Almost seven years after the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) was created, it has been agreed that if it isn't changed, it will soon be out of date. Brussels has been telling civil society organisers and European citizens for the past year that they want to make things better. There were bound to be problems along the way. But the process of reform and the common reform proposal shows that the Commission, the Council, and the Parliament want the ECI to move in the right direction.
First, the reform removes the many bureaucratic problems and technical flaws that users and NGOs have been complaining about. The Commission will take over the job of translating the texts of the proposed initiatives. Parts of initiatives can now be registered. Technical and legal requirements for collecting signatures will be streamlined and made more accessible, and organisers will be better protected against liability risks.
Second, the reform confirms the European Citizens' Initiative Forum, which is already in place and working. This is the online collaborative platform that helps citizens organise initiatives.
Third, the hearing process will be more extensive, and the European Parliament will have a more significant part. For example, it has changed its rules of procedure to ensure that successful projects will be discussed in public plenary sessions of Parliament. Overall, the reform will be a clear improvement, and people will have an easier time getting issues on the political agenda.
The ECI is slowly letting young people join.
Even though the ECI won't go as far as the Commission's proposal, it will be open to young people. Member states can lower the age from 18 to 16 if they want to. This small step might not seem like much, but it could make a big difference by getting more young people involved at the European level.
This is a good step forward. As we showed in our policy brief, if you want to make the European Union more friendly to citizens and reduce scepticism about the EU, you need to get more young people involved. EU polls show that young people are very committed to the idea of Europe. But the number of young people who vote in European elections has dropped sharply, which makes it even more important for the EU to deal with this problem. It's time for the Member States to do something.
Quo vadis EU participation?
More citizen participation, more youth participation... This reform could be the start of the EU becoming more open and thinking about new ways for citizens to get involved. In the end, a new "architecture of participation" may give EU citizens access to other ways to participate. In a time when nationalism is growing, they are needed.
Dr Dominik Hierlemann, Dr Christian Huesmann
Dominik Hierlemann is the head of the "Participation in Europe" project and a senior expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung. He teaches at the University of Konstanz in Germany about new ways for people to get involved.
The "Future of Democracy" programme at the Bertelsmann Stiftung is run by Christian Huesmann, who is in charge of projects.
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