The European Union and the Citizens of Europe

Stephanie Schiedermair


[extract] The relationship between the European Union and the citizens of Europe has been a constant matter of debate since the failure of the European Constitutional Treaty after the referendums in France and the Netherlands. The national referendum on the suggestions of the European Union concerning the Greek crisis, launched by the former Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the discussion of Great Britain’s possible withdrawal from the EU (“Brexit”) have shown that this relationship remains a crucial issue for the European Union, even or maybe especially in times of crisis. Since the failure of the Constitutional Treaty the EU has become more aware of the central role of the citizens of Europe for the success of the European Union. The sometimes sceptically termed “elite driven project” EU therefore has put a lot of effort in the so called “Europe of the citizens”, trying to enhance civic participation at EU level. These efforts are part of a wider discussion concerning the so called “democratic deficit” of the EU. With the last comprehensive Reform Treaty of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), which could only come into force after the second and then positive referendum of the Irish people, the member states have tried again to redress the “democratic deficit” of the EU. One of the major improvements for the democratic legitimacy of the EU has again been – as in every EU Reform Treaty – the increase of power for the European Parliament. Besides new rules concerning the election of the European Parliament and rules to strenghten the role of national parliaments in the EU, the member states have also created a new participatory opportunity for European citizens, the European Citizens’ Initiative in article 11 para. 4 TEU. With the European Citizens’ Initiative the European Union gives the European citizens (consisting of a minimum number from at least 7 of the 28 member states) a tool to suggest a legislative act to the Commission.

The Citizens’ Initiative constitutes the first attempt to introduce an element of direct democracy in the European Union and it also represents the first attempt worldwide to introduce direct democracy into an international organization.

The paper wants to adress the relationship between Europe and the European citizens from different perspectives. The first chapter shall deal with the structure of the European Union as an international organization and shall pose the question how democracy as a principle fits into that structure (I.). The chapter shall also describe the various forms of democratic elements in the European Union. The second chapter is supposed to sketch the “European citizen” as an idea of the European Union taking up the citizenship of the European Union (II.). The third chapter is dedicated to scrutinizing the participatory possibilities for European citizens (III.). In that context I also want to display some data how the new European Citizens’ Initiative has been working practically so far. The summary will be able to shed some light on the relationship between Europe and the European citizen (IV.). 


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