Lack of media coverage, problems in reaching citizens, financial difficulties and uncertain political follow-up were among the ECI issues discussed at the European Economic and Social Committee.
"Upskilling citizens for a successful ECI with impact!" was the theme of this year's European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) Day organised by the EESC, which took place on 8 June 2023. The aim was to discuss the lessons learnt from the successes and problems of the ECI so far, and to discuss in several workshops what could be improved in the near future.
Oliver Röpke, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, said that
For a democracy to work well, the broadest possible and most active citizens participation is essential. It is a must – not a nice to have. The President announced that, ahead of the European Parliament elections in 2024, the EESC will organise the first edition of its Civil Society Week, combining three flagship events: ECI Day, Civil Society Days and the Civil Society Prize, into a single, higher-profile week-long conference.
In today's world, citizens and civil society – rightly – expect more direct involvement in democratic processes and decision-making, said President Röpke.
The European Citizens' Initiative is a unique way for citizens to help shape the EU by asking the European Commission to propose new laws. Once an initiative has reached 1 million signatures from at least seven EU member states, the Commission decides what action to take.
It is not for me to give us a vision for the future. That is for young people. The ECI can be a very useful tool for them to come up with new ideas. And maybe through the ECI, through such engagement of young people, we will see the new leaders of Europe coming, said Věra Jourová, Vice-President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency. She announced the launch of a new educational toolkit for schools on the European Citizens' Initiative. The toolkit is tailored for teenagers aged 16 to learn playfully about the EU and the ECI itself. It is available in all EU languages and will be published on ECI website and in the EU Learning Corner.
In April 2023, the European Commission registered the 100th initiative, which calls for the introduction of an EU network of high-speed trains.
The ECI is a very important part of European democracy and we need to have even more tools for participatory democracy. On the other hand, if you look at the fact that only nine ECIs have reached the threshold (of one million signatures), it is definitely not enough. The political follow-up is very limited, said Alin Mituţa (MEP), the European Parliament's shadow rapporteur on the 'Report on the implementation of the ECI'. He stressed the need for more financial support. And other participants of the ECI Day, including those linked to unsuccessful ECIs, put forward ideas for the European Commission to support networking and communication to increase the knowledge of citizens on ECI. And also, to support cooperation between activists across the EU.
The debates organised by the EESC contribute to the ongoing review of the implementation of the ECIs to be published by the European Commission by the end of the year.