This morning saw the European Disability Forum hand over an EU wide petition of over a million signatures to the European Commission. The petition calls for stronger disability legislation in Europe. Under the new Reform Treaty:
“Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the 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.”
Interestingly, the 1million4disability press release suggests that only around a sixth of the signatures were gathered online, perhaps reflecting the already strong network of the national NGOs who collaborated in the Forum. These groups presumably already have strong support bases who be motivated relatively easily to sign such a general statement that has a direct personal relevance to many of them.
There has been some debate about how easy gathering the requisite number of EU wide petitions will be. Well so far so good, the oneseat.eu campaign managed it and now so have the European Disability Forum. While 1 million may seem a lot of signatures, it is a mere 0.2 percent of the EU population and divided by 27 Member States around 37,000 signatures a piece. European organisations with strong national databases of supporters should be able to gather such numbers with a manageable amount of effort. For those who don’t have such ready-made networks, the internet should offer a platform for creating them given the right issue, resources and tactics.
Of course the question then becomes whether Brussels will listen? Clearly such a petition puts the issue on the Commission’s table. But it also helps if the people you are trying to influence actually have an ability to do something about the issue. The oneseat campaign faced the issue that only the unanimous agreement of the Member States can change the seat of the European Parliament. The Commission has no competence to act despite people power. Their petition probably in the end had a little effect on a problem that can only be solved by a rather large swallowing of gallic pride.
In the case of this new petition, things look more rosy. A Commission cabinet official commented this morning that while the Commission was under no legal obligation under the new Treaty to act on the basis of such petitions, it would find it politically difficult to ignore. With connecting with the citizens/consumers a mantra of the current Commission, it would appear that all those seeking to influence policy in Brussels would be wise to consider when and how to make use of such techniques in the future.