The story of the ‘Fairosene’ European Citizens’ Initiative, or ‘Ending the Aviation Fuel Tax Exemption in Europe’, is one that we, as organisers, will always remember. It is the story of an idea dreamt up by seven students in their dormitories which ended up at the heart of the European Commission’s environmental policy. A story of a grassroot initiative that collected only 75,000 signatures but had its policy proposal included in the ‘Fit For 55’ legislative package of the European Commission which aims to make the Green Deal a reality.
Our goal was simple: to urge the European Commission to propose a tax on aviation fuel (kerosene) for domestic and intra-European flights, a policy aimed to end the lucrative fuel tax exemption that the most carbon-intensive mode of transport enjoys at the expense of more sustainable travel alternatives. We utilised the only participatory democracy instrument available at the disposal of European citizens, the European Citizens’ Initiative, which allows for awareness raising among various layers of civil society but also for lobbying policymakers.
"Our campaign started with no funds, no expectations, a nothing-to-lose attitude, and a thirst for learning how to better advocate for citizens’ needs and demands."
Now, after its successful conclusion, we hope that our adventure through the ECI inspires citizens all over the EU to act for what they believe in and to use this instrument, which can be impactful even when launched by a group of underfunded and underexperienced students
Fairosene representatives meeting Ursula von der Leyen
From the beginning of our preparation for the campaign, we knew that collecting 1 million signatures without proper funding, experience and a pre-existing network of organisations willing to push for the initiative, would be an extremely cumbersome task. For that reason and to try to maximise our impact, our strategy was to focus a large part of our efforts on lobbying policymakers from the EU institutions, simultaneously with raising awareness, collecting signatures, and overall advocacy. This decision proved pivotal for the progress of our ECI as, in the end, our lobbying campaign brought the topic of aviation pollution and jet fuel tax exemptions higher on the political agenda of the European Commission and was included in the 'Fit For 55' legislative package. In the process, we achieved many milestones and gained valuable experiences via actions such as our demonstration outside the European Parliament and meeting with MEPs and European political parties, a presentation before the European Parliament Committee on Petitions (PETI) and attending the intergovernmental conference on carbon pricing and aviation tax in the Hague, where Fairosene was the only civil society representative.
In our meetings with EU officials, our arguments about the importance of the proposed policy for European citizens and the environment were reinforced by the number of signatures we collected and the coalition of like-minded organisations that we created.
Advocacy is only successful when synergies are present.
So, we reached out to like-minded organisations and volunteers from our personal networks that allowed for our ECI to reach as many European countries as possible. We tried to widen the geographical spread of our initiative by reaching out to many umbrella organisations that have members in different countries with local connections and built online hubs of passionate volunteers that circulated the petition via word of mouth, both online and offline.
Fairosene representatives with volunteers in a climate march
Launching an unfunded campaign that spans across many EU Member States while trying to also balance university responsibilities was not an easy task. Throughout the span of the ECI, as organisers we had to sacrifice a lot of our free and leisure time to give the Initiative higher chances of success, but that sacrifice came easier than most, because it was met with passion. Indeed, the passion and sacrifice were rewarded when well-respected organisations that had been already working on the same topic for decades, agreed to cooperate with us and help us drive the policy proposal to the heart of the Commission. Additionally, the more traction our initiative gained online, the more young citizens from all over Europe were reaching out to us to form teams of volunteers in their countries and campaign on the local level to raise signatures. In this way,
despite the fact that we were campaigning against a very powerful industry, by the end of the campaign we had made substantially more friends than enemies.
The support that we received throughout our campaign from organisations, citizens and civil society overall was utterly unexpected and arguably the most positive experience from starting an ECI. Even though the campaign has ended, the links and connections that we formed with Brussels-based organisations and citizens all over the EU remain to this day as we still collaborate on many campaigns and actions that have followed since the end of the Fairosene ECI.
Fairosene representatives with volunteers in a climate march
As university students who started a pan-European campaign, it is no secret that our campaign was lacking substantial financial resources. However,
battles that are worth fighting for are almost never won with money.
They are won with determined people, and this is something our ECI was definitely not lacking. That is, in our opinion, the most important takeaway from the Fairosene ECI: people who were passionate enough to tackle an environmental issue, without having met before, without having financial resources, or abundant free time, came to work together and depended only on each other’s efforts and support to achieve their goal.
Fairosene representative in a climate march
In the end, that is what the ECI is for us: an instrument that serves as a platform for citizens from all over Europe to come together and fight side-by-side for problems and issues that are faced by all of us, regardless of our geographic location. From our experience,
spontaneity was another crucial factor for starting the ECI.
While on the one hand, preparing and mapping a campaign can be a decisive factor that contributes to its success, on the other hand the more you think about each step of the process and the more you wait to prepare everything to perfection, the more likely it is that you will be discouraged from the myriad of tasks that need to be performed before and during a campaign’s launch. A couple of months before we launched the campaign, no one of us knew that we would be spending the next one and a half years campaigning for a tax on kerosene. Or, in the words of J.A. Redmerski “I guess sometimes the greatest memories are made in the most unlikely of places, further proof that spontaneity is more rewarding than a meticulously planned life”.
A European Green Deal: https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en
Commission proposes transformation of EU economy and society to meet climate ambitions (Fit For 55): https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_3541
Proposal for a revision of the Energy Tax Directive:https://ec.europa.eu/info/files/revision-energy-tax-directive_en
Tassos Papachristou is the substitute representative of the ‘Ending the Aviation Fuel Tax Exemption in Europe’ (Fairosene) European Citizen’ Initiative’ and a Master’s student in European Public Affairs at Maastricht University. Fairosene won the Citizen Lobbyist of the Year 2019 Award by The Good Lobby and their policy proposal was included in the 'Fit For 55' legislative package of the European Commission in 2021. He is a campaigner for Clean Mobility in Generation Climate Europe (GCE).