Friday, March 11, 2011

Dead before it starts? The European Citizen's initiative.

We have been here before with the famous Citizen's Initiative. It was designed as that little bit of the Lisbon Treaty that the federasts could point to and say, look we are listening. Get a milluion signatures and we will talk about it.

But they slowly realised how easy in this interconnected world it would be to get a million signatures. And so the rules started changing to restrict the use of the Initiatives. The story of all that can be seen in the above links.

However a new and even more serious threat has emerged to the Citizen's initiative. Fleishman-Hillard one of the larger lobby firms in the Brussels loop has, this week produced this paper on the ECI.

As they point out, up until this point the ECI has been seen the preserve of NGO's and leftist political groups. They could be guaranteeed to produce petitions that essentially asked the EU to do things the EU really rather liked doing, but need the support of supposedly independent voices to give them the courage,
The Socialists and Democrats Political Group in the European Parliament have already expressed their intention to use the ECI instrument to request new EU legislation on taxing financial speculation. Environmental organisations have also shown their willingness to use the ECI. Surely other NGOs will follow. Other ECIs likely to emerge in the future could concern Internet-related hot policy issues such as net neutrality and piracy.
Everything rosy there, but, as the evil lobbyists point out, do gooders and political organisations are not the only ones that can mobilise. Indeed, when the corporate sector realise the possible power of these petitions,
Internet companies are in an optimal position to use the ECI. Google, Facebook or msn for example, which receive millions of visitors every day, could theoretically post a petition on their homepage and gather the required signatures for an ECI in a matter of days.
And not only internet companies. Today you are pretty poor company if you don't have a few hundred thousand liking your Facebook page. With corporate wedge, it would not be hard to mobilise a client base to alter legislation.  FH give the following advice to their clients,
1 The ECI scheme is likely to be used by others to promote proposals that go against your policy goals. Conversely, organisations that share your views could be potential partners for launching an ECI.

2 The Internet will play a key role in the success of future ECIs. Naturally organisations that have already successfully integrated online tools in their advocacy strategy will surpass others in promoting an ECI. Organisations that have a less developed presence in social media will face difficulties in challenging threatening ECIs.

3 The ECI presents an exceptional opportunity to shape up the EU policy agenda (potentially initiating legislative proposals). Therefore, organisations should reflect on the possibility of integrating grassroots campaigns into their public affairs strategies.

4 An ECI will work if the proposal you want to promote is easy to understand, relates to the daily life of citizens and is emotionally appealing. It can be easier than you think -and cost effective- to broaden up the frame of your policy request.

An ECI could help you overcome this deadlock by getting the debate out of Brussels, reframing it and gathering the support of the general public
In the light of this I find it inconcievable that the ECI has a shelf life of more than a couple of years before we have a serious and succesful campaign to have it struck from the books, or at the very least have its admissability criteria drawn so tightly that demands other than
"The petitioners believe that the post of President of the European Commision should become a post for life"
will have no chance of being heard.

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