Yes, it is April Fools Day. However, this is no joke. This day marks the beginning of the life of a new democratic instrument for the European Union. This will make the EU more democratic and, arguably, closer to the people than our own rather historic brand of democracy at Westminster. This is about letting the people in!
I remember years ago now, when I was quite a new MEP, hosting a dinner in Brussels at the time of the meetings of the Convention on the Future of Europe. I had been encouraged into hosting this particular dinner by a group activists with an interest in direct democracy.
The theme was how to get ideas on direct democracy (citizens initiatives and referendums) into the Convention and any future draft European constitution. My own involvement stemmed from my attraction to these ideas and my experience and knowledge of Switzerland and direct democracy.
I have been proud over the years to be associated with IRI, the Initiative and Referendums Institute Europe, which has worked tirelessly through people like Bruno Kaufmann and others to bring these ideas to reality not only in Europe but around the world. These are ideas whose time has come, as people become less and less enthusiastic about elected politicians and want to increasingly play their own part in public policy and decision-making.
It still amazes me that the idea of the European Citizens Initiative got into the original convention text, that it survived the debacle over the European Constitution, stayed the course of the Lisbon Treaty and was the subject of a fast track first reading legislative procedure by the common agreement of all the European institutions. I was privileged to be one of a team of four parliamentary rapporteurs and it will therefore be quite something to know that as from today this small element of direct democracy will be a reality across the European political space.
At this stage we cannot know if we got it right and whether it will be a success or failure, but what we can say is that Europe is offering to its citizens a very practical tool for real political participation. Its over to them!
Find here the handbook for ECI’s written by Bruno Kaufmann and published by the Green European Foundation and IRI Europe.