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Litmus test for European Democracy next Monday

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Litmus test for European Democracy next Monday

13-02-2014

The first public hearing of a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) will take place in the European Parliament next Monday, 17 February 2014. On this occasion the ECI “Water is a human right” – the first ECI ever that qualified for submission to the European Commission - will be the subject of exchange between the organisers of the initiative and representatives of the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The hearing on Monday will be a litmus test for the actual, impacting success of the European Citizens’ Initiative, which is the first agenda-setting instrument for citizens at transnational level in history. This is because EU legislation on the ECI does not provide any specific rules on the actual procedure of the hearing. Also, the ECI is a non-binding instrument giving the European Commission the leeway to decide whether to accept the citizen-initiated law proposal or not. The actual format and the outcome of the hearing on Monday therefore will be a decisive milestone for the future of the European Citizens’ Initiative. Overall, it will show to citizens how worthwhile it is to go through the effort of drafting a law proposal and collecting one million signatures, which are required to submit the proposal to the European Commission. And in particular, the hearing will tell about the prospects of success of the ECI “Water is a human right”. More than 1,8 million EU citizens had signed the ECI, which aims at maintaining water as a public good instead of making it subject to the European Union’s ‘internal market rules’.

For advocates of modern direct democracy in the EU, the public hearing on Monday will be a key moment to assess the hearing and to come up with points for improvement in order to make the European Citizens’ Initiative a citizen-friendly and effective tool of direct democracy in the EU. In view of the upcoming revision of the ECI legislation in 2015 this assessment is to be used for political advocacy.  

Democracy International, the Initiative and Referendum Institute (IRI Europe) and the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) – all organisations that worked hard for the inclusion of the ECI into the EU Treaties - will be present at the public hearing. We will analyse the public hearing in terms of public access, public awareness and its democratic sustainability.

Exact Timing and Live Streaming

The public hearing will be held on Monday, 17 February 2014 from 3.00 - 6.30 pm. It will be live streamed by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ep-live/de/committees

If you wish to interview a representative of Democracy International, ECAS or IRI Europe before or after the hearing, please contact Cora Pfafferott at 0049/ 176 954 373 79 (GSM).

Background: The European Citizens’ Initiative in practice

The European Citizens’ Initiative requires one million signatures from at least seven EU countries in proportion to their size of population in order to be handed over to the European Commission. In practice since first April 2012, more than 40 ECIs were filed with the European Commission: 17 were refused as they dealt with issues outside the competencies of the Commission, 6 were withdrawn by the organisers and 5 failed to reached the required one million signatures threshold. Another seven initiatives haven been concluded, while five still are gathering support across Europe. Three initiatives have reportedly managed to gather enough support (“Water is a human right”, “Stop Vivisection” and “One of Us”). The ECI “Water is a human right” is the first ECI that qualified for a public hearing with 1.65 million valid signatures. This ECI will be subject of the public hearing on Monday. The final decision by the European Commission whether to accept the law proposal is due by 20 March 2014.

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

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