Hooray! Every day some more Lisbon Treaty innovations. Today I came across a campaign for the first European Citizens’ Initiative. (Hat tip: Andrew Burgess) Good news is that it is not an animal rights campaign but a campaign for a “Free Sunday“. Regardless of the idea behind the “free Sunday”, the timing and the execution of the campaign seem amateurish and may well backfire (see below).
First of all what is this European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)? It is a new tool to involve citizens in EU decision making. Basically you need 1 Mio signatures of European citizens to call on the European Commission to draft a policy proposal. Read some background info here.
Let’s look in the treaty, Art 11 of the TEU:
Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.
The procedures and conditions required for such a citizens’ initiative shall be determined in accordance with the first paragraph of Article 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The problem is the last sentence. At the moment negotiations are under way about how the specific details should look like. The European Commission published a green paper and a public consultation just ended on 31.1.2010. Legal uncertainty is a problem if you start a campaign now, but there are even more problems of the “Free Sunday” campaign:
(1) Legal uncertainty. It is risky to start a campaign when the legal details are not yet clear. The amount of the signatures might be clear but what about electronic votes? What personal details need to be submitted? What is a “significant number” of Member States? Will there be a time limit between the first and the last signature? Some of the things have been debated but as long as there is no certainty it seems like a waste of time to start collecting signatures or even to “build momentum”.
(2) Campaign backing: The idea comes from Martin Kastler a Bavarian MEP, not the most innovative start but fair enough. At the moment there are 5 civil society organisations supporting the campaign: 2 Christian groups that are closely linked to the German WWII expellees (“Heimatvertriebenen”) , two national association of Catholics and a local (protestant) working group of the CDU. First of all, this is a relatively small amount of organisations. All of them Christian groups and all of them based in Germany. One the one hand it is not surprising that religious groups are among the supporters for such an idea, but is it enough to get support only from Germany when you want to organise a European campaign? The main Catholic and Protestant organisations in Germany are not even included and you can’t tell me that religious groups in other countries are not well organised… But to give the campaign more credibility it is certainly a good idea to include other non-religious groups. Trade unions spring to mind, but also various NGOs and parties might support you. Interestingly, Kastner mentions that in his press release that he hopes to get the backing of other groups as well – but why start a campaign page already if you could get massive support with some more lobbying?
(3) Website and social media: So you have a campaign website. Very good. But is it clever to have it in 2 languages only (English and German)? I know it is difficult to translate a page into many languages but if you had more supporters in other countries it might be easier. And I found a facebook fan page. Well done. But again: only in German and only 377 fans… Other social media gadgets are missing, no twitter, no blog, no discussion and most importantly no tools to spread the message: banners, maybe user submitted campaign material. A successful online campaing needs to be creative!
(4) Media campaign. There is none. A quick look into the German google news reveals clearly that there is no hype whatsoever. A couple of regional and Christian German newspapers copied the press release, that’s it.
(5) Problem with the free-sunday.eu campaign is the lack of content. Keep the Sunday free of work – ok, but how exactly? There is no background info, no specific legislative proposals, no overview of the legal situation in different European countries, only one page with a couple of bullet points that outline some objectives. However, lacking a clear legislative proposal, the danger is that others label you as not being relevant, which might not only kill the campaign itself but also discourage others. First thing to remember is that there needs to be a specific issue in which the Commission can act in accordance with the Treaties! So is it an appropriate proposal for an ECI? Unfortunately we cannot evaluate this based on the campaign website!
In case the the campaign has the aim to get more support for the cause and start a proper ECI later – make it clear and ask for specific proposals for example as part of a “public citizen consultation”! After all you want to include citizens, right? Are you looking for actual signatures or just for supporters that are willing to contribute to the real campaign – again this is not clear and might not be beneficial for your campaign.
(6) The slogan. “Mom and dad belong to us on Sunday.” is inspired by a German trade union slogan from 1956. Is that enough for 2010?
First impressions, unfortunately, count – especially for campaigns. The free-sunday.eu campaign is unprofessional and looks amateurish. Let’s hope the next campaign looks more promising (animal rights groups are usually very professional…)
Article would have not existed without Moray Gilland – Thanks a lot for the twitter discussion
Update: Another rather critical take on the issue by Matthew Lowry’s Tamsanian Devil.