Self-organised European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP. Has the EU heard its citizens’ voices?

Posted on 07. December 2015

by Simona Pronckute

simona-pronckuteThe citizens’ initiative is set out in Article 11(4) of the Treaty on the European Union.1 The European citizens’ initiative allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. Since the entry into force of the regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative on 1 April 2012, civil society organisations have criticised the many bureaucratic procedures ECI organisers are facing. Despite serious efforts of the European Parliament in 2015 to improve the ECI, many obstacles remain for the time being. Due to the very restrictive registration procedure used by the European Commission, nearly 40% of initiatives (20 of 53) were rejected. The usual reason for these rejections are related to the fact that the Commission has no competency to act. 33 European Citizens’ Initiatives were registered (16 registrations in 2012, 9 in 2013, 5 in 2014 and only 3 in 2015). 18 registered initiatives have reached the end of their collection period.2 Among the 33 officially registered European Citizens’ Initiatives, only ‘Right to Water’, ‘One of us’ and ‘Stop Vivisection’ have collected over one million signatures.

‘Stop TTIP’ is clearly one of the most controversial campaigns. Despite the rejection of the European Commission to register the campaign as an ECI, on 10 September 2014, the campaigners successfully use the label ‘self-organised’ ECI to promote their signature collection. The European Commission claimed that the initiative did not fall under the Commission’s competences to submit a proposal for a legal act of the EU.3 As a reaction the organisers decided to collect signatures outside of the legal framework of the ECI to put informal pressure on EU officials. The campaign was organised by ATTAC Germany and supported by a broad alliance consisting of the Greens4and more than 500 civil society organisations and trade unions from all over Europe.5 The proposed citizens’ initiative invited the Commission to submit a recommendation to the Council, repealing the earlier Council decision authorising the opening of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations.6 In one year, ‘Stop TTIP’ has collected more signatures than any other officially registered European Citizens’ Initiative so far – 3 284 289. All but five EU member states have reached their county quorum. Only in Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Malta7, – five out of 28 members states – it has not been reached.

This initiative could be considered as a one of the most successful citizens’ campaigns in terms of raising public awareness on European trade negotiations. The European Greens and one of the most important German NGOs in democracy promotion – Mehr Demokratie were behind this very well organised initiative.

Representatives of the initiative had an opportunity to meet Cecilia Malmström, the EU Commissioner for Trade. After the meeting she posted on her social media channels that they didn’t agree on much, but hopefully did have a better understanding of each other’s views.8 Nevertheless, Malmström also mentioned that the policy makers should listen to the citizens. As a self-organised initiative ‘Stop TTIP’ does not have any legal certainty; it depends on the Commission whether or not the initiative would be examined. Given the protests of the past few months, the European Commission should increase its efforts to listen to its citizens.

Activists of ‘Stop TTIP’ symbolically handed over the petition with over three million signatures to the European Commission.9 Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, has received the signatures as well. The alliance of supporting organisations perceived this as an important signal and as a great success.10 In my opinion, this symbolic involvement of the European Parliament might help restore faith in European Citizens Initiatives, and citizens’ trust in the EU and its political efficacy.

Finally, the initiative seems to be quite successful in the European public sphere and managed to raise awareness on the need for more transparency in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and TTIP negotiations in the EU.11 The citizens’ concerns about the transatlantic negotiations should get more attention from EU policy makers and the European Commission. The ‘Stop TTIP’ initiative has revealed a European civil society, but making citizens’ voices heard in the EU is still very challenging. Therefore, it is crucial to highlight the missing voice of civil society in the debate on the revision of the European Citizens Initiative. The EU should react to its citizens’ concerns and encourage more participatory democracy at the EU level. Regardless of the difficulties the official European Citizens’ Initiatives is facing, a self-organised citizens’ initiative could improve the ECI as a democratic tool.

Footnotes

1. European Commission, Legislative framework for the European citizens’ initiative
2. European Commission, Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council, Report on the application of Regulation (EU) No 211/2011 on the citizens’ initiative, Brussels, 31.3.2015, P. 3.
3. Aline Robert, Commission opposes European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP, EurActiv, 12.09.2014
4. Ibid.
5. Stop TTIP, Supporting organisations
6. European Commission, official website for the ECI
7. Stop TTIP, The ECI ressults in numbers
8.
9. EUobserver, ‘Stop TTIP’ activists hand EU 3mn signatures
10. Mehr Demokratie, Stop TTIP übergibt 3.284.289 Unterschriften
11. Interview with the representative of the civil society organisation based in Brussels, 22.04.2015