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First hearing of ECI successful – yet ECI not fully powerful

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The panel of the first ECI hearing on "Right2Water"

First hearing of ECI successful – yet ECI not fully powerful

18-02-2014

Democracy International, the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) and IRI Europe – all organisations that had worked hard for the inclusion of the ECI into the EU Treaties – positively assess the first public hearing of a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) and state that there is still room for improvement.

Yesterday afternoon the ECI “Water is a human right” - the first ECI ever that qualified for submission to the European Commission - had been the subject of exchange between the organisers of the initiative and representatives of the European Commission and European Parliament in the EU parliament in Brussels. EU legislation on the ECI procedure foresees such a public hearing but does not specify the actual format and procedure of the event.

Bruno Kaufmann, member of Democracy International and Director of IRI-Europe on behalf of the democracy organisations:  
"The hearing at the European Parliament yesterday was a milestone for direct democracy at EU level.  The right2water citizens’ initiative offered a new format of conversation which was impressive. The hearing was a fair interchange between citizens and institutions indeed, which we like to see much more of in the future. However, there is space for improvement when it comes to presenting causes more illustratively or including representatives from the European Council, who were absent yesterday. Also, it is a good question why the President of the European Commission, Manuel Barroso, was not there".

The session yesterday was attended by more than 400 people. Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič, responsible for the ECI, was present at the meeting as well as high-ranking civil servants of the EU’s executive body in charge of the development, internal market and environment portfolio. At the end of the hearing, the representatives of the European Commission did not commit to realising the overall objective of the ECI (No to privatisation of water). Instead, Maroš Šefčovič promised to include all issues raised into the communication, which the European Commission needs to issue by 20 March 2014.

"The European Citizens Initiative is the very first tool of direct democracy at transnational level. As the hearing showed, the ECI’s strongest options lie within the communicative realm of agenda setting, while all decision-making aspects are still outside its reach. This purely consultative aspect profoundly weakens the whole chain of practical use and should be addressed openly”, states Bruno Kaufmann.

Democracy International, ECAS and IRI Europe demand to make the European Citizens’ Initiative a legally-binding instrument of direct democracy. So far, the European Commission has the leeway to decide whether to accept the citizen-initiated law proposal or not for the EU decision-making procedure. This final decision-making power of the European Commission could be observed by the rather vague final statements by the representatives of the EU’s executive body yesterday.

Please note: This press release was jointly issued by Democracy International, the European Citizen Action Service and the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe. These civil society organisations have joined up for the ECI support centre, a common initiative to provide independent information and to give first-hand advice on how to organise and implement an ECI. 

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