Citizenship has always been a fuzzy area for the EU. Sure, the European Parliament relies on us to directly elect members - although most of us, lemming-like, vote along national voting patterns rather than considering a ‘European’ perspective - and therefore MEPs have a bit more buy-in when it comes to interacting with ‘EU citizens’.
But generally, the Commission and Council seem happy with the Maastricht deal of almost 30 years ago, which anointed everyone with EU citizenship. Though as nationalist firebrands across the continent are quick to point out, it is supplementary to, rather than replacing, national citizenship.
So, when the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was launched back in 2012, there were a fair few in the Brussels Bubble that - perhaps cynically - viewed the initiative as a PR stunt.
Correctly so, it appeared, initially at least, - as criticism rained down on the ECI, with complaints that - rather than bringing Europe closer to its citizens - the ‘flagship instrument in driving participatory democracy’ was a damp squib, with campaigning citizens groups struggling to cope with the bureaucracy of setting up a petition.
"When the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was launched back in 2012, there were a fair few in the Brussels Bubble that - perhaps cynically - viewed the initiative as a PR stunt"
Four years in and 56 citizens’ initiatives later, not a single ECI had delivered any new legislation. Even the EU’s Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly – normally fluent in opaque Eurobabble – was baffled: “What citizens and I want to know is the real honest thinking of the Commission about the ECI. What can citizens ultimately expect to achieve?”.
Cue much hand-wringing, some existential angst and a few tortuous reforms later and, bingo! The Commission last week announced it was “A historic day for animal welfare in Europe” after “1.4 million EU citizens supported the European Citizens’ Initiative ‘End the Cage Age’ and we listened.”
So has the ECI finally come of age? Will we now see the Commission commit to taking action when more than a million Europeans demand change? Only time will tell, but if the Conference on the Future of Europe is to have any hope of success, it needs to show much more interest in the continent’s citizens than the EU has over the last 30 years.