The national research teams which are partners in the project “Towards a Citizens’ Union”, the European Institute of Romania included, met in Copenhagen during 15 – 16 November 2018. The project covers a whole series of research papers presenting the national perspectives on the following topics: direct democracy, representative democracy and democratic accountability. Further to the research activities of the national experts involved in the project, the first collective volume dedicated to direct democracy in the European Union was launched. The first meeting day focused on the main conclusions drawn from the preparation work of the book on direct democracy.
Here are the main ideas pointed out:
- The same paradox can be found in several research contexts – there is a high demand for direct democracy, even if it is sometimes highly criticised;
- Although the instruments of direct democracy are clearly expanding, their use is not the best way to strengthen the European Union;
- Many times, the most fervent supporters of direct democracy are the extremists, therefore, when using direct democracy, we need to firstly prepare the ground for debates, then organise referendums;
- There is an upsurge in the number of citizens’ initiatives, but this is not a magical solution to democratic deficit, despite of the significant increase.
The book launch was part of an integrated event that took place on 16 November 2018, with the participation of representatives from the Danish political, research and non-governmental fields, as well as from other Member States of the European Union. This was a real opportunity to hold a series of speeches on the features of both direct and representative democracy. Amongst the main ideas voiced, we can mention:
- There is a need for increased power of the European Parliament (EP); over time, EP has leveraged the ambiguities of the Treaties in order to enhance its own powers and to play a more active part in the co-decision procedure;
- The European Parliament elections in 2019 will most probably lead to a stronger presence of populists in the EP, which might increase the internal fragmentation of the Parliament;
- Underlying reasons: 1) populists have learnt their lessons from the past mistakes (one cannot win votes by promoting exit from EU). They rely on the European citizens’ fears (globalization and impact on their social status; refugee crisis); 2) they feel very comfortable about deploying campaigns at European level.
The collective volume, to which the experts Mihai Sebe and Eliza Vaș from the Studies and Analyses Unit also contributed, is available on CEPS website, under the Publications tab, and can be downloaded free of charge: https://www.ceps.eu/system/files/EU_Direct_Democracy_CEPS_RLI_paperback_Blockmans_Russack.pdf. It consists of 21 chapters, grouped in
four parts: EU-level Mechanisms, Transversal Aspects and Thematic Issues, Country Reports, and Conclusions.
Chapter 17, called „The Untapped Potential of Direct Democracy in Romania”, (pp. 340 – 362), covers the use of direct democracy instruments in Romania from 2003 to present (referendums, citizens’ initiatives, civic movements, petitions addressed to public institutions, etc.). Moreover, this chapter tackles the European dimension of the theme, making reference to a series of topical issues at European level and to their impact on the national agenda. The authors’ main findings are: political representatives frequently use the instruments of direct democracy to push forward their own agenda, rather than to stir up a constructive debate in society; citizens have started to increasingly use the instruments of participative democracy in the last years (for instance, come up with citizens’ initiatives) and we can notice an increase in their openness to get further involved in the decision-making procedure.
*The article was first published in EIR Newsletter, no. 94 – November 2018.