The European Citizen’s initiative, in force since last Sunday, is an unprecedented opportunity for European people to unite in order to influence the flow of European politics. EP Vice President Georgios Papastamkos, who agreed to answer questions on the Initiative submitted by followers of the Parliament's Facebook page, believes it could be the beginning of something bigger, a true "Citizens' Europe".
How will the initiative solve any of Europe’s problems? Shouldn’t Parliament concentrate on making European elections a true contest instead? For example, by having each political group nominate its own candidate for Commission President and then leave it to the citizens to decide who gets the post? This would really bring politics to Europe.
From this time onwards Europe’s citizens can participate in the EU’s legislative process by asking the Commission to propose rules on issues that fall within its competences. In this vein, the Lisbon Treaty helps to address one of the main problems the Union faces, namely the lack of citizens’ participation in its democratic life. Your question is extremely interesting and is already the subject of much debate in the European Parliament. I have personally supported the direct election of Commissioners, alongside MEPs, already since the 1990s. However, this is an issue that is so far discussed de lege ferenda (in view of future legislation) as it is not possible to do so currently under the provisions of the existing Treaties.
What are EU officials to do if they receive widely supported initiatives asking for radical change in the European Union, in terms of either further integration or even disintegration?
I hope this innovative concept will have the response you indicate in your question. I personally believe that the degree of support that each initiative receives from citizens must be taken into account by the Commission when it decides whether to take it up or not. We hope for Initiatives that will further European integration. However, demands that are at odds with the Union’s principles cannot become the object of an Initiative. In any case, receiving, evaluating and acting upon any initiative actually presupposes a minimum European integration and of course that the Commission has a right of initiative in the respective area.
How will Parliament help ECI organisers? How will the public hearings in Parliament be carried out?
Parliament will offer those organising an Initiative all the assistance it can provide, both in terms of infrastructure and human resources, to enable them to present it in the best possible way. In addition to the organisers and the representatives of the EU Institutions, representatives of civil society and all interested parties will be invited to the public hearings. Holding these hearings in the only directly elected EU institution will send a very strong signal.
Do you fear that interesting Initiatives (such as the one potentially spawned by the “One Seat” campaign for Parliament itself) will not be admitted for lack of Commission authority to deal with it? Can this requirement be overcome?
My concern is that some will be disappointed, not because their initiative didn’t have the results they expected, but because of the extremely high expectations that some are purposefully cultivating or will seek to cultivate in the future. Both President Schulz and I have on every occasion underlined the need to better inform citizens about the rules and the requirements and what can objectively be asked of the Commission through an initiative. The example of the Parliament’s seat is an obvious case in point: it is simply beyond the Commission’s legislative remit, as the seat of the Institutions is set by common agreement of the governments of the member states. We must in all cases defend this truly innovative instrument from any attempt to discredit or manipulate it. There is a wide scope of initiatives to be taken that could help making Europe more visible, more democratic and more efficient; a real "Europe of Citizens".