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The EU Attempts New Method to Connect with Citizens

July 14, 2010

One of the EU’s problems that the Lisbon Treaty attempted to rectify was the “democratic deficit.”  Basically, the EU is not very democratic, as its only directly elected body—the European Parliament—is also the weakest institution.  The European Parliament (EP) has only limited powers in approving the European Commission (which drafts legislation), since member states nominate commissioners, and the EP has little oversight over the Commission.  The Council is composed ministers from member state governments, so they are democratically chosen, although not for their positions on the Council.

The Lisbon Treaty will attempt to solve this problem  through various mechanisms (such as strengthening the EP), but one new idea is to bring direct democracy to the EU.  EU citizens can now submit petitions to the European Commission.  If the petition has one million signatures from across the EU (about 0.2% of the EU’s population) then the European Commission is required to respond, stating its intentions on the issue.  While an interesting idea, this new process could backfire on the EU, alienating more EU citizens than creating supporters.  People may sign initiatives expecting that the Commission will actually act on the issue, but the Commission may instead simply state that its intentions are to do nothing.

On the other hand, these initiatives could revolutionize the EU.  If the Commission was able to contact the people who had signed the petitions and started a dialogue with them on the subject, then EU citizens will have an opportunity to at least learn more about the EU and feel that it is actually connected to their lives and values.  If this process works, the EU may finally overcome one of its biggest hurdles of being poorly understood and treated indifferently by its electorate.   However, only time will tell how this new instrument will work in the EU’s efforts to connect with EU citizens.

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