Moving towards participatory democracy: European Citizens’ Initiative

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e-UROPA project promotes the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), an EU agenda setting tool that allows European citizens to participate in the development of EU policies. On June 16 high-level policy makers and field experts were invited to discuss the history, challenges and potentials of the ECI and to debate about participatory democracy.

What holds ECI back?
ECI in its first 1.5 year has seen more than 6 million citizens signing various initiatives across the EU member states. However, recently the use of ECI has dropped significantly calling for further improvement of the online system: everyone agrees the tool needs to be more user-friendly and comprehensive.

In the first discussion round Inga Reine (Head of the Institutional Affairs Division of the Permanent Representation of Latvia to the EU) accurately pointed out that

“ECI is like a Kalashnikov in hands of a child: if it shoots in the wrong direction, doesn’t mean that the tool is to blame.”

With this idea in mind, I. Reine proposed to assure better communication among the member states on how to use the ECI. Some of other debated issues with ECI included the complexity of personal data requirements when signing an initiative across EU countries, citizens’ fear of identity theft or data misuse, the long and complex process of data verification across 28 EU member states, and the accessibility (some people like expats cannot vote).

Digital inclusion is the basis for participatory democracy

In the panel discussion about participatory and digital democracy speakers from Latvia and Luxembourg had a chance to compare ECI to their national tools and suggest what ECI could adopt from these. The question of digital inclusion of seniors or those with disabilities was raised by the public. Speakers suggested that to make such initiatives like ECI successful, it is important to go multi-channel and organise awareness raising campaigns to reach everyone, especially those offline. Regulations could also be made more flexible to allow best practice sharing and replication across countries.

Find more conclusions from the organisers here.

Background

The conference was organised jointly by the ECI campaign, the Latvian presidency of the Council, the General Secretariat of the Council and supported by the European Economic and Social Committee.

The ECI Campaign is a grassroots coalition of democracy advocates and over 120 European NGOs dedicated to the successful implementation of the European Citizens’ Initiative since 2004. ECI was launched in 2014 by engaged citizens and is driven by volunteers and like-minded partners.

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