There is no Europe without citizens – The Weekly 36
Ever since their establishment, EU institutions have often been subjects of many disputes about how overcomplicated and non-transparent the community and the operation of its organizations are for the people of Europe. These cumbersome processes, which are often formed by agreements between member states, simply alienate the EU from its own citizens. As a simple voter interested in politics, then as an MP of the Hungarian Parliament and now as a MEP, I have often had to come to the conclusion that many European citizens, despite all the colourful advertisements, campaigns and events, do not understand the European Union and, as a result, they can’t fully identify with it, which may have a long-term devastating effect on the EU – as we should already have understood from the rise of anti-Europe and populist politicians by now.
That’s why I was so disappointed by the European Commission’s rejection of the Minority SafePack citizens’ initiative. In an earlier post, I have already explained how important and worthy goals the initiators set with regard to the rights of European native ethnic minorities, in my opinion. It’s an utter shame these goals cannot be accomplished now. However, there is an even bigger shame: the damage to European democracy and European civil organizations.
Here’s the bottom-line message of the EC’s decision: you can organize yourselves all you want, you can write petitions all you want, you can even convince the EP, it won’t matter. What matters is what we decide behind closed doors.
Why do I use such grave words? I believe the Minority SafePack had a stronger legitimacy than any other initiative before. As you may remember, the European Commission refused to allow the collection of signatures at first, claiming a lack of competency in the matter. However, the organizers turned to the European Court, which decided that the matter did fall within the EC’s competency, so it cannot reject the collection of signatures. After that, the organizers collected 1.3 million statements of support from the citizens of seven EU member states. Since I have already launched a European Citizens’ Initiative before, I am fully aware what an enormous logistical effort and perseverance you need to succeed in such an undertaking. After a convincing support by citizens, the issue was referred to the European body with the highest legitimacy, i.e., the European Parliament, which voted for it with a vast majority.
What happened next was that the European Commission simply swept off the opinion of 1.3 million European citizens and the arguments of MEPs directly elected by the people of Europe.
The EC returned to its original position, namely, that it has no competency in the matter and that it has already done so much for Europe’s native minority recently, anyway.
The European Commission, a body consisting of political delegates instead of directly elected representatives, simply sent the message to the European Court that it has no jurisdiction over the Commission, while the 1.3 million signers and the MEPs are told that they are wrong and the problem they perceive does not exist. As a European citizen and a MEP who took an oath to represent the European people, I find this act deeply insulting.
Of course, this is not the first time for the European Commission to be in a difficult position with regard to its legitimacy. We can all remember how the lead candidate system was promised and then suddenly dropped when potentially having a too strong person as the head of the EC became inconvenient for the nation-state political elites. The disappointment is now equally painful for all European citizens, and not just those who worked so hard for years to promote the citizens’ initiative and now it seems to be all for next to nothing.
They were promised a more democratic Europe with a more effective citizen participation, and now they are left at the finish line with nothing but the cynical smiles of politicians never elected by anyone.
I know that this event will not stop European institutions from advertising themselves in colourful brochures while constantly complaining about how populist politicians endanger European integration because the people fail to understand or identify with the European Union. These voices will sound extremely hypocritical, especially if the European Union cuts down citizens’ initiatives without any second thought while lecturing them about what they actually need.
That’s not the kind of Europe I work for as a MEP. Of course, economic cooperation and member state agreements are very important too, but I think it will be difficult to build a Europe without a more direct citizen participation…