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Home arrow newsitems arrow Citizens Initiative:EU for EuroFora Debate idea Commissioner Cefcovic+Rapporteur Lamassoure tell us

Citizens Initiative:EU for EuroFora Debate idea Commissioner Cefcovic+Rapporteur Lamassoure tell us

Written by ACM
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
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A whole New Dimension may be developed in EU Citizens relations vis a vis EU Institutions by the way that will be forged a brand new component added at the last minute in EU Citizens Initiatives, introduced by EU's Lisbon Treaty, consisting into adding a Public EU Debate, according to an "EuroFora"'s idea accepted by EU Parliament, Commission and Council's compromise on the Draft Rules fixing its overall procedure, which were adopted by MEPs this week in Strasbourg, EU Rapporteur Alain Lamassoure and EU Commissioner Mario Cefcovic told us.

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This opening towards EU Institutions' Public Debates triggered by EU Citizens and with their participation, had been repeatedly suggested by "EuroFora" many Months earlier, when nobody spoke yet about such a possibility, during our contacts both with key MEPs and EU Commission Officials between at least April and November 2010.

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- "On (EU) Citizens' initiative : Each one,....  if it reaches the 1 Million Signatures, and if it has passed the original Admissibility test, will be guaranteed the chance to have a Public Hearing, and  this will be always arranged in the European Parliament, and it will be the (EU) Commission and the Parliament together who will be organizing it" together, confirmed from the outset EU Parliament's Press Officer Hana Kaganaru (former Press Attaché for Finland's President Tarja Halonen, famous also for her Scandinavian "transparency" pledge).

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- This all boils down to the fact that "Now, we can tell them (to EU Citizens), that, whatever might happen, you shall have, at least, a Right for a Debate in EU Parliament"  (together with EU Commission and EU Council's representatives), stressed in a crystal-clear manner, after the adoption of his Report by the Constitutional Committee, EU Parliament's main Rapporteur, experienced French MEP Alain Lamassoure, former EU affairs Minister and current President of Budget's Committtee, speaking to "EuroFora".

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- For that new purpose, EU Parliament will have to change its own Rules in 2011, and not only the EU Member States and EU Commission, he added. At any case Parliament will be always involved. "The Hearings will be held inside EU Parliament, according the issue raised by each ECI : F. ex. if its on Natural Environment, it's normal for the Environment Committee to be involved. If it's on Foreign Policy, it's for the Foreign affairs Committee to act. If it's about EU Budgets, it's for the Budget Committee to act, and so on". The best is to leave it up to the President of each Commission responsible for the domain concerned by EU Citizens' initiative. Petitions' Committee might, eventually, be added in a kind of Joint Debate, told us Lamassoure, who is also Chairman of EU Parliament's Budget Committee.. This was later agreed also by MEP Haefner (from the "Greens"), speaking to "EuroFora".
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    - "The Test, for me, the Measure for the Success of the ECI, will be when (EU) Citizens who are Not-Organized today, will take over this procedure in order to make their Voice heard", Lamassoure stressed afterwards from the outset of a Press Conference with all other EU actors involved.

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    - "Obviously, once this tool created, this very fact will create a big stimulus". "NGOs and Political Parties, some of which have already started to prepare ECI, will rush to take over, and, probably, the first real-fake "Citizens' Initiatives" will come from them".


    - "But the Main Beneficiary, the Main Target, of this EU Citizens' Initiative, are the Citizens who are too dispersed throughout all the EU in order to constitute a Lobby, a Political Elections' Pressure Group, and, either have Expectations from Europe, or they are complaining against the EU, or they find Lacunas in the Issues with which EU is dealing" : It's to them that we mainly aim "to give them a Tool to Directly raise the issues vis a vis those who decide inside the EU" in Brussels, i.e. the Commission, since the Commission, in its eminent Sovereignity, decides when and what Draft Document should be put at the Table" for Law-making, as he observed.


     - "Obviously, we'll be helped, in this task, by Internet and all those  kinds of Social Networks, which allow, via New Communication Technologies, for those People who couldn't meet together in the Past, to start doing so", he concluded, (citting a main point of "EuroFora"s co-Founder's pioneer collective project "Europe in the World : EIW" which was officially presented to EU Commission as ealy as since 1997, i.e. when the Internet still was only at starting to be introduced in Europe)..
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 - Speaking at EU Parliament's Press Conference, "EuroFora" made it clear from the outset that our Questions "concern, not the usual, (pre-established) Lobbies, that are obviously welcome and useful in the Political Game in Europe, but, preferably, (as EU Rapporteur Lamassoure had earlier mentioned), the Masses, the greatest Number of People who have not been engaged in EU Debates up to now, and who had, as it's well known, abstained in Majority since 1999 (EU Elections), more and more, also in 2004, even if it was a little better, or (more precisely) less worse in 2009", and/or voted "No" in the 2005-2007 EuroReferenda in France, Netherlands and Ireland.


- "Even if there was an Effort to Simplify" the Procedure of EU Citizens' Initiative, (compared to its initial, March 2010 Draft), there are, still some points, which are not so obvious to prepare", we also observed.


=> Therefore, "EuroFora" asked if, "in the Practical aspects" of the Procedure for Citizens' Initiative, at least these People "might have any kind of Help, ..in the everyday contacts with EU Commission and Parliament, in order to Facilitate the Beginning of this kind of Initiatives ? This would be very important", we stressed.


+ But, "EuroFora" went on to raise also what could be "the most Substantial Question" about the EU "Citizens Intiative", as it stands now :

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- "We have a Feeling, somehow, that the only thing that might be guaranteed,  if everything is OK, would be a Hearing, which is a Good Initiative, because People would be able to speak and debate with the (EU) Commission and the Parliament, and that's very Welcome". Thus, their proposal "might be, eventually, integrated in another way, in the work of the Parliament, of the Commission, in the EU" in general. "We have the feeling that this is the only thing that's more or less guaranteed, if  conditions are met, because, as (EU) Commissioner Sefcovic said, if there is something "Too Controversial", or something at the Borderlines, etc., it might not go in as a Legislative proposal", "EuroFora" observed.

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-  "In this direction, which is a New one, but exists now in the Draft (Rules for ECI) that you have agreed (MEPs, Commissioners and Governments),  do you believe that by Enlarging this kind of process, it might become a New way to revitalize the contacts (relations) between EU Citizens and Institutions, in a way which was, perhaps, not (clearly) thought (expected) at the beginning, when the (Lisbon EU) Treaty was prepared ?", "EuroFora" asked.
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 - EU Commission's vice-President Mario Sefcovic, in "Reply to that (substantial) part of the ('EuroFora"'s) Question :  (i.e.) if I believe that this (ECI) would re-Energize EU Debate in Europe ?", stressed that he "clearly believe(s) so" :

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- "I'm sure that the First Subjects for ECI will be Subjects which mobilize the Civic Society, and very often the Young People as well. And I hope that this will help us also to get more of the EU Topics to the National Capitals. And, by then, I believe, that we'd have also (a Majority of Citizens' Participating in) EU Parliament's re-Election next time, as You referred in Your ("EuroFora"'s : Comp. supra) Question. So, then, I really hope that we'll see in the (Electoral) Campaign much more European Topics than we did before, (NDLR : with the Big Exception, naturally, of France, Germany, the UK, Netherlands, Bulgaria, etc., where the "No to Turkey's EU Accession bid" notoriously boosted a strong Voters' support for all those Political Parties which campained on this EU Topic in the 2009 EU Elections)


- "And I hope that this Instrument to steer the European Debate will definitively provide a wide European Political Space", (in the sense of nearby Frankfurt School's  Jurgen Habermas' concept of "Offentlichkeit"), "and bring these EU topics more into light and more in the perspective of the Daily Life of EU Citizens", EU Commission's vice-President concluded in his Positive reply to "EuroFora"s main Question, (No 2 : See supra).


- Also, "I believe that through these Initiatives we'll engage much more with the Young Generation, because they are very Good with the (World-wide) Internet Communication, and with the (USA-monitored) Facebook, the Twitter, and all these Social Networks which will be at the disposal of the Organizers of this ECI in order to collect the Signatures", Sefcovic added.

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+ But, moreover, "I think that it's not just the Hearing : It's the whole Legislative Procedure which is quite important, which is really giving the Citizens the Right to have their Idea put accross to the Highest echelons of the EU Institutions, and the Institutions will have to deal with it, consider it and analyze it very seriously", (I.e. respecting at least the Judge's elementary Control of the "Decision-making Process" in any Discretionary Power, as "EuroFora"s co-Founder has already wroten in his Master and PhD. Strasbourg University work on Public Administration Law).


- "Concerning the Procedure for the Post-Succesful Initiative, there, you know, the procedure which is in the Regulation is actually very Similar to the procedure (that EU) Commission is following when it comes into Legislative Resolutions of the EU Parliament. So, I would say, EU Citizens' Initiative and its Organizers are very High on the Priority list and on "to do" list of the Commission that we have to do once the collection of signatures is succesful", he observed.


- "It's not only the Hearing : Before that, the Organizers will be received by the (EU) Commissioner, or the Director General, then you have a Public Hearing, where their Proposal will be discussed from all possible angles, and then, of course (EU) Commission will have to consider it very deeply as well. And it will be debated also in the College (of all EU Commissioners). Because  the College (of EU Commission as a whole) will have to adopt the Decision on the Communication to the Organizers, to the (EU) Parliament, to the (EU) Council, etc., where we (EU Commission) have to reason (i.e. sufficiently Motivate) our Future Steps. And I can ensure you that we will be doing that very Carefully, because, of course, we know how much Energy is invested in this kind of Initiatives, and how much Political Importance it would have, and, of course, if you have also the European Rights' Debate (EU Court of Justice + EU Charter of Rights), you consider very carefully how you treat the initiative and what are the Next Steps".
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 - "Coming back to Your ("EuroFora"'s main substantial) Question : I think that we have to be very Clear about that. What we are introducing now, is Not an Instrument of Direct Democracy", experienced German MEP Gerard Haefner of the "Greens", and ECI co-Rapporteur, stressed from the outset.


- "It's not an instrument of Law-Making where Citizens decide on law issues". On the contrary, "It's an instrument on Agenda-setting, it's an instrument where Citizens can make Proposals", he observed.


- "Therefore, the Hearings  are very Important (as "EuroFora" noted : See supra). "I think that this is one of the Biggest Achievements that we, as (EU) Parliament got in this (ECI) Regulation now, because it has not been there before. Because what we (EU Parliament) want is  to create Discourse, Dialogue, between (EU) Citizens and Institutions, but also Discourse among Citizens and in the Society".


- "So, this Instrument will also work as an Instrument that creates Public Awareness of Issues, that creates Cross-Border Debates on Issues, and by creating these Debates, (it : i.e. EU Citizens' Initiative) creates also a little-bit a European Spirit, or the European Demos, (steming from the Ancient Greek word : "Demos" for Citizens' Public Space, origin of the very concept of "Democracy"), a European Civil Society, which is desperately needed for a more Democratic Europe. Therefore, I think that's an important instrument", MEP Haefner replied to "EuroFora"s main query.


+ "2nd point : The (EU) Parliament shares part of its Power with the (EU) Citizens now, because it's the Same Right that we (MEPs) have with our Legislative Resolutions, that we'll be giving to the (EU) Citizens in the Future too". "I think this was all Your ("EuroFora"'s) point. We should make it clear that we shouldn't over-estimate or over-weight this (ECI). We should present it as an Instrument of Participatory Democracy, not of Direct Democracy", Haefner reiterated in conclusion.
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- "But, of course, the most important is to give a Chance to EU Citizens to know it", sharply observed  Zita Gurmai, vice-President of EU Parliament's Constitutional affairs Committee, in reply to "EuroFora"s questions. "Because if you ask anyone of us during the preparations, if we got any question from any Collegues of Yours (i.e. Journalists), .. it's very clear : First, you prepare the instrument. How can you collect SIgnatures if you don't know what type of Criteria, what type of Documents you have to get, in order to get the signatures ? Of course, that's why we need your guidance, how to get this instrument known. It's not an easy exercice at all !  So, let's hope that you (Journalists') help us, we (MEPs) are all available, and, of course, we'll be chatting, we shall use all the instruments to make it known".


- "And, of course, if it's Sexy, it will help us,  .. because we know what goes through the EU Press !.. I hope that ECI will be a "Sexy" subject for all our Citizens, and that we can ... have a Nice Christmas (satisfied) that we were able to do something that is really good for our Citizens. Believe me : we really "tested" on our Friends for the last half a year", she joked.


- "I'm personally satisfied that this instrument became very User Friendly, that it ensures enough Information to Citizens on the ECI, and also a Contact Point, and also to ensure that they can trully benefit from this tool. Moreover, "during the debates (for the preparation of the Draft) all of us had an opportunity to meet Representatives of the Civil Society, with a lot of NGOs, EcoSoc was deeply involved, and the Committee of Regions, etc., showed a High Interest on how to use this New Tool", Gurmai added. (I.e. citting the usual, old-fashioned, Brussels-based Lobbies, which didn't prevent neither the 1999-2004+ Majority Abstention in EU Elections, nor the 2005-2007 "No" in 3 EuroReferenda, etc, revealing a huge Gap between EU and its Citizens)..

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- On "the "Practical Help" our friend ("EuroFora" : See supra) was asking", EU Commissioner Sefcovic found that, "of course the (EU) Commission tried to do that as Citizen-Friendly as possible, and in this effort we were very much helped by EU Parliament's practical suggestions", (as he called some MEPs' attempts to diminish bureaucratic procedural formalities' burdens).


+ "We (EU Commission) are going to Help the Organizers of the Petition... from the 1st Step, when they'd be even considering whether they should, or should not launch such an Initiative", EU Commission's vice-President pointed out.


- "So we shall create a "Contact Point" in the Commission, we shall be giving the Practical Advise on what is necessary for the registration of the Initiative, how it should be done, if the Initiative and the Final Goal is Compatible with what is the actual Competence of the (EU) Commission, if there is already anything similar in the pipelines, or if there is, by chance, already any other Initiative under preparation, which is in total Opposition to the proposal of these organizers-to-bee. For that, we are also going also to prepare, and keep up to date, a Manual, (on) how to do it, how to proceed. We will prepare the Information on the Frequently asked Questions (F.A.Q.) or problems, and there will be a whole set of information and advise from the Commission for the Organizers to have a succesful and as user-friendly as possible Start", Sefcovic promissed.
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+ Among various other last-minute Simplifications on ECI's Procedure, EU Parliament succeeded to find a compromise with EU Commission and Council also into suppressing the initially drafted 2 Checks : on Registration and for Admissibility, by fusioning them into only 1, to be made upon Registration, and by limiting somehow the reasons for which EU Commission's services may reject a proposal for EU Citizens' Initiative around basically "Legal" points, such as issues of "Competence", "EU Values", etc, as the main EU Rapporteur, MEP Alain Lamassoure said earlier to "EuroFora" :  


- "On the Admissibility, (EU) Council accepted our (EP's) position, i.e. that there is only 1 Decision in order to Register the demand of the (EU Citizens') Initiative, and to recognize it Admissible", instead of 2 Decisions, as it had been initially envisaged, Lamassoure observed to "EuroFora".


- "And, in order to verify the Admissibility, it only examines its Compatibility with the (EU) Treaty. "If it's an isssue in conformity with EU Treaties, (then), EU Commission has the right (but not the obligation) to propose a New Legislation", he added.


- EU "Commission had initially scheduled a serious obstacle : In its initial proposal, it didn't examine the Admissibility but only after 300.000 SIgnatures. And EU Council had scheduled to limit that into just 100.000 signatures. But we (EU Parliament) suppressed that, completely", asking for Registration/Admissibility to be decided from the start, Lamassoure underlined.


    An obvious danger is, however, that EU Citizens who wish to launch a Popular Initiative, would be obliged, even before they start connecting with EU Public Opinion, to submit their Personal Data to some more or less unknown bureaucrats inside EU Commission in Brussels, and passively wait for its Decision, to "register", or not, their demand, risking to face, eventually, a more or less arbitrary refusal, without even having a chance to start getting Popular Support, while, on the contrary, they'd have exposed themselves alone to possible criticism, opposal, hostility, political discrimination, eventual harassment, etc. (f.ex. if their views are very critical on an issue with big stakes, etc), for nothing...


    That's why "EuroFora" believes that it would be better, wiser, more democratic and more natural, if those who inspire an EU Citizens' Initiative were let free to find, from the start, if they wish, a fair chance to contact the Public Opinion and to start testing, debating and gathering Popular support accross EU Member Countries, before any more or less bureaucratic or formalistic obstacle might block and stop any action.


    F.ex.  initial alerts, awareness-raising EU-wide Anouncements and Debates on the issues at stake, and f.ex. on how exactly to formulate the EU Citizens' Initiative, etc., inviting interested People to join a movement, actively participate, be prepared to vote officially to this or that Websites' addresses, etc., appear, in these circumstances, particularly useful, before the formalities vis a vis the EU Commission.


    Such a Preparatory work could also facilitate, in case EU Commission registers the proposed EU Citizens Initiative, to gather easier and faster the required number of at least 1 Million Signatures inside the tight Time Deadline of 1 Year only, as the draft EU Regulation imposes, avoiding the risk to lose such a chance merely for a small delay of just a few Days, etc.


 + On other Formalities (and there are several more...), Lamassoure appeared upbeat :


- "It's easy, because, EU Commission will be obliged to help the authors. It will have a special Office for that, and will make available a Free Software for the collection of signatures". In general, "Honestly, this cannot be simplified more" than that, Lamassoure estimated.


- Questioned by "EuroFora" whether EU Commission's "Software" (for an On-line collection of Signatures) will be "imposed" to EU Citizens, or simply "offered", Lamassoure appeared rather softer, at least at this moment : - "Well, if they (EU Citizens) don't need it,.. But, at any case, EU Commission will be obliged to offer them one", he simply replied.
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    Concerning the total of all procedural Conditions, both formal and substantial, put to EU Citizens' Initiatives by the 1st EU draft Regulation, "EuroFora", who had assisted at the 1st ever EU Parliament debate as early as on April 2010, inside its Constitutional affairs Committee, a late Monday Evening in Strasbourg, together with EU Commissioner Cefcovic, (see Draft-News sent to Donors/Subscribers), had already started to criticize an initialy rather too formalistic version, by systematically denouncing, since next Day's EU Parliament Political Groups' Press Conferences, what appeared then to be like ... "an astonishing Eruption of Bureaucratic Ashes", risking to cover the sky over EU Citizens Initiative, and keep it in the shade, as the famous Icelandic Volcano (pushed by unusual Brittish Winds), had freezed most EU AirPlanes on the ground, hindering them to flight, and provoking losses of, reportedly,  more than 50 Billions €, by a Symbolic coincidence, those very same days...


    Almost all Presidents of EU Parliament's Political Groups replied then to "EuroFora"s questions by strongly supporting EU Citizens' Initiative, asking for it to be really "Citizen Friendly", and, apparently, they succeeded to find at least some Simplifications in certain points, after long negotiations with EU Commission and EU Council of Ministers, (including a rather .. tumultuous EU Council meeting at nearby Luxembourg, where, before a Press Conference at an ..Empty Room with roughly 2 or 3 Journalist only, several EU Member Countries' representatives expressed some Critical views during the Public part of the discussions which was exceptionally interrupted by a spectacular .. Electricity Cut, which suddenly stopped any Image transmission, by a coincidence, during some among the most "delicate" points !)..


    In addition to a brief but detailed, concrete, point by point, Critical Analysis of the EU draft Resolution which fixes the Procedure to follow for EU Citizens' Initiatives, (already sent earlier to Donors/Subscribers), "EuroFora" will publish much and various more useful Data on this emerging big issue, that we shall naturally follow up also in the Future asap, including during its Ratification process in 2011, particularly because, after the above mentioned latest Addition of a Public Hearing/Debate (See supra) it entered inside our Project's main scope.

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