European Citizens’ Initiative – what now?

As you may already know, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is the only existing participatory democratic instrument allowing EU citizens to propose new laws to the European Commission, or to challenge the existing rules and regulations. However, in order to be considered by the Commission and then eventually be translated into a legislative proposal, an ECI has to collect one million signatures from at least seven EU countries. Moreover, the complexity of the process makes it quite difficult for citizens to actually bridge the gap between themselves and the lawmakers at European level. 

The ECI “Save bees and farmers! Towards a bee-friendly agriculture for a healthy environment” reached this goal, having collected 1.1 million signatures. But the real struggle begins now: the Commission has answered, calling on the European Parliament (EP) and the Council (or shifting responsibility) to make sure that the regulations they are currently negotiating have to keep in consideration the citizens’ requests. The ECI organisers answered that they will monitor the evolution of negotiations, keeping decision-makers accountable for the steps they will take. 

ECI “Save Bees and Farmers” organisers have presented the Initiative to the EP in Brussels in an official hearing

Migration & Asylum – the EP turns right

On 20 April, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in plenary to enter in negotiations with Member States and revise migration rules. The New Pact on Migration and Asylum will substitute what we know as the Dublin system. The text approved represents the position that the EP will follow during negotiations, and it foresees a rigid screening at borders in order to speed up the return of “illegal” migrants, re-writing the concept of mandatory solidarity for reception and integration between Member States, which is foreseen only for “emergency situations” determined by Brussels.

This vote clearly represents the Parliament’s shift from a more liberal to a right-leaning approach to migration, mirroring the same progression happening within Member States. In fact, the majority of MEPs voted in favour of an amendment proposed by the centre-right party EPP, that endorses the use of EU funds to help support border barriers. This amendment is almost identical to the conclusions that EU leaders adopted last February on financing the building of fences at external borders using the EU budget. In the end, the report in which the amendment was included was rejected, but this vote shows the high politicisation of the issue and the turbulent relationships between the major political groups within the EP. 

Question time: what about the European Year of Youth? 

European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel answers MEPs’ questions on the EYY legacy

A Question Time has been held in the EP Plenary session on the legacy of the European Year of Youth (EYY): MEPs have asked the European Commission which concrete measures it is going to implement to ensure that the EYY has a lasting effect. “Concrete measures” means that the Commission should present legislative proposals to, among others, ban unpaid internships, support European citizenship education, and promote mechanisms for youth participation in the policy process. The Commission is supposed to publish a report on the implementation of the thematic year by the end of 2023. MEPs underlined how the EYY initiative “left a taste of unfinished business”, with dialogues and debates still ongoing, but no policy proposals presented.

European Year of Skills updates

Since the European Year of Skills is almost ready to be launched (9 May), the European Commission has decided to shed light on digital education, launching two proposals for Council resolutions. This means that the Council can decide to adopt these proposals to encourage EU Member States in promoting high-quality digital education and improving digital skills teaching. 

However, since education policy is in the hands of EU governments, the Commission can act through alternative, faster measures in order to reach concrete results. In fact, a “pilot project” is to launch a European Digital Skills Certificate, that aims to enhance the trust and acceptance of digital skills certification across EU Member States.
Talking about skills, as part of the “Skills and Talent” package of laws, the EP and the Council will soon start negotiating new rules to allow third-country nationals who are long term residents in EU countries to work all across the EU. In fact, at present, non-EU citizens need to constantly apply for new visas if they want to move and work in different Member States. This directive has the aim to strengthen intra-EU mobility rights for long-term migrant workers, improving their prospects of integration and working rights.

Rule of Law

The Conference of Presidents, made up of the EP President and the presidents of the seven political groups, is the body responsible for organising the EP’s business and legislative planning

In April’s EU Parliament plenary session, MEPs were supposed to vote on a resolution on rule of law in Spain, Greece and Malta. Four days before the beginning of the session in Strasbourg, the Conference of Presidents cancelled the item from the agenda. Why? The two major political groups in the EP, S&D and EPP, respectively centre-left and right-wing parties, decided to postpone the debate in order not to interfere with the upcoming elections that will take place in Greece (21 May) and Spain (28 May). Even though it is a usual practice for the EP to avoid planning such debates in correspondence with big election days, recent developments in Greece on freedom of civil society and media and on the independence of public bodies demonstrate that the topic is rather urgent and it should be high in EU institutions’ agendas

Social Issues & Gender Equality

Women in the EU earn on average 13% less than men. New rules have been adopted by the Council and the EP to combat pay discrimination and help close the gender pay gap in EU Member States. The Pay Transparency Directive asks all EU companies to share information on how much they pay women and men for work of equal value, and take action if the pay gap is more than 5%. The measures also include compensation for victims and fines for employers who break the rules.

A dancer performs to demand equal pay and gender pay transparency in front of the EU headquarters in Brussels | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

But the road to gender equality is still long. Alexis Georgoulis, MEP elected in 2019 with Syriza, has been accused of sexual harassment and abuse. He has been dismissed from his political group in the EP, The Left, and expelled from Syriza. Meanwhile, Belgian authorities asked the EP to lift his MEP immunity in order to conduct investigations. The issue will be discussed in the EP Committee on Legal Affairs, and then the lift of Georgoulis’ immunity will be voted on in plenary next month. Let’s hope Belgian authorities will deal with this sexual abuse case better than the Greek ones, where many powerful abusers, exposed by the #MeToo movement, have managed to get away with their actions.

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OUR EYE ON THE EU | when the EU has to answer complex questions