I’m sometimes asked exactly how people can have a bigger say in what Europe does. And I have every sympathy with people who want to get more involved in the complex – and lets’ face it – confusing decision-making process of the EU.
Some ways are obvious. You can contact your MEP, and I’ve had over 4,000 do just that in the last year, on issues ranging from biofuels to caravans.
You can lobby the government – after all, they make decisions jointly with the European Parliament.
You can also you have your say through a body of which you are a member or supporter. For example, I recently met some Nottingham representatives of Citizens UK to discuss some of their concerns, and on a regular basis I meet organisations concerned about legislation I’m involved in, such as the British Heart Foundation on the tobacco products directive and the consumer organisation Which! when I was dealing with food labelling.
And there are less well-known ways of getting Europe to take up your concerns, via a petition to the European Parliament for example, or if you feel that European Institutions have treated you unfairly, you can take your case to the European Ombudsman.
But a more recent addition is the European Citizens Initiative; in effect, a call from the public for the European Commission to propose new laws.
The subject has to be on a matter where the EU has “competence” to legislate, so it can’t deal with anything which is the responsibility of the member state, such as schools or hospitals, or the level of taxation.
More crucially, a citizens’ initiative has to be backed by at least one million EU citizens, coming from at least 7 out of the 28 member states, and a minimum number of signatories is required in each of those 7 member states.
This sounds a tall order, but to prove it’s by no means impossible, we saw the first successful ECI earlier this year. The Right2Water initiative calls on the European Commission “to propose legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation . . . . . ., and promoting the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all.”
This particular issue arose at least partly because of the repeated attempts by the European Commission to “liberalise” the water sector. The campaign’s supporters – and count me as one of them – believe that water is a public good, not a tradable commodity. So water supply is not an issue for the single market. It should be organised on a national and public basis, with the aim of genuinely providing all citizens with access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation.
The story of how the organisers of Right2Water managed to mobilise such huge support, (they actually collected almost double the number of signatures required) is an impressive one, and a fuller account can be found here.
Following the successful submission to the European Commission earlier this year, the Commission is now required to give a response to the proposals by next March.
Only then will we know what impact this new means of involving citizens can really have. But you can be sure a number of us will be watching very closely to see if the rhetoric of closing the democratic deficit is matched by the reality of people power.