One million signatures should trigger a referendum11TH OCTOBER 2010: THIS was my contribution to a debate in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) committee on proposed amendments to the proposal to introduce citizens' initiatives this afternoon.
"I am in favour of the amendment that would reduce from 300,000 to 5,000 the number of signatures that would have to be secured by the qualifying stage (the stage at which it is decided whether the initiative is admissible ). I am in favour of the amendment that would reduce the number of countries from three to one from which the signatures at the qualification stage would have to come. I am also in favour of the reduction of the number of states from which the one million signatures must come from a third of states to a quarter. I favour the amendment that would extend the period over which the million signatures could be obtained from twelve months to forty-eight months. All of these would allow genuine citizens' initiatives and not just ones organised, perhaps covertly, by large organisation
"I am against the extension of the European values criterion to ones that are said to be covertly against European values. This would be a subjective judgement, as has been said. In fact I am against the European Values criterion altogether. The European Union is too often frightened of hearing what the public really wants to say. This (European values) criterion (for admissibility) would stifle debate and place a constraint on what can be said.
"However, let us set that aside for a moment. Whereas a substantive proposal must not be contrary to European values, would it be permissible to call for additions to, deletions from, or amendments of, European values in a citizens' initiative. Perhaps the answer to that might depend on where the particular value is to be found.
"The competence criterion is apparently still the competence of the Commission. However, last week in AFCO it was suggested that initiatives might be allowed that call for amendments to the treaties. This would suggest that the competence criterion might be treated flexibly to extend to the competence of the European Union as a whole and beyond the competence of the Commission.
"We heard a lot this afternoon about direct democracy (referendums) but citizens' initiatives are not referendums. They are simply petitions by another name. However, they are substandard petitions because they can be smothered at birth or at maturity by the Commission.
"I believe that the one million signatures should not be a petition that can be ignored but a trigger that calls a referendum."