ECI: Bringing EU closer to all its citizens

How digital and democracy work together should be assessed

Photo: EESC Christophe Lefevre and Frans Timmermans (L-R)

The European Economic and Social Committee highlighted the ECI Day with a lively event in Brussels entitled Digital Voices. It echoed the ongoing transformation in citizens' active participation giving them an opportunity to join efforts, amplifying their voices for a common good and setting EU agenda. The workshops' programme was dedicated to expanding the digital dimension of the ECI and co-creating the best possible online collection system, and also on what can the ECI and the EU learn from national agenda-setting initiatives.

Outlining that the 8th ECI Day marks a special step forward for the European Citizens' Initiative, Christophe Lefevre, committee's member and president of the ECI ad-hoc group, stated that not least because of the endeavours of the EESC it was finally possible to revise the ECI. He also underlined that the ECI Day is the place to be for all active citizens as it is right here where the change begins or is announced.

Frans Timmermans, EC First Vice-President, presented the updated European Citizens' Initiative that was backed less than a month ago by the MEPs and soon is expected to be endorsed by the Council. This reform foresees to be possible to collect signatures online. Organisers will receive practical assistance by a collaborative platform and they will have six months instead of three to choose when to start collecting signatures after the registration. The EU executive will be able to partially register an initiative and this will be the case when the Commission only has the power to propose legislation on some of the objectives of the ECI and not on all.

The First Vice-President conceded that for him “the most difficult thing to swallow” is that he was not able to convince Member States to lower the minimum age for signing an ECI to 16. He pointed out the fact that 17 ECIs are currently in the registration process, while nine of them launched in 2019, and this shows not only that the Commission's communication campaign was successful, but also that citizens have trust in the ECI tool. In his view, a challenge for the next European Commission will be to assess how digital and democracy work together in an effective way, which includes reinventing our democracy and adapting it to the kind of world in which people now live.

Digital engagement could help to better shape decision-making at EU level and raise awareness of how the EU works, Laura Sullivan, founder of WeMove.EU, pointed out. It would also help to show evidence of our commonalities and common causes and help to build more solidarity and engagement across peoples in Europe, she insisted.

Christian Huesmann, Project Manager at Bertelsmann Stiftung, recalled that ECI was an initiative for more than 500 million citizens and the first transnational agenda-setting instrument in the whole world. It has monumental goals enabling all its citizens to contribute to the EU agenda, bringing EU closer to all its citizens, he said, adding that ECI really has a potential to achieve all these goals. However, he expounded that so far ECI has a low impact and low visibility. But according to him, the reform already changes ECI positively.

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