Carsten Berg, General Coordinator of the help desk “The ECI Campaign" gave a presentation on European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECIs) as an instrument of participatory democracy in the European Union.
This policy tool was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty enabling EU citizens to directly call on the Commission for legislative proposals on an issue of concern and of EU competence. A successful ECI requires the collection, within one year, of more than one million support signatures of EU citizens from at least seven member states. Ten ECIs have been successful so far, and six of these are related to animal welfare and conservation.
ECIs should be a key instrument for participatory democracy, but the sad reality is that the European Commission has failed to implement them. The calls of eight ECIs were not taken up at all and only two were implemented regarding secondary objectives.
Carsten Berg highlighted that there is an urgent need for a deep and meaningful reform of democratic rights both in secondary and primary law and encouraged the European Parliament and civil society to join forces. He advised to keep the pressure on the Commission for delivering on their promises, especially when it comes to the ECI “End the Cage Age” but also for all other animal related ECIs.
Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming – EU, spoke about the need of protecting openness and transparency in the EU democratic sphere, and reported in more detail about what happened with the Commission’s promises for the ECI “End the Cage Age”. Two years ago, the European Commission made a legally binding commitment to propose a cage ban for all species named in the ECI. However, all this was derailed as were most other new legislative proposals for farmed animals and the environment. They were not delivered or weakened, essentially killing the agricultural part of the EU’s Green Deal.
By finding powerful allies in the political spheres, the industrial farming lobby managed with fear-mongering tactics about rising costs and loss of competitiveness to hijack the Green Deal’s narrative and to divert attention from the fact that it is speculation on the financial markets that drove the cost-of-living crisis.
By not delivering on the commitments made, the Commission prioritised big business interests over those of EU citizens.
All this bears the risk of making the ECI instrument de facto void and shows that Treaty obligations are neglected. A likely consequence will be growing distrust and skepticism towards the EU, which raises concerns in view of the upcoming European elections.