Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The Initiative of well organised citizens

Adelina Marini, May 1, 2010

Do you remember the protest of a group of Bulgarian mothers in front of the National Assembly against allowing genetically modified organisms in Bulgaria? If you do not remember this is easy to explain, because it was a very small protest of no more than 200-300 mothers. However, they succeeded in being noticed by the news and to start the heavy machinery of public pressure. But only in Bulgaria and, as it seems, just temporarily - until the next attempt which these mothers might not be able to see and which could lead to allowing GMO in Bulgaria.

But what could have happened if these mothers could connect with adherents of theirs in the EU? After all, here we are not talking about population of 7 mn people but of over 450 million! This is the question to which the Citizens' Initiative will have to answer in the next who knows how many years. It gives a possibility for citizens' legal initiative if one million people gather in support of a cause from a specific number of EU member states, as euinside already wrote.

No doubt the initiative is very interesting but is it because the draft regulation is still not ready or for some other reasons, but its practical implementation seems quite vague. This is why we asked for an expert opinion - that of the political scientist Vladimir Shopov who is also the author of blogeurope (in Bulgarian language). He says that this initiative is not just for the citizens but it is for well organised citizens. Because, without the power and infrastructure of well organised and thick networks of various civic structures, a small group of enthusiast would not be able to achieve any success.

Furthermore, Vladimir Shopov says: "Personally, I am afraid that this initiative could be used by various types of organised interests which have significant budgets, lobbyism. For certain there will be a temptation this initiative to be used to raise an issue, forwarding to some specific interests within Europe".

In the same time the political scientist thinks that another fundamental aim of the Citizens' Initiative is to provoke debate on European issues, no matter if they will end up in legislation or not. Nonetheless, it is important the initiative to be successful in the future. "If we end up in 5 years with 15 initiatives but none of which successful in reaching its logical end, this would unlegitimize the initiative itself", Mr Shopov adds.

Success is more than necessary because the initiative is written in the Lisbon Treaty and a possible failure would mean a reform of the Treaties, which at this stage no country in the Union would want, even for a much more significant case as Greece is. Vladimir Shopov recalls the extremely tough ratification process of the current treaty as well as the long process of writing the Treaty itself.

In the course of our conversation though, the analyst becomes more skeptical: "And honestly, I think that this consensus which was behind the introduction of such a mechanism as the Citizens' Initiative, is gradually starting to disintegrate to a level of political elites, because European politics became much more complex, too many players are there in it, it started being quite difficult to predict and I think that national governments themselves are starting to fear it".

It is also interesting to follow the reaction of the European political parties, because the Citizens' Initiative practically ignores the need of political parties as mediators to pass European policies on behalf of citizens. Thus, people will get the feeling they can influence directly the European politics.

"Another interesting thing is - what will the reaction of European political parties toward this mechanism be. And to see whether various organisations, which are close to one European political party or another, would try to use this mechanism to raise certain topics. So, it is just now that we start realising the consequences and effects of the Lisbon Treaty", the political scientist concludes.

But in the very beginning of our conversation he mentioned that the very appearance of the Citizens' Initiative, causing radical reactions (from hope to skepticism) is in fact the result of European politicians realising that there is a democratic deficit in Europe. The question is whether fear would come true that this is another still-born initiative, included in the Lisbon Treaty only to guarantee that the European citizens will approve the Treaty.

After all, if we go back to the mothers, protesting against GMO, there is another conclusion which is inevitable - if citizens themselves do not respond to such an opportunity for legal initiative, then there is no legislation that can force them to be active citizens. And then there will be no one they could be angry with if other, more active groups, pass their own interests on their behalf.