Towards Increased Citizen Participation in Europe: Impact of Current Developments on Political Decision Making and Democracy

Helle Krunke, Jens Christian Dalsgaard


[extract] At the moment we witness an interesting trend in Europe. New elements of direct democracy have been introduced at the national level in the nation states and at the EU level since the 1990’s. At the national level the new direct democracy elements include an increased number of national referenda, introductions of citizens’ initiatives and a generally increased involvement of the People in formulating constitutional revisions. Many reasons can be provided for this development for instance an economic and political crisis; reestablishment of democracies in East and Central Europe; a reaction to EU integration; direct democracy as a tool and strategy for upholding the nation state in EU integration; the EU searching for more democratic legitimacy; and competition between the EU and the nation states for democratic legitimacy.

At the EU level an EU citizens’ initiative has been introduced with the Lisbon Treaty. This can be seen as an attempt to make the EU decision-making process more democratic.

It has also been put forward that the development at the national level and at the EU level viewed together could be seen as a competition for democratic legitimacy between the member states and the EU. The development towards more direct democracy elements at all levels seems to indicate an increased democratisation of the European decision-making processes. However, whether this is really true naturally depends on the impact of the new initiatives. In this paper we analyse the impact of the introduction of one kind of direct democracy instrument namely citizens’ initiatives. We analyse the impact of citizens’ initiatives in a number of European nation states and the impact of the EU citizens’ initiative. Accordingly, we show synergies between the national level and the EU level. The impact will primarily be measured as the success rate of the citizens’ initiatives meaning the amount of initiatives brought to the national parliaments subsequently becoming a legislative act as a result of the initiative procedure. The reason for this is mainly that it is easy to measure such an effect and that the data is generally accessible. However, as we shall return to, citizens’ initiatives can have other kinds of impact than concrete legislation.



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