Many procedures exist at the European level to ensure the participation of its citizens.
You will find below the different possibilities developed to enable citizens to participate in the European policy-making process as well as the various procedures put in place to facilitate EU citizens to claim their rights.
Elections of the European Parliament
Since 1979, the Parliament is directly elected by universal suffrage every 5 years. The voting system is not uniform and each country has its own electoral system. However, the European law imposes the respect of some common principles. Every EU citizen residing in a Member State country has the right to vote and to run as a candidate for the European Parliament in the country in which he resides. The electoral system must be based on proportional representation and the election threshold cannot exceed five percent.
The allocation of seats to each Member State is based on the principle of degressive proportionality which takes into consideration the size of the country’s population and over-represents the smaller countries. For example, Germany has 96 MEPs for a population of 80.000.000 people and Malta has 6 MEPs for a population of 650.000 people. If the MEPs are elected on national lists of national parties, the division inside the Parliament is not based on national delegations but on transnational groups organized according to political affinities.
One of the fundamental rights of European citizens is the right of petition. All EU citizens and residents benefit from that right, whether they are a natural or a legal person. They can submit a petition to the European Parliament individually or in group. In order to be admissible, the petition must fulfill several conditions:
– The petition must be in the form of a complaint or a request,
– The language used must be one of the official languages of the EU
– The subject must be related to an EU field of competence which directly affects the petitioners
– The name, nationality and address of each petitioner must be written in the petition
The petitions are dealt by the Committee on Petitions of the European Parliament.
The outcome can strongly vary depending on the petition. When the petition is related to a specific case, the appropriate authorities may be contacted to intervene. If the petition concerns a matter of general interest, political action may be undertaken or the case may be examined by the Court of Justice. In any case, a response detailing the action taken and their results will be sent to the petitioners.
The European Ombudsman is in charge of investigating complaints about maladministration in the institutions, agencies and bodies of the EU.Maladministration covers discrimination, abuse of power, failure to reply, refusal of information or unnecessary delay, unfairness or incorrect procedures. Any EU citizen, business and organization can complain to the European Ombudsman. The European Ombudsman can open an investigation after a complaint or on her own initiative.
In order for a complaint to be admissible:
– The complaint must be written in one of the European official languages
– It has to be sent within two years from the moment you realise there has been maladministration
– It is not compulsory to be directly affected by the maladministration
– The institution, agency or body responsible for the maladministration must have previously been contacted
– The complaint must not have been already brought before a Court.
Even without binding powers, the rate of compliance to the Ombudsman rulings is higher than 80%. The power of persuasion and publicity of the Ombudsman explains this high percentage.
When a policy making process is launched, the Commission often opens a public consultation. Citizens, businesses and organisations can express their opinion on the topic and their voices can be taken into consideration by the Commission before it sends its proposal to the Council and the European Parliament.
European Citizens’ Initiative
The adoption of the Lisbon Treaty came along with the introduction of a new participative procedure: the European Citizens’ Initiative. The aim of this initiative is to enable citizens to directly take part in the European policy-making process. To do so, citizens can propose to the European Commission to adopt legislations in its fields of power. In order to be considered, an initiative has to be signed by 1 million EU citizens from at least seven Member States countries. Once one million signatures have been reached, the European Commission is obliged to consider the proposed initiative.
The transparency register aims to increase transparency by enabling lobby organisations to appear in the register, which citizens can then consult.
Different procedures have been developed to submit specific complaints:
– Complain to the European Commission – if a Member State is not implementing EU law correctly.
– Report fraud with EU funding/by EU staff to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).
– Contact Europe Direct if you are not sure about the complaint procedure you should use.
The year 2013 has been characterised by what is known as the “citizens’ dialogue”, an initiative undertaken by Viviane Reding, European Commission Vice-President. These debates have been organised in different cities of the European Union in order to listen to citizens’ opinions on various themes, especially the ones regarding the future of Europe.