OPINION: The European Citizens Initiative for Unconditional Basic Income: shall the expectations be attained?
In April 2012, grassroots organizations and citizens of 15 EU member states united their strengths to promote Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) in the EU and started the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) for UBI. It was a hard job to introduce this ECI, to get it registrated and accepted, to translate it in the several EU languages, to contact the relevant national authority and publish the certificate on their website. But on 14 January 2013, the organizers of this initiative finally obtained the green light of the EU commission!
The ECI is not only new for the UBI movement. It is new to the European Union as whole. A little background is in order.
The ECI had to be a huge step forwards towards democracy and more European citizens participation in allowing 1 million European citizens to participate directly in the development of European policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. An ECI is a form of petition created under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty to encourage grassroots involvement in European lawmaking.
Citizens all over Europe can launch an ECI in order to invite the European Commission to propose legislation on matters where the European Union has competence to legislate. A citizens initiative is possible in any field where the EU Commission has the power to propose legislation, for example environment, agriculture, transport, public health.
(for more basic facts, http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/basic-facts)
The European Commission launched the ECI on the 1st of April 2012. An April fool’s day joke, some must have thought, and maybe they were right?
The ECI is now a one year old child. And of course baby’ first footsteps always are difficult…
Nevertheless, is there something to celebrate? The promise of a significantly higher level of citizens’ participation has not yet been fulfilled. Many ECIs were launched, signatures collected all across Europe…So far for the “better news”
But… ECI reality is gloomy. Of the nearly 30 proposed ECIs, only 14 have successfully registered and just one – focusing on water rights – has gathered the required one million signatures. But it falls short of requirements because the signatures come only from five EU States, two short of the minimum needed: a citizen’s initiative has to be backed by at least one million citizens coming from
at least 7 out of the 27 member states!
From the beginning, difficulties piled up for all ECIs. It started with the failure of the online open source software for collecting statements of support provided by the EU commission: it simply didn’t work and now it only does so through an incomplete and temporary solution.
The ECI for UBI had to deal with all the ECI initial problems and could only start with a delay because of the failure of the open source software. So, instead of 14 January 2013, this initiative only could start later in March 2013, a loss of three months. One might think and hope, the EU commission would move the deadline of 14 January 2014 to 14 March 2014. Unfortunately, this proves still impossible today.
Moreover, there are still too many people in the EU who just do not know that they can influence European politics by launching an ECI! So, the organizers of an ECI have to do a double job: explain about the ECI’s possibilities and explain the own ongoing ECI, in our case the ECI for UBI.
Fewer and fewer people believe in Europe. So one can imagine, how difficult it is for grassroots campaigners to explain to their public that the ECI is a ‘tool’ for more participative democracy in Europe and how even more difficult it is to motivate the same public to give their statement of support for UBI in Europe: Europe does not listen to its citizens, doesn’t know any longer its needs and hopes, so why would the EU commission develop something that’s no more no less than a utopia? These are some of the answers the ECI for UBI grassroots campaigner hears every day!
Technical and practical requirements are complicated too and some Member States administrations are busier erecting barriers than bringing them down: they dress a big wall in front of the citizens, (especially when they hear about unconditional basic income: it seems to bother them in their comfortable positions of policy and law makers) and answer the questions of ECI campaigners with: sorry, this is not within our competence, you’ll have to ask the EU commission, your national authorities, your regional or local political representatives…a never ending story!
Moreover, millions of European citizens are denied their rights to support an initiative, either because they don’t have one of the identification documents that is accepted on the online form or because they reside outside of their home country.
And what to think about the “homeless” citizens: I met some of them in my city, and they want to support the ECI for UBI, but nobody informs them, not the NGO, neither the organizations supposing to help them. It’s a dilemma: are they European citizens, or are they not? And yet, the ECI for UBI isn’t it supposed to combat poverty and social inequality? So when they give me their signature on the paper form, shall this signature be approved by the EU commission?
So many questions…so many difficulties. How long will the ECI for UBI grassroots campaigners still remain motivated to attract the streets and proclaim the message?
Let’s have a nearer look to the ECI for UBI campaign:
Total signatures on 7 June 2013 – 08:00 (day 78 of 299): 47.645
We have 217 days to go! We need to reach at least 1.000.000 EU citizens.
Does this need more comment?
So we call up the European Commission to turn in a common, high-visibility appearance to Europe’s citizens and explain to them that the ECI is an excellent opportunity to determine the EU’s political agenda and to declare they will undertake all efforts needed to support each initiative that was registered by the EU commission in giving more information about this initiative in the press or in the media all over Europe and to encourage the member states to inform their citizens about an ongoing ECI and explain the challenge of it too. Each citizen in every member state should be allowed to participate in an ECI with sufficient knowledge about it! The ECI is a legal right of European citizenship. The failure to inform European citizens about an ongoing ECI is a democratic deficit!
The ECI can be a win-win operation to both the European Commission and her citizens. But as long this EU institution sits in her ivory tower and only pops out her nose to impose us with austerity measures, the ECI’s won’t work and the EU commission loses all her credibility with her public.
But maybe we, the European citizens, can help the EU commission to descend from her ivory tower: just make it happen by supporting the ECI for UBI with a tsunami of signatures of support across the European Union and remember the words of the US president Barack Obama: YES WE CAN!!
Representative ECI for UBI in Belgium
More about the ECI and the ECI for UBI: