Friday, 9 April 2010

The Bloggingportal Initiative

Over at, there's an experiment to see how quickly something in the Citizen's Initiative format can be translated and what kind of problems this might throw up. The results will be part of a presentation on the Citizen's Initiative by some Bloggingportal editors at the re:publica 10 blogging convention in Berlin.

The text was only posted last night, but already there's been a great response, with translations into 22 languages! But more languages are needed (Czech, Slovak, Maltese etc. still haven't been done yet), and since the goal is to see how much time or organisation it would take to make a petition accessible linguistically, non-official languages are more than welcome too. Anyone know any Basque?

The deadline is early on Thursday morning, 15th April.

Also, is keen to find more editors who know their way around the Euroblogosphere, so if you want to help out, you can contact us here. Since we're always looking at how to make Bloggingportal more accessible and useful throughout Europe generally, it'd be great to get more help on the blogs in some of the less widely known languages (but that's not a requirement!).

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Citizen's Initiative Proposal

The Commission has produced proposals on how the Citizen’s Initiative, the ability of EU citizens to petition the Commission to make legislative proposals in an area, will function. The legislation would have to be passed by the Council and Parliament before becoming law, but the main points of the proposal are:

- minimum age for signees is the same as that for European elections,
- the 1 million signatures must come from at least 9 of the member states,
- there will be a threshold for each member state that must be reached for it to count,
- after 300,000 signatures have been collected from 3 member states, the Commission can be asked to say whether or not it would be admissible should it reach 1 million signatures,
- not only can petitions be rejected on the grounds of being outside the Commission’s area of competence, but also if they are judged to be frivolous, abusive or against European values (which seem to be judged against the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the values set out in the TEU),
- online petitions must be in a format approved of by the member state(s) concerned,
- organisers will have to be able to prove that they are not lobbyists.

The proposals set a high bar for the Citizen’s Initiative, and the intentions behind this seem to be: (1) to cut off time wasting petitions quickly/limit the amount of petitions the Commission may have to review; (2) create as wide a member-state basis to the petitions as possible; (3) (possibly) give a boost to the role of the European parties, since a petition on such a scale would probably need a level of organisation that the Europarties would be better placed than most to provide.

Rose over at A Bit More Complicated has raised the issues of ID cards and the worries over ID theft for UK & Irish citizens, and the complexity and validity of the member state threshold.

I can understand the member state threshold to a degree – it would be strange if you could say you’d support in a member state just because 1 citizen from that state signed your petition. However, I think that the proposed rules are too strict in this area, and forms too much of a barrier for citizens who might want to use the C.I. While it should be the role of the Europarties and NGOs to organise petitions and deal with the bureaucracy, would it really happen that often? And want does that say about true citizen involvement if organisations need to fill the gap in most cases? The C.I. could be in danger of being used so infrequently that it won’t contribute to bringing citizens closer to the EU.

So what could be done instead? Citizens should be freer under the petition system from member state-based restrictions than in the EP and in the EU institutions generally, since it’s supposed to be a more direct form of interaction with the EU. A lower threshold of member states – or at least lower member state thresholds – would go towards fixing this, but I think that it shouldn’t matter if the petitioners are geographically concentrated. Perhaps if the relevant EP committee in the policy area could review a petition to say whether it would support legislation in this area or not would act to balance it out – after all, if there’s nowhere near a majority in Parliament for the possibility of a proposal, it won’t pass (some level of threshold of member states would remain logical, however).

Finally, it seems strange with all these hoops to jump through, that when a petition is accepted, and the Commission says that it will produce a proposal based on it, there’s no time limit for the Commission to do that:

“Once a citizens' initiative has been registered, the commission has to say whether or not it is going to propose legislation in the area within four months. But, critically, there is no time constraint on when the commission actually then produces a draft law.”

Hopefully this will be changed. Given that the Commission would have committed to producing a proposal, it should have to come up with one within a reasonable time, or have to give good reasons for delays.

Legal Prose

The Charter of Fundamental Rights is to be turned into an epic, multi-media poem, by the time the Fundamental Rights Conference on 7 December rolls around. The poem is to be 80-minutes long, and be accompanied by music and dance (and perhaps some computer wizardry).

The poem was commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which feels that the Charter is too dry and legalistic for people. It will be an immense task to shape an 80-minute long, multi-lingual, multi-media show on rights into something accessible and which will have an impact outside its original showing. The tender is now closed, though the agency is still open to being contacted if you feel you would like to play some role in it.

With European Council President Herman Van Rompuy releasing a multi-lingual poetry collection, the EU seems to have gone very artistic lately. Perhaps the romantic image of the Philosopher-King still lives on in Brussels...?