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Why the Commission’s proposal is nipping the citizen’s initiative in the bud
Apr 4th, 2010

I’ve never been a great fan of the concept of the European citizen’s initiative. Having to mobilise 1.000.000 people to submit an idea for review by the Commission without the Commission having any obligation to actually act on it, I’ve always thought it could potentially produce great deception, rather than foster enthusiasm for European issues. On the other hand, in times where barely half of the citizens bother to vote to elect their political representatives, I think that any initiative that aims at fostering more citizen participation is good to take, especially when the initiative is meant to promote pan-European debates as it is the case here.

So I read carefully the Commission’s proposal for the citizen’s initiative, and as many commentators (see here, here, here, and here), I was disappointed. The general feeling is that the initial spirit of the citizen’s initiative will be nipped in the bud by unnecessary administrative requirements.

  1. The main problem to me is to require petition signatories to give their ID number. Honestly, who would give their ID number to petition organisers? I wouldn’t, and I’m not even a very wary person. First name, last name, city of residence, email or phone number should be more than enough.
  2. Petition organisers would only get 12 months after they officially register their petition to get 1.000.000 signatories in 1/3rd of member states. Surely that will favour large organisations that have established networks and permanent staff, and will not give enough time for individual citizens to set up campaigns from scratch during their free time. The citizen’s initiative is meant to get citizens actively involved in the political process, not large organisations.
  3. A citizen’s initiative would be checked for admissibility after 300.000 signatures have been collected. In my opinion, that should be done right at the beginning, or not at all. Is there really a need to have it checked anyway? Does it really matter if the initiative doesn’t fall in the competences of the Commission and/or the EU? These are not carved in marble after all.
  4. The proposal also requires that online petitions should have adequate security features. What does that mean exactly? Does it mean that petition organisers would have to purchase expensive security software to get their petition approved? Again, that would favour large organisations, and kill many grass-root campaigns from emerging.
  5. Finally, it would apparently be up to each member state to verify the validity of signatures. So a petition organiser would have to submit its support forms to 9 member states at least. More red-tape again. Less room for citizen-led initiatives.

If ever one petition manages to fulfil all the requirements, it’s not even sure the Commission would make a proposal according to the petition’s request, and the proposal would have to get the European Parliament’s and the Council’s approval anyway. So I can’t help but wonder… is there really a need for that many security safeguards -admissibility check, security software, signatories’ ID numbers and address, authentication of statements of support by member states, etc?

Both the European Parliament and the Council will have to examine the proposal now. Maybe it’s time for some citizen lobbying? Davygee on Twitter the other day suggested to set up a social media campaign to improve the Commission’s proposal. Who’s up for it?

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An example of Belgian Kafkaism
Mar 29th, 2010

After I got fined for not declaring that I had nothing to declare, I now have to pay taxes on revenue I never earned. Feeling confused? Welcome to Belgium!

ceci-n-est-pas-une-pipe.jpgLet me try and explain… After I was made redundant because of the crisis a year ago I registered as a freelancer on a complementary basis, thinking boldly: what the hell, what if I were to become my own boss? That didn’t happen though as I found a new full-time job straight away. Having been too busy since then I never used my freelancer status, thus made €0.00 with it. Still I had to fill in VAT declarations. I did so but too late, which is why I got a fine. Fair enough, I should have declared in time that I had nothing to declare. Mea culpa… But isn’t there something a little surreal about fining someone for not having declared that they had nothing to declare? Or am I just not Belgian enough? Anyway, I’m an honest citizen so I paid my fine. I also kept on declaring that I had nothing to declare. That’s how cooperative I am. And then I received a letter from the Belgian tax authorities telling me that I had to pay tax on revenue I never earned. Hold on. I thought you actually had to earn revenue to get taxed on that revenue… or am I missing something?

What is the moral of the story? I am going to get rid of this freelancer status as it is just too much of a bother. It’s a shame as I will probably have freelancing opportunities in the future, which I will then decline because it just seems like too much of an administrative nightmare! When a year ago I was thinking of getting this freelancer status, some friends advised me to register in France or in the UK for it was more interesting tax-wise. But as a socialist, I don’t mind paying high taxes. Besides I thought it was just the right thing to do to register as a freelancer in the country I live. How very idealistic of mine…

PS: If you are a Belgian tax expert, please get in touch with me. Thank you!

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Quote of the Week: Tom Foremski
Mar 18th, 2010

Internet 1.0 was about being able to publish to anything with a computer screen. Now, anything with a screen can publish back. That’s what social media represents…the ‘me’ in media.

Tom Foremski, SiliconValleyWatcher

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Procrastination
Mar 17th, 2010

Procrastination from Johnny Kelly on Vimeo.

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Quote of the Week: Margaret Mead
Feb 18th, 2010

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead, American anthropologist (1901-1978)

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Quote of the Week: Madeleine Albright
Feb 13th, 2010

“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women.”

Madeleine Albright, Former US Secretary of State

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Dear Commissioners, stop broadcasting, and start engaging!
Feb 9th, 2010

In the new European Commission set-up, there are two nominations that make me quite sceptical: that of Neelie Kroes at the Digital Agenda, and that of Viviane Reding at Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.

First the person who will be in charge of the so-called digital agenda for Europe is a 69-year-old woman, current Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes. I can’t help but wonder: is a person who should actually be retired the right one to lead Europe into the future? Can she understand what the digital revolution is all about? I doubt it. The Spanish socialist party’s spokesperson for the digital economy is a 30-year-old woman. I think that’s the way it should be because one cannot apply old methods to new phenomena.

Then the Communication portfolio – held by one of the most decent Commissioners so far, Margot Wallström, simply disappeared. Apparently, the competence for communication will be under Viviane Reding’s portfolio. I followed her hearing. Although it is not humanly possible to follow 3 hours of Commissioner hearing -and I might have therefore missed something- I’m pretty sure there were almost no questions about communication. At some point, as this blog reports, Viviane Reding mentioned that, as a former journalist her approach would be to find interesting stories to tell about the EU. Clearly she still thinks that in order to make the EU closer to the citizen, the EU needs to be better communicated. As many EU communicators, she’s wrong. The EU needs to communicate WITH the citizens and not TO the citizens. So I’m begging you, please: stop broadcasting, and start engaging!

EU leaders’ basic misunderstanding on how they should communicate is well reflected in their use of social media. I did a quick study. On Facebook, José Manuel Barroso has 337 fans, Catherine Ashton 204, Neelie Kroes 717, and Viviane Reding… well, she just doesn’t have a profile. To give you a point of comparison, I -Miss Anybody- personally have 565 friends on Facebook, and 155 fans of the Eurosocialist fan page. Surely top EU officials can do better than that! The presence of EU leaders on Twitter is even more pathetic. They simply are not there at all, at least officially, because the vacuum their absence creates has been filled by either fake accounts: such as @JMDBarroso and @hermanvanrompuy or cybersquatting: @CatherineAshton, @VivianeReding @neeliekroes.

Dear Commissioners, you can’t be serious. Communicating with citizens is actually easy to do: just go where they are. You ought to take an example from the European Parliament president, Jerzy Buzek, who has a remarkably different approach: 2.462 fans on Facebook, an official Twitter profile that has already 1.006 followers, though it opened just a few weeks ago, and he is the only one of the above to have links to his social network accounts on his Web page. Last month the European Commission’s Internet editors and webmasters published an appeal to their bosses so that they start harnessing the power of the Internet for better communication. This letter clearly shows that the Commission has competent staff on the matter. The question then is: how long will EU leaders keep on ignoring the communication revolution that is taking place at the moment?

NB: Thanks to the good work of Commission staff, a list of EU institutions’ Twitter and Facebook accounts can be found here.

UPDATE February 10th: @dicknieuwenhuis informs me that Janez Potočnik, new Commissioner for the Environment has opened a Twitter account today! Congratulations!

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The Belgian government is asking for help. Please listen to its call
Feb 7th, 2010

Found on Twitter thanks to @Maitea6

Fortunately, some good souls, such as @linotherhino, have already started to reply.

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Quote of the Week: Marian Wright Edelman
Feb 7th, 2010

“If you don’t like the way the world is, you change it. You have an obligation to change it. You just do it one step at a time.”

Marian Wright Edelman, found on Twitter thanks to Women on the Verge

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Happy Birthday to Bloggingportal.eu!
Jan 26th, 2010

Today we are celebrating bloggingportal.eu’s first birthday. It’s hard to believe it is still so young. It now aggregates more than 500 euroblogs and blogs talking about the EU in all kinds of languages. The project is grassroots. We are not getting any funding. It’s a team of voluntary bloggers who each day, during their free time, select the best euroblog content for you and tag the posts. Inevitably some languages are represented better than others (English, German, French and more recently Spanish). That’s because however multilingual our team of bloggers is, we do not speak all European languages. And if you want to join the team, please do! Just send an email introducing yourself and your blog at: info @ bloggingportal.eu See you on bloggingportal.eu!

bloggingportal-1year

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© Eurosocialiste 2010. Everything posted on this blog is my personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of my employer or its clients. The content of this blog has been revised by Fabtrad (fabtrad @ gmail.com)