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Freedom of Movement in the EU
European Citizens' Initiative (ECI)
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In the absence of a commonly accepted theory of transnational democracy, evaluations of the EU's democratic performance as a transnational non-state polity remain problematic. This observation is highlighted not least by the introduction of the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) in the Lisbon Treaty. The ECI has been characterized as the world's first transnational citizens' initiative, even though in participatory terms, it is little more than a mere petition. From a deliberative perspective, on the other hand, the ECI's main potential lies in its ability to foster transnational contestation and deliberation, as the cases of the formal Right2Water and the informal Stop TTIP initiatives have demonstrated. Such initiatives do however illustrate the problems that traditional state-centered theories of publics, publicness and the public sphere have in dealing with processes that by their very nature transcend, but by no means replace existing spatial, cultural and linguistic boundaries across the EU. Because of the ECI's organizational requirements, the success of an initiative requires the interaction of publics as well as an interplay of mobilization and contestation processes at the local, regional, national and transnational levels. The proposed paper reflects on these requirements both as a challenge and as an opportunity for (a) the continued democratization of the EU and (b) the further development of a theory of transnational democracy, in particular with a view to conceptualizing the role and very definition of the publics, publicness and indeed the public sphere within transnational democracy. Particular emphasis within this analysis is placed on the role of digital media as a facilitator in the development of publics that are by definition neither exclusively subnational, national or transnational, but transcend and elude such categorizations. Empirical illustrations are drawn from the formal Right2Water and the informal Stop TTIP campaigns.
Four years after the introduction of the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) in April 2012, much of the initial enthusiasm about what was hailed as a significant participatory-democratic innovation has given way to a sense of disillusionment, as the ECI has so far failed to generate any concrete legislative proposals by the European Commission. One aspect that has not been addressed sufficiently in previous empirical research is the question of the ECI's deliberative impact, that is: the extent to which it can foster transnational normative debates in the increasinglyEuropeanized public spheres of the member states. Such questions are particularly salient against the backdrop of debates about the feasibility of transnational demo(i)cracy in the EU, as the ECI has been modestly successful at least in its agenda-setting function and has prompted normative debate on issues such as privatization of water services and the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The aim in the proposed paper is therefore to analyze the deliberative role and impact of the ECI in general and of specific ECIs in particular, such as e.g. Right2Water and Stop TTIP. Taking as a starting point the Habermasian emphasis on communicative power generation in the public sphere as well as James Bohman's emphasis on the relevance of the ability to initiate deliberation as a crucial requirement for transnational democracy, the study analyzes the various ways in which ECI organizers have succeeded in identifying, staging and amplifying controversial issues in various arenas of the public sphere.
Although debates on the European public sphere deficit as a hallmark of the European Union's democratic deficit have subsided in recent years, the problem of a perceived gap between the union's citizens and institutions remains pressing. In 2012, the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) was introduced as the world's first transnational citizens' agenda initiative, thereby providing what is arguably the strongest, but also the most demanding instrument of participatory democracy in the EU to date. The present paper discusses the question of whether and to what extent the ECI can bridge the gap between the EU institutions and its citizens. Theoretically, the paper draws on the Habermasian distinction between the two tracks of deliberative politics (public sphere vs. political system) to advance the argument that the ECI provides not only an incentive for transnational civil society networking and mobilization, but moreover an institutional opportunity for channeling communicative power into the EU institutions. Empirically, the paper draws on the experiences of three of the citizens' initiatives that are currently in the signature collection process, namely Right2Water, Stop Vivisection, and End Ecocide in Europe
The European Union's Lisbon Treaty, in force since December 2009, introduced the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) as a means of strengthening citizen involvement in EU decision making. A minimum of one million citizens from at least seven of the EU's current 27 member states can request that the European Commission submit a legislative proposal on the issue of the initiative. But the ECI is not only a means of strengthening participatory democracy in the EU. It also bears the potential for a more fundamental transformation of democracy, namely in the direction of transnational participatory democracy. Starting with a short introduction to how the ECI will work in practice as well as a brief history of participatory democracy in the EU, this article therefore examines the ECI from the perspective of democratic theory. How profound an impact will the ECI have on democracy in the European Union?
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