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Reforming the EU: Placing the individual and the Citizen at the Heart of the Union’s Policies

VoxEurop

The European Union’s relationship with European citizens is filtered by national governments, which in most cases take credit for the progress made under European law, while attributing exclusive responsibility for unpopular choices to “Brussels”. This has to change, say two European thinkers.

Emilio De Capitani, Olivier Dupuis for VoxEurop

“Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice.”

These words in the Preamble of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, (which since 1st December 2009 has the same legal value as the Treaties) mark a Copernican revolution in a European Union which has been until now more focused on the market and on the cooperation between national administrations.

However ten years later, we can reasonably wonder if this reorientation of European policies toward the individual and the citizen has really happened or whether the European Union is still nothing more than a huge marketplace where the main focus is on economic players and consumers, but not citizens no matter of their economic conditions. We can also wonder if our system of supranational governance favours the European citizens as required by the Charter or if it is most driven in the interest of the national administrations.

The latter continue to filter the outcome at EU level by taking credit for all advances at EU level by blaming it for unpopular choices.

This practice dating back of decades is unfortunately de facto endorsed by European institutions and, notably by the Commission, even if this practice is contrary to the obligation of loyal cooperation among member States and the Union (Article 4.3 of the Treaty on the European Union – TEU) and routinely undermines citizens’ trust in European construction.

The result is an almost systematic misrepresentation of reality by several national governments and this practice goes hand in hand with their legislative behaviour at the European level. Paradoxically since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty these Governments are trying to reverse the process of integration and the facto limiting the potential impact of the fundamental rights of European citizens and people under the EU jurisdiction. The most evident example is the the proposal for the anti-discrimination directive whose goal is to normatively transpose the principle of equality among European citizens and which is blocked in the EU Council since eleven years.

Yet while citizens are meant to “receive equal attention from [the Union’s] institutions, bodies, offices and agencies” (Article 9 of the TEU), one cannot but observe that they still have difficulty keeping abreast of European administrative and decisional procedures, not to mention the obstacles still limiting administrative and judicial redress or even collective redress.

It is hardly surprising, then, that the ordinary European citizen is disappointed by the EU and even when they do manage to obtain some information on EU legislation this is in few even if important areas such as environmental policy, consumer protection and research.

Everything, or nearly everything, still proceeds as if the European Union was essentially a large marketplace praising economic champions against the less favoured regions and not a new political community drawing its legitimacy from the citizens ”.. who shall receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies.” (Articles 9 and 10 of the TEU).

In this framework the relation between the European Citizens and the European Parliament is of the outmost importance. The latter since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon is on the same real, legal footing as the Council for most of European policies but instead of taking in full its own new political responsibilities it seems to have lost the stamina which marked the first ten years (1994-2004) as co-legislator since the procedure of co-decision was introduced. Paradoxically after Lisbon instead of designing a new EU strategy it accepted a sort of ancillary role towards the Council, and even towards the Commission, which should be inspired and driven by a Parliamentary political majority.

The point is that by abdicating its role the EP is the facto endorsing the political inertia of the Council and of the Member States which consider that have nothing to gain from a stronger EU. Furthermore, a reluctant Parliament risks losing the trust not only of Euro-skeptics, but also of former Euro-enthusiasts who will not be more motivated in participating to the European elections or to the definition of the new EU policies.

Losing the contact with the citizens will be fatal not only for the EP but for the EU itself and to avoid this it is essential moving forward as quickly as possible with initiatives that strengthen direct interaction among citizens not only with the European Parliament but as well as other EU institutions, agencies and organizations.

It is in this spirit that we propose a radical reform of the Council of the European Union which should be turned into a European Senate, an institution that works full time, whose members are familiar to European citizens, whose debates are public. In short, a political institution in every sense and not simply with regard to bureaucratic matters.

Similarly, it is essential that we promote a series of reforms that strengthen both the transparency of the EU’s decision-making processes as well as participation in them by European citizens and civil society. In that vein, we offer a series of pointed reforms, outlined here in the form of a petition to the European Parliament, to all citizens and political movements striving to strengthen the Union.

Translated by Anis Memon

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Proposal for a petition to the European Parliament

Transparency and Citizen Participation in the EU

Keeping in mind that “the Union is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity”;

Keeping in mind that the Union “is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice”;

Given that although the Charter of Fundamental Rights states that the European Union places the individual at the heart of its policies, most of its policies are still negotiated mainly in the interest of national administrations;

Given that, ten years after the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, very little has been done to strengthen the principle of the centrality of persons and citizens;

Given that the EU’s relation with European citizens is still filtered by national administrations whose practice is to take at their own credit the advances deriving from European law by blaming Brussels for unpopular choices. This behavior, which unfortunately is not challenged by the European institutions, does not only infringe the obligation of loyal cooperation between Member States and the Union, but it undermines day by day since years citizens’ trust in European construction. Moreover very often several national Governments are not only misrepresenting what is done at EU level but are jeopardize from inside some legislative policies by lowering the protection of citizenship and fundamental rights and weaken even their essence;

Given that the European Union is still dragging its feet on the implementation of the principle of equality among European citizens who should “receive equal attention from its institutions, bodies, offices and agencies”. In particular, legislative and administrative transparency is still lagging in the EU and this hinder the EU Citizens right to administrative or jurisdictional appeals notably when collective redress would be needed to protect less favored categories;

We then ask the new European Parliament to review the inter-institutional Better Law-Making agreement by enhancing the transparency of the EU decision making process notably for legislative negotiations also to comply with EU Court’s Jurisprudence, the EU Ombudsman’s reports and recommendations and to the request of most of National Parliaments.

To this end, we ask that:

– the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament immediately make accessible the impact evaluations of the new legislative norms (Case CJEU ClientHeartC57 -16 P, September 2018) all along the preparation and the negotiation phase;

– the Regulation on the European Citizens’ Legislative Initiative be once again modified in order to allow European citizens to submit amendments also to legislative proposals currently negotiated so that it can be evaluated not only by the Commission but also by the European Parliament and the Council of the Union;

– direct access be guaranteed to documents under discussion during inter-institutional negotiations (Trilogues), to the extent that they are necessary to understanding the process and legislative debates, and this in compliance with the decision of the “General Court” in Case T-540-15 and in accordance with article 12 of Regulation 1049/01;

– direct access should be granted to the meetings and reports of the European Council and of the Council no matter if debated in a self-declared “informal”; otherwise the designation “informal” could be considered nothing more than a pretext for deliberately concealing these debates and documents from public scrutiny even if their outcome will be in legislative and budgetary measures (see the request of twenty-six national Chambers to the Council);

– intelligible reports be made following debates among national delegations at the level of working groups, Coreper and the Council, as the Ombudsman has recommended, as the European Parliament has asked, and as established by articles 41 and 42 of the Charter and articles 15 and 298 of the Treaty on the functioning of the EU;

Moreover we believe that the same (high) level of transparency to be granted by the European institutions when negotiating future EU norms should also be granted at national level at the time of the transposition of that European norms because it is in that phase that citizen rights and obligations are precisely defined. To this end, we recommend the EU Co-legislator to specify in the articles dealing with the transposition of an EU measure at national level that the implementing member State should list publicly and on the internet as well, which national authorities are deemed to define the national norms of transposition, what the national procedures are that guarantee its transparency and to which institution or agency citizens must turn in order to obtain further information. Furthermore, without prejudice of the information campaign of Europe Direct and of the Centers of European Documentation, member States must establish at regional and municipal level information Centers on EU activity at the local level, in order to allow the full participation of citizens who are not internet enabled and/or who do not have command of the EU’s working languages;

We ask that, once adopted, national norms be accompanied by correspondence tables that indicate the European dispositions at their origin;

We ask the European Parliament to put everything into place in order to strengthen the powers that the Ombudsman and the Court of Auditors have over the institutions, agencies and organizations of the Union and invite the Court of Justice to provide for a specialized section for examining questions connected to transforming the Union into an Area of freedom, security and justice;

We ask the European Parliament to propose a modification of the norms instituting the Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and those dealing with the protection and promotion of EU founding values by the European Political Parties and Foundations by establishing a permanent group of Wise Persons, to be chosen from among highly-qualified independent experts (on the model of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe);

The Group of Wise Persons mandate should be to help the EU Member States and the EU institutions but also it should be allowed to intervene at the behest of a given number of citizens of a Member State when they deem that the legislation adopted, or in the process of being adopted, does not correspond to the fundamental values of the EU (article 2 of the TEU) and/or could undermine reciprocal trust among member States.

Emilio De Capitani, Olivier Dupuis

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