In the lead up to the mini conference next week on democratic participation in the EU which I blogged last month, I was asked to contribute an idea for pre-conference discussion: a short proposal for “democratising the EU via citizen participation”.
My proposal focusses on what I know (the ECI) and is as follows:
A minimal proposal for democratising the EU via citizen participation
There is plenty of “democracy” in the EU’s institutions, if you look: from direct elections to the European Parliament, to national government representation in the Council of Ministers, and the option of direct participation by citizens in agenda setting via the ECI. The problem is that the institutions are not visibly delivering democratic accountability (or effective governance).
How could citizen participation solve the problem? To start with, I think it has to be acknowledged that direct democracy at the EU level is not an option – only a small minority of citizens will ever engage with single issues and the process is too open to manipulation.
On the other hand, for various reasons, the Commission has failed to make the ECI an effective process.
My proposals would be then: first simplify the ECI process and requirements by for example removing the checks on ECIs which are “manifestly against the values of the Union” [this term is far too judgmental for a bureaucrat], and allow ECIs to propose changes to Treaties [why not: it’s difficult to do, but should not be impossible to propose].
Second, create a single (or federated), secure, auditable EU-wide system open to all who wish to run an ECI which captures and encrypts minimal data on the signatories.
Finally: let the Parliament be responsible for the ECI process, not the Commission. Successful ECI proposals would be debated on the floor of the Parliament, and if accepted, require an administrative response from the Commission, or be adapted into a proposed EU law. This perhaps would go some way to creating a pan-EU polity and to strengthen the most democratic institution of the EU.
I thought I would restrict myself to a simple proposal to make the ECI work a bit better. I will leave the imaginative and revolutionary ideas to others.
My proposal is picking up on themes I’d worried about back in 2010 and 2011 while the rules were being drafted:
- The complexities of the proposed system: there are unnecessary steps built into the system which serve as opportunities for the EC (perhaps for the best of reasons) to block an ECI, frustrating the citizens who have made the effort to get involved.
- Badly thought through systems and verification processes – see my thoughts on secure storage of signatures and sample based verification.