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Citizen participation and the Lisbon Treaty : A legal perspective
University of Aberdeen
Studies in Public Policy
Number of pages
How to "bring the [European] Union closer to its citizens" is a vexed and vital problem of European integration. Article 11 TEU on participatory democracy, recently introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, is meant to be part of the solution. The EU Economic and Social Committee has gone so far as to define this provision "a milestone on the road to a people's Europe that is real and feasible". This appears to be an overly optimistic assessment - partly because art. 11 relies heavily on the involvement of civil society organisations, which political science literature suggests is conceptually and/or practically irrelevant to citizen involvement; partly because it largely formalizes participatory practices that have been in existence for years without cognizable effects on citizen participation; and partly because even its most innovative element - the European citizens' initiative (ECI) - does not bring significant changes to the Union's constitutional arrangements in terms of redistributing decision-making power. In addition to that, secondary legislation places significant hurdles on the submission of ECIs and might prevent or delay their becoming a standard democratic practice. This is not to say that art. 11 TEU has no potential at all. Its insertion in the Treaty might provide impetus to rethink and develop past participatory practices, such as horizontal civil dialogue. Moreover, the effects of "popular input" in the form of ECIs on EU institutional dynamics is as yet unknown - and perhaps not negligible, to judge from the keen interest that the European Parliament and other bodies have demonstrated in "appropriating" it as a political asset. Finally, art. 11 raises the stakes of the Union's democratic challenge and might pressure EU institutions to make full use of its potential. Or, if eventually proved inadequate, art. 11 might constitute a constitutional experiment on the way to meaningful forms of direct democracy at EU level.
European Union, citizens, participatory democracy, civil dialogue, European citizens' initiative, direct democracy, Treaty of Lisbon
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