One of the most fundamental factors in advancing transnational democracy is to ensure citizens have the opportunity to influence decision-making. However, opportunity means equaling the playing field for the users of democratic instruments so that individuals have a real possibility to mobilise people and have an impact. Considering the complexities of transnational democracy in terms of diverse languages, cultures, and even rules, it is critical that individuals have access to support tools and services. We zoomed in on the support infrastructure of the European Citizens’ Initiative as the world’s first and only tool of transnational democracy!
At a workshop at Democracy International’s Global Forum on Modern Direct Democracy, which is the biggest conference in the world on direct democracy and was held in 2022 in Lucerne, Switzerland, we aimed to understand and identify campaigner challenges, while reviewing how the support tools of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) meet the real-life challenges of the campaigners.
A presentation by Tony Venables, organiser for the European Citizens’ Initiative Voters Without Borders, gave insight into the inner working of the instrument from the perspective of an organiser and offered suggestions for further strengthening the support to organisers. Given the extension of the signature collection for ECIs affected by the Covid pandemic, Voters without Borders was able to share the challenges faced during their nearly two years of ECI signature gathering. His experiences mirror those commonly heard by ECI organisers.
Firstly, financial burdens of sustaining a 1+ year-long campaign is commonly felt by ECIs who have limited resources. The financial burdens mean that there are limitations in strengthening and establishing necessary campaign factors, e.g. human resources and permanent staff, communications materials and content, implementation of outreach strategy, and ensuring consistency. Consistency, in particular, is critical for an ECI considering that about at least 2800 signatures a day for one year (or 115 signatures/hour) will be needed to reach one million. Without considerable resources, including sustainable financial resources, it is difficult to meet consistency.
Secondly, Tony Venables reiterated that a major problem ECIs face is the low public awareness of the ECI. Organisers are tasked with the dual-task of communicating their ECI topic, while simultaneously communicating the ECI instrument to gain trust of signatories to provide their personal data.
He also pointed to a possible reason behind the success of some initiatives. Considering initiatives related to animal welfare or biodiversity are among the most successful recent initiatives, such as End the Cage Age, Stop Finning, and Save Bees and Farmers, the case was made that initiatives triggering an emotional response are more likely to be successful than those initiatives related to constitutional, procedural, or electoral issues.
Daniela Vancic, the Democracy International European Programme Manager and moderator of the workshop, presented the support tools currently available to organisers and how they can offset the aforementioned challenges.
Given that there has been an increase of successful initiatives in recent years as well as a surge in the number of registered and successful initiatives, the success stories in the ECI Forum allows the opportunity to review more case studies on best practices and lessons learned. These case studies are highlighted in the ECI Forum, which offers additional learning materials, such as how to build a network and find partners and how to raise funds, which address many of the issues raised by the campaigner.
For a more tailored approach, the Forum also provides a service of offering custom legal, campaigning, or fundraising advice to organisers. The Connect feature of the ECI Forum also allows users to connect and get in touch with each other, potentially finding new partners for the campaign on various topics. Regarding the low awareness of the ECI, the moderator recognised that greater overall awareness of the instrument would help individual ECIs as well, but recognised that the #EUTakeTheInitiative public awareness campaign has helped in reaching new corners of Europe and helped further communicate and educate what the ECI is.
In identifying how participants would address the challenges faced by campaigners, the participants suggested and focused on systemic or regulatory proposals of how to address the challenges. Some of their suggestions included expanding the criteria of signing an ECI in order to reach a larger pool of potential supporters, such as lowering the age of signing or allowing EU residents to sign an ECI, improving the ECI cross-connection to other instruments or processes, and the creation of a centralised and attractive platform to showcase and sign all active ECIs.
Participants also noted that with the substantial funding the EU invests in research, the EU should dedicate more funding to research on the ECI. All participants agreed that there is a democratic right to information and therefore education to citizens about the instrument of the European Citizens’ Initiative, is critical for the EU to carry out.
The information gained will help those consulting ECIs, like Daniela, better predict obstacles and challenges that ECIs could face . Overall, participants were pleased about the practical tools gained from the workshop and were eager to get the ball rolling on their own potential ECI.
Has the ECI’s support infrastructure helped you in your campaign? Where do you think the ECI’s supports tools can be strengthened to better meet campaigner challenges?
Please let us know by commenting below, or make your proposal on the Discuss Page of this Forum.
Have questions about running a succesful ECI campaign? Ask us in the Seek Advice section of the Forum!
Find more information about successful ECIs here
Obakeng Kamela is an accounting student from South Africa. He is currently the European Programme Aide at Democracy International under the Weltwärts Program of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. He defines himself as an Afro, Gender, and Queer activist with an interest in policy development.
- Good practices
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