Sunday, 4 May 2008

on direct democracy - the citizens' initiative

The Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, as rejected by the French and Dutch electorate, contained a provision for a 'citizens' initiative'. This initiative, a legislative triggering measure, would have allowed the citizens of the EU the opportunity to introduce legislation at a European level as they deemed necessary to fully implement the Treaty(ies).

An interesting form of direct democracy, the initiative required one million signatories for a proposal to be placed before the European Commission (the percentage of required signatories from each member state was to be decided after the ratification of the Constitutional Treaty) and an EU law drafted. Unfortunately, unlike in Switzerland where a form of direct democracy exists, such a proposal would not have been binding and although the Commission would have to draft a proposal and submit it to the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, those two legislative bodies could have rejected it.

The reason I mention this is due to a current private members bill, before Parliament. The Citizens' Initiative (Legislation) Bill calls for much the same thing to occur in the UK. Introduced by Douglas Carswell MP (Conservative) on behalf of Unlock Democracy, it is advertised as a way to move on from “rhetoric to action” after Gordon Brown's speech, shortly after becoming PM in which he called for an all-party convention on constitutional change.

It is a fascinating proposal and it would be interesting to see if Gordon Brown backs the Bill, considering MP's all across Parliament support it (no one said 'no' at the first reading for example). In introducing the Bill Mr. Carswell said,

Bills would be introduced on things that mattered to the people, not merely those that excite politicians.
A dangerous precedent? Or a great step in modernising the way Parliament interacts with the people?
I think its a great step and would be advantageous to the Liberal Democrats, governments would have another level of scrutiny placed on them if they failed to legislate as promised in their manifesto (for example changing the voting system as semi-promised by the Labour party manifesto of 1997) and if the people thought that Parliament was lagging behind on an issue of importance they could let this be known. More importantly, if a Bill had the overwhelming majority of support across the country from the electorate, it would be political suicide for a government to not support it given the direct mandate such a Bill would receive.

Second reading takes place on the 17th of October. Pencil it in your diary now.


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