The Lisbon Treaty, if approved, contains a provision that would see the current spread of direct democracy in the E.U. achieve a new dimension. If enough signatures are gathered, a referendum can be held on new or existing E.U. laws. This would be the first example of referendum trancending national borders as the votte would be held in multiple countries simultaneously. -Editor
"1 million voices, 1 Message, End poverty": German Chancellor Merkel in June '07
Discussions by MEPs on the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 18 September come ahead of a report on the subject by Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann of the GUE/NGL group. She believes the legal position needs clarification.
Democratic "directness" appreciated
The introduction of such a system by the reform treaty would make it the first example of direct democracy between several different countries.
MEPs heard from many NGO representatives who said the move would make the EU's institutions more open to people. Several speakers thought that not just EU citizens but people who are resident in the Union should also be allowed to take part.
One million signatures represents 0.2% of the EU population. There was some discussion about whether it should be exactly 1 million (for example is 970,000 acceptable?) - and how many countries it should come from.
Don't set hurdle of participation too high
Professor Jürgen Meyer, a former member of the Bundestag said that the 1 million mark gave it weight but did not set the hurdle too high.
There was also some debate about how to collect signatures, how they should be verified and how long people should have to collect them. Whether electronic signatures were acceptable and should people give their address were also issues.
The chair of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, German Socialist Jo Leinen thought the signature idea would lead to more involvement by people in the running of the EU. He hoped the reform treaty would be adopted before the European parliamentary elections in June next year.
Ms Kaufmann said the initiative opens the door for direct democracy and is a new legal tool. She also said that it was important to draw on the legal traditions across different countries and cultures.
The report is expected by January.