An increasing criticism of the European Union is the democratic deficiency. Euro-skeptics are feeding on it, and Pro-Europeans are deeply concerned by it. This can be seen in the recent campaigns launched by Pro-European activists, such as “Tug 2012” in which a student ran for the position of President of the European Council:
“I find it disappointing because I think the EU has been a vanguard in democracy and promoting democracy in the world and rule of law. And I find it surprising that there wouldn’t be the same principle at least at the European Council.”Tug clearly states that he does not want to criticise Van Rompuy in any way, but wants to increase engagement and dialogue and “to highlight the fact that there is no formal election”
Thankfully the EU leaders and institutions have obviously seen, taken note and started addressing these issues.
On the 16-th of February, 2011 they announced the opportunity of every citizen of the EU to launch a “European Citizens Initiative”. They have even gone as far as to give us the ability to change EU legislation.
"The Lisbon Treatyintroduces a new form of public participation in European Union policy shaping, theEuropean Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). As required by the Treaty, on a proposal from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council adopted a Regulation which defines the rules and procedure governing this new instrument" Announcement on the website of the European CommissionIn order to keep it democratic the requirement is to collect 1 mln signatures (not that many when we consider the population of the EU is over 500mln) which must be from at least a quarter of the EU Member States, so the interests of all regions are represented.
The first citizens to take on this opportunity and challenge are the activists from Fraternité2020.
“The EU needs to re-focus its integration efforts on the level of individual European citizens to build a genuine European union of people, not states…” Fraternité2020
The initiative takers of F2020 encourage the EU to make more funds available for exchange programmes (they are specifically aiming to enhance the ones which are particularly popular and respected by the European citizens – those programmes that have proven themselves to us already – such as "Erasmus" and the "European Voluntary Service") and then make sure they are as effective as possible and truly develop more skills among the participants. They are convinced “that the EU needs to re-focus its integration efforts on the level of individual European citizens to build a genuine European union of people, not states and it would contribute to a united Europe based on solidarity among citizens.”
Making these exchange programs more attractive will enable more EU citizens to spend time in another member state and to find out what a united Europe means for them. Also, this experience will develop intercultural skills and cross-cultural understanding, which will have positive economic, social, and cultural effects on the entire continent.
“Erasmus was a key which opened so many doors, and opened my mind”
Simona Pronckute is one of the members of the Citizens Committee. She is actively involved in spreading the word about Fraternité2020, without any financial reward, but strictly as a volunteer - simply because she has personally experienced an Erasmus programme, and would like more people to have the same opportunity.
When she talks about her experience, she becomes unusually animated, excited and nostalgic. She describes it as “a key which opened so many doors, and opened my mind to a European career.”
She was so thrilled with the opportunity to experience new cultures, meet many new friends and have many more chances to learn about European history, culture and politics.
It is great to see the EU institutions have opened themselves to the European Citizens, and are trying to become closer to us. And it is wonderful to know the first ECI is run by such idealistic and talented people. With initiatives such as this, the future of Europe is definitely bright.