As Bruno Kaufmann, head of the Initiative & Referendum Institute-Europe, put it recently, there are obvious weaknesses in the proposal . . . above all the unclear follow-up stages.
Call the ECI, then, a baby step — but one being taken by a very big, transnational tot.
This step could lead to further steps. Before we know it, Europe may be jogging — or even sprinting — toward a future with citizens wielding far greater control over their governments.
But forget that for a moment. What is the nature of this initial step?
The ECI is called an Agenda Initiative — distinguished from a binding initiative — meaning that what citizens get to do directly is to place an issue of governance on the EU agenda.
That is no small matter. One of the greatest attributes of the statewide initiative and referendum process in America has been its allowing of citizens to impact the agenda. Again and again, issues traditionally ignored have received the breath of life.
Sure, like politicians elsewhere, EU solons may ignore or frustrate the petition of the people. But, even if ignored or flouted, the process can put change in motion. By forcing officials to publicly refuse to takeÊaction on an issue, the stage is set for persuasion: The issue has been placed out in the open. And that issue can hang there, like the sword of Damocles: If legislators or officials do nothing, the sword may fall, and they may be out of office in the next election.
While I wish the ECI were a full-fledged initiative process whereby the people of Europe would ascend to a nearly-equal footing with the elite politicians that seem to resist actually representing them, I wish even more that we in the United States possessed even this limited process.
First step? Yes. But the path it begins might very well end with citizens standing on their own feet as sovereigns, not subjects.
Maybe those Europeans are on to something this time.