A Petition  


I was waiting for Heather who was looking for a new handbag in a shop in Annecy.   I decided not to be involved, but opposite the shop there was a big catholic church.  It's an old church which has been renovated recently at our expense – i.e. the rate payers of Annecy.   And so I decided to go in and have a quick look at the inside.  As usual in French churches it was a bit dark, but in the shadows I saw a leaflet entitled “One of Us”. It continued:

  To protect the embryo in Europe. The operation “One of Us” is a European Citizen Initiative, a new tool of participative democracy. The principal objective: to stop the financing of research on human embryos* while the 2014 – 2020 budget is being discussed.
Objective: 60,000 signatures before summer 2013 
More than a petition, it is a vote! 

* Embryo is defined as any cell or cells capable of becoming a mature human being being, even if only with artificial intervention.

A vote?  For me that was surprising.  To have a vote when the only participants are catholics seemed a bit antidemocratic. In fact, however, to describe it in this way was a bit exaggerated.  The Treaty of Lisbon, in the name of 'participative democracy', authorised in 2011 the creation of a right to petition for European citizens, although quite what sort of democracy there is other than "participative" sort, I don't know.

The idea that the citizen ought to have a right to petition comes from antiquity when there was a king and it seems that this is the modern version.  But the original right existed in an epoch when it was needed in order that ordinary people could be heard – at least occasionally – by the absolute power.  Its reintroduction follows the realisation that Europe is not perceived by its citizens as a true democracy.  It is seen more as an absolute ruler which does not respond to the wishes of the people but, rather, to those of the political class. The idea behind the petition is an attempt to give the impression that the great power at Brussels is listening.

So how does it work? It seems that there is a committee of MEP's who consider each petition which has gathered at least 1 million signatures.   There is a second condition – the signatures cannot be from only one country, but a minimum of 7 countries, each with a minimum number of signatures related to the population of the country e.g. Italy & the UK 54,750, but only 4,500 for Cyprus.   There are many other conditions – regarding the translation, the form of the petition, its registration etc., etc., (European bureaucracy is very straightforward!) and there is a third major condition – the signatures have to collected within one year from the date of registration of the petition.

And what do the members of the committee do when they have considered the petition?  They can do nothing or propose a change in European law.

So then, apart from 'One of Us' (sponsored by the catholic church) what are the other petitions which are in progress?  We have, for example:


End Ecocide in Europe: A Citizens’ Initiative to give the Earth Rights – (which would make ecocide a crime against humanity)

Unconditional Basic Income – (which would give an income to everyone including the laziest amongst us)

Stop vivisection – (sponsored by various national leagues aginst vivisection and 'The European Animal Rights Party')

Water and sanitation are a human right! Water is a public good, not a commodity! The water supply and management of water resources [should] not be subject to ‘internal market rules’ and that water services are excluded from liberalisation – (Sponsored by the European Federation of Public Service Unions)

Suspend the 2009 EU Climate & Energy Package (excluding energy efficiency clauses) and further climate regulations until a climate agreement is signed by major CO2 emitters - China, USA, and India. - (Sponsored by the European Freedom and Democracy group of the European Parliament, which includes UKIP, the Lega del Nord and other right wing parties)

When there was a monarchy, the right to present a petition was useful – even for the monarch. For him, it was a useful way of keeping tabs on inappropriate use of power (i.e. against the interests of the king) by the aristocracy (the middle managers of the day) and, of course, it was an escape valve for the disgruntled petitioner.

But in a democracy? With a combined population of 500 million inhabitants it is difficult to see that the opinion of even a million of them should have the real possibility of being the source of new law. Above all when, save for a tiny minority, the other 499 million would not have any knowledge of the proposal.

Democracy requires that every such proposal be part of an open public debate and not hidden in antidemocratic darkness, whether that of a church or an obscure European process.


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