July 2019, four citizens’ initiatives are on the news. Three of them have been registered and the last one has been refused. Since the citizens’ initiative system has been simplified, this tool of transnational direct democracy is more and more relevant. The protection of the environment is the main topic tackled by these citizens’ initiatives. In July 2020, whether the initiatives succeed in collecting at least one million signatures in seven different member states of the European Union (EU), the European Commission will translate them into proposition of regulation.
The citizens’ initiative is the first transnational tool of direct democracy that allows the EU’s citizens to take part in the building of new public policies in the EU. Often criticized for its lack of efficiency, this system has recently been simplified. For example, the Commission can register just one specific part of an initiative if some elements do not enter its prerogatives. Indeed, before 2018, numerous initiatives were refused because some of their elements were not part of the Commission’s competences, despite the fact that the essential part was receivable. Now, the Commission has to make sure every initiatives are translated in each of the EU’s languages and gets one year to collect one million signatures in at least seven different member states. This instrument -considered as irrelevant for years- is increasingly popular since its simplification. The number of citizens’ initiatives increased by 30% between the last two European Commissions and the rate of initiatives being refused decreased by 80% on the same period.
A tax on carbon to fight global warming.
The first initiative: “price for carbon emission, fighting global warming” uses the example of the yellow jackets to illustrate the next two big issues in the EU: policies designed to reduce fossil energies’ consumption and to fight climate change on the one hand, and policies to reduce fiscal pressure on the poorest part of workers and small companies on the other hand. The idea is to build a sustainable production system by coupling environmental policies with social ones. This measure would be coherent with the Paris agreements of 2015.
A tax on carbon would be a good incentive to push consumers and producers to choose renewable energies and could help finance the cost for a transition toward a cleaner production. Indeed, carbon emissions are known to be responsible for climate change. The GIEC’s scientists also support this version, which benefits from a large scientific consensus. An increase in the price of fossil fuels would ultimately lead to a decrease in their consumption and, therefore, to a decrease in carbon emissions.
The benefit of such a tax could also be used to reduce the fiscal pressure on poor workers or the cost of labour force for small businesses. The idea is to reduce the cost of energical transition for poor families. In this perspective, the money raised from the taxes would be spent to the benefit of the poorest part of the population to compensate a costly energical transition.
In 1992, while the Rio summit was suggesting the adoption of a carbon tax on each fuel barrels, the European Council went against the Commission’s proposition. Instead of a tax targeting directly carbon emissions, the system of quota on carbon emission has been adopted. The aim was to create a market where the biggest companies would have to pay for the right to pollute. This system has been heavily criticized, because of its tendency to favour speculation and for its lack of efficiency. Another substantial problem was that the system only concerned a limited number of sectors. Only 55% of carbon emissions were included in that ‘pollution permit’. For instance, the sector of transportation (responsible for about ¼ of carbon emissions in the world), the agriculture sector, medium size businesses and the domestic emissions were not included in the current system.
A good solution would be to implement a proportionality between the amount of carbon in a fuel barrel and the tax that would be applied. There is of course a necessity to apply this tax to every product that has been produced inside as well as outside of the EU, taking in consideration the amount of carbon emissions generated in the process of its production. This tax would avoid a decrease in European competitivity on its own market and third countries would be pushed to adopt similar measures.
The session for signatures will be open on July the 22nd of 2019.
A better regulation for GMOs.
The second initiative accepted by the Commission argues that the regulation over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) must be reformed if we want to keep it efficient. This initiative is motivated by some concerns on consumer’s safety and environmental risk. The text of the citizens’ initiative specifies that “GMOs are the result of artificially altering the genetic material (a.k.a. DNA) of a living cell. The resulting plant or animal carries DNA that it could not have obtained by natural means. Naturally, DNA can only be altered during reproduction or through random mutations that switch off genes or create new ones. GMOs contain DNA that comes from species with which the original organism could not have reproduced”.
This technology is often used for positive purposes and is essential in building a sustainable agriculture in the future. The aim of crafting new plants which are more productive, or which need less water or chemicals, suits perfectly with the imperatives of environment preservation.
However, the dark side of the coin is that very little is known about the potential harmful side effects on both consumers and the environment, especially concerning the GMO’s produced with unconventional and new techniques. According to the precautionary principle, the products involving an important part of uncertainty are not allowed on the European market. On the contrary, the crops produced with conventional mutagenesis techniques have been considered safe for 50 years, but are now starting to show their limits. Indeed, the conventional processes are long, often too expensive and also contain a risk for unwanted side effects . Nowadays, New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs) are seen as more efficient and more accurate than conventional mutagenesis. Despite the relative scientific consensus about the benefits of NPBT, crops produced with NPBT are not allowed within the European market because of the precautionary principle and to avoid the sale of genetically modified products.
This prohibition is seen as counterproductive by numerous scientists who think that a regulation would be more adapted. The claim of this citizens’ initiative is that it would be more appropriate to base the prohibition on the product itself rather than on the technique that has been used in production. Such a new regulation would conciliate safety and scientific progresses. The signature session will be open on July the 25th.
The ending of the plastic era in Europe.
The initiative : “To put an end to plastic era in Europe” is based on the assumption that plastic is a cheap material chosen by producers for economic criterias without consideration for the high environmental cost of its production. In a time of deep environmental crisis, a shift in our behaviour is necessary and Europe could be a pioneer in environmental policies. The use of renewable materials such as glass instead of plastic could be an opportunity to drastically reduce pollution but also to develop new jobs and consumers habits. The aim here is to expand the legislation on the consumption of single-use plastic with plastic bottles as a main product to be replaced. Ultimately, the objective is to totally abandon single-use plastic in the EU.
This initiative is said to be an opportunity to compile democracy and ecology in the EU. The Union gathers only 7% of the world population but is however consuming 20% of the earth’s biocapacity. Earth Overshoot day, the day of the year on which humanity has consumed the equivalent of the annual earth renewing capacites, is reached every year earlier. This year -2019-, that point was reached in May. In front of the emergency, the reaction seems to be too slow or inadapted, with a lack of serious concern for the issue. In this context, it appears as a necessity to adapt our production system to the limited resources we have.
This citizens’ initiative is even more welcomed since the production of plastic bottle continues to rise while the proportion of recycled trash is collapsing. There is another concern: consumer’s safety. Indeed, at a certain time of its lifespan, a plastic container is rejecting dangerous chemicals. Moreover, the process of production can be dangerous for both the environment and the workforce of other continents where the plastic is produced.
Recycling is not enough. All plastic are not always recyclable, and even when they are, the process of recycling is often of bad quality and generates carbon emissions as well.
The abandon of single-use plastic production should be coupled with local production and short circuits consumption. Returnable bottles associated with a deposit could also be part of the solution. Reusable packaging would ultimately bring the producers to be closer to the consumer and, by doing so, would create new jobs in the EU.
This initiative would be the opportunity to go a step further in the transition and force the Member States to comply with their engagement in the Paris agreements. It also considers the transition toward a better and greater ecological production as a way to create new jobs and economic opportunities.
The initiative will start collecting signatures on the 26th of July.
The three initiatives have been accepted as they were receivable in front of the Commission. A fourth initiative named ‘Right in the EU, rights for minorities and democratization of spanish political institutions’ has been rejected. In fact, this initiative was nothing of a juridic proposition and was judged outside of the Commission’s competences. For the three others, the result will be known by July 2020.
For more information:
A price for carbon emission: http://stopglobalwarming.eu/
The end of plastic era in EU: https://www.guillaumebalas.eu/2019/05/23/pour-une-ecologie-de-rupture-commencons-par-mettre-fin-a-lere-du-plastique-en-europe/ New rule for GMO’s: https://www.growscientificprogress.org/
 Agence Belga : L’Europe veut faciliter le lancement des initiatives citoyennes, RTL Info, Décembre 2018.
 Un prix sur le Carbone : Combattre le changement climatique et augmenter l’emploi en réduisant les impôts sur le travail, stopglobalwarming.eu, 2019.
 Deluzarche.C, Transport et CO2, quelle part des émissions ?, Futura planet, 2017.
 The citizens’ initiative, Crow Scientific progress, 2019.
 Balas.G : Pour une écologie de rupture, commençons par mettre fin à l’ère du plastique en Europe. guillaumebalas.eu