While I understand the legal basis of rejecting the ECI, on the grounds that the request to repeal the negotiating mandate for TTIP and put an end to CETA is out with the powers of the Commission, I am concerned about the signals this is sending to people.
A European Citizens Initiative does what it says on the tin. It comes from citizens. When an ECI is registered, the campaign then has one year to collect 1 million signatures from at least 7 different countries. No easy task!
Even then there is no real obligation from the European Commission to act upon the initiative. The only obligation is to meet with the campaign organisers, hold a public hearing and offer a formal response. No prizes for guessing what that formal response might have been in this case.
A straight rejection even to register a protest against TTIP through a pan-European petition does not say much about the EU’s willingness to engage citizens, especially on as sensitive an issue as TTIP or CETA.
When certain criteria are met, CESI is not against TTIP or free trade in principle. Personally however, I am against the prevention of debate and undoubtedly a citizen’s initiative would have sparked debate. Fears, shared by CESI, are still out there on a number of TTIP areas such as social, labour and environmental standards and this is now spreading over to other free trade agreements such as CETA or TiSA.
Would it have done any harm to let the ECI go ahead? Probably not. Has there been any harm in rejecting it? The rejection will only heighten fears that there is indeed something to fear about with TTIP, as well as drawing attention to the closed and opaque methods of the Commission. Perhaps rejection was unavoidable from a legal point of view – politically though, the timing could not have been worse.