It was in July 2014 when a committee of citizens and organizations asked the European Commission to register a proposal for a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) called “Stop TTIP”, with the intention of blocking the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Two months later, the European Commission denied the committee’s request. Now, 30 months later, the European Court of Justice has annulled the Commission’s decision, meaning the ECI can be proposed again.
The criticisms that the agreement faced, including the procedure for dispute settlement between investors and States, the weakening of labor protection laws, social safety nets, environmental protection, consumer protection, and the risk of deregulation of public services (such as water supply), had pushed the Stop TTIP committee to ask the European Commission for “different commercial and investment policies in the European Union”. On September 10th 2014, however, the Commission refused to register the committee’s request as, according to the Commission, such a proposal “was outside the framework of its powers”.
The committee thereafter brought an action the Court of Justice for the annulment of the decision, which has been upheld.
With this decision, the Court has recognized that the beginning of negotiations aimed at concluding the TTIP may indeed be the object of an ECI. Moreover, the Court observed that “the principle of democracy, which is one of the fundamental values of the EU” must be able to accept proposals of this nature from citizens, and that “nothing justifies excluding from democratic debate legal acts seeking the withdrawal of a decision authorizing the opening of negotiations with a view to concluding an international agreement, as well as acts whose object is to prevent the signing and conclusion of such an agreement.”
If the objective of an ECI is “to allow EU citizens to participate more in the democratic life of the EU”, the Court hopes for the beginning of a more transparent process in which the Commission may “presenting in detail to the Commission the questions raised by the initiative”.
The Stop TTIP committee has declared that will not represent the ECI at this time, despite it being perfectly legal to do so, but notes that “this time it would be impossible for the Commission to hide behind formalities to deny European citizens their right to express themselves on matters that concern them.”
“It’s certainly good news, a ruling that restores meaning to the word democracy, and that brings institutions and citizens closer together, which are often too distant. It’s a great merit of the Stop TTIP committee, which has worked hard and with obvious results to support the rights of European citizens. So we’ll keep going, until the space given to democratic debate is normal, and not an extraordinary event.”