to play a larger part in the political process. In Denmark, democratic involvement is high, and not just at elections. It is because there is a high level of trust within Denmark. There is the likelihood that more Danish ECIs will be presented, however, the journey is not easy. A person who is active and puts a lot of work into the process, but does not see a successful conclusion, may feel let down. It is important to understand why it may have failed, use those lessons learned for the next and, if possible, support other ECIs. Most importantly, never give up. Your voice, and passion, is important!
So, how can the ECI be promoted across the EU? Flavio Grazian, Participatory Democracy Manager at ECAS, gave a very insightful overview of the ECI Forum and how organisers can use it to learn about ECIs and the process behind them. It is also a place where organisers can get advice from former initiative leaders.
The ECI from an organiser’s point of view
The “Stop Global Warming Movement” is an initiative that aims to put a price on CO2 emissions to combat climate change. Adam Oliver gave an overview of the initiative and how he believes it can have a positive impact on the lives of EU citizens. He acknowledged that the process, while difficult, is worth it. Action on climate change is needed, and it is needed urgently. Adam believes that the best way to raise awareness of this is through the ECI process. As it operates on an EU level, "it is an opportunity to connect communities from accros Europe. We are all in this together and such connections enable the initiative to construct a science-based approach to the crisis". The revenues collected through the initiative would enable a transition to a greener and sustainable climate future. Adam’s ECI is gaining support throughout Europe, and if you want to find out more, or support it, you can follow this link!
Ella Jakubowska, who is an organiser at the “Reclaim your Face” initiative, outlined how it aims to stop the use of biometric mass surveillance throughout Europe. Ella believes that Denmark provides examples as to why the current laws are not enough to protect people’s rights. There are quite a few loopholes regarding GDPR, within Denmark, that are being exploited by large corporations and in some cases, the police, to facilitate the use of biometric surveillance. This, in Ella’s belief, needs to stop and as a result, she has set out to make this initiative a success. If you want to find out more about Reclaim your Face, just follow this link!
Both Adam and Ella agreed that it is important to spread awareness of the ECI programme across the EU. Through their research, they found that it was not widely known, so hopefully, this issue can be addressed. A lot of people do not know about their right to sign an ECI, so beyond collecting signatures, it is on organisers to help raise awareness as they go, explain how it can benefit citizens and how their voices are vital to the movement.
The future of the ECI?
What are your thoughts on this, and the ECI as a whole? Do you feel it can make a difference in your life? Is it something that sparks an interest in you? If so, why not join the next event and learn more about this unique tool available to all EU citizens.