Introduction To Our Initiative on Full Political Rights
At the ECIT annual events, a consensus developed in favour of demanding full political rights for mobile voters as the one measure which could give substance to European Citizenship. The current situation where 13.5 million EU citizens can vote in local and European elections, but not in regional and national ones, or indeed in referenda, make this a partial citizenship. EU citizens depend on others to vote for the government which sets the policies and rules affecting their every-day life and which represents them in the European Union. As an opinion piece in The Economist put it before our ECI was launched: “no taxation without representation is not a bad slogan”. After intensive preparatory work, the ECI was submitted in early 2020 and accepted for registration in a positive decision by the Commission, accepting Article 25 TFEU as a legal basis for our demands.
“Voters Without Borders” (VWB) was the name given to the ECI and the taskforce of Erasmus students brought together to implement it. The mobilisation of young people ahead of the 2019 European elections helped produce the highest turnout in 20 years. Shouldn’t young people be given therefore more of a chance to take the lead and campaign for European democracy? Running an ECI is an exceptional on-the-job training ground, requiring multitasking to get support for a specific cause whilst meeting thresholds and time-limits. Research, advocacy and communication skills are required. The taskforce launched the ECI on 1 September 2020. Because of the pandemic, the Commission extended the deadline of one year until June 2022 by which time 8,762 signatures had been collected.
The experience showed that it is not possible unfortunately for a group of young people and a foundation working on a largely voluntary basis to collect one million signatures, although ECIs were designed precisely to give citizens more of a say in a Europe of lobbies. Thanks to the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, there was some support, but ECIs require a high budget estimated at about 1 Euro per signature, full-time professional support and, above all, an extensive European-wide network, which does not exist in the area of hard issues of electoral law. Of course, this is no reason not to try again, as one of our partners is considering in the run-up to the 2024 European elections. Other techniques can also be tried such as organising symbolic elections bringing voters and non-voters together. ECIT participates actively in a coalition of ECI organisers led by EUMANS to reform ECIs and make this first transnational participatory democracy instrument more useable.
The experience showed that it is still worthwhile to launch an ECI and that the number of signatures collected is not the only measure of success. It is possible to achieve at least some objectives of an ECI in other ways. VWB representatives participated in hearings organised by the European Parliament, other EU bodies and conferences. Output was remarkably high — an advocacy paper published at the launch and then updated, detailed comments on Commission proposals to recast directives on the existing European political rights which were largely taken up in European Parliament reports and a more recent analysis of the five Member States which disenfranchise their overseas citizens in national elections. The Foundation expresses gratitude to all the authors of these reports whose names are on the cover pages.
Above all, the ECI showed that whilst it is difficult to keep momentum going on issues of electoral reform between elections, VWB did become a brand and should keep going because there is always an election somewhere in Europe!
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