The right for any citizen to file a petition to the European Parliament is enshrined in the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union. The citizens may address any type of problem relating to EU law in their petitions, such as environmental issues, hinders to the free movement within EU, or breeches of citizens’ rights.
The Committee on Petitions, often abbreviated PETI, is the only committee in the European Parliament where citizens enjoy direct contact with the members of the house. The committee aimes at bridging the gap between the citizens and the EU institutions, where individuals and groups can voice their concerns in a direct dialogue with the representatives from the institutions, the member states and NGOs.
The latest developments in the European political climate, where populists and extremists have won territory in election after election, is a signal that we have to become better at listening to the citizens, as well as face and solve the cross-border challenges that burdens the individuals of EU in their everyday life. Democracy in its functioning is about processes and good institutions. As decision-makers, we should always strive to include the civil society as much as possible in the legislative process. Together we must do our outmost to create a more inclusive EU where every citizen feels that his or her voice is heard.
As the chair of the Committee on Petitions, I aspire to make the EU better at incorporating the various experiences of citizens from all over Europe, and enable them to influence the legislative procedure. By listening to the specific problems faced by citizens regarding existing legislation, we can ensure that future legislation is improved. As a clear example of one of my initiatives to improve this process, I initiated a network between PETI and members from the other committees in the European Parliament. The idea is to raise awareness about petitions received, and how they relate to the legislative committees.
The Committee on Petitions also plays an essential part in monitoring how EU law is implemented in the Member States, through individuals identifying possible misapplication of regulations and directives. Indeed, it is sometimes the case that a decision has been taken on EU level that is then erroneously interpreted or even disregarded by the national authorities. PETI is one of the channels where citizens may alarm the EU of such misapplication of EU law.
The work conducted in the Committee on Petitions is very rewarding, as we are in direct contact with the citizens. It is a constant reminder that the laws we make have consequences for people in their everyday life – some expected and wanted, and some unexpected and unwanted. Above all, it is a reminder to all of us that it is for the people of the EU that we make the laws. It is therefore always very interesting to meet new petitioners in my committee. Even though we sometimes are unable to help the petitioners for various reasons, a petition can still raise an issue and bring it up on the agenda of the Members of the European Parliament. It is imperative that the citizens of Europe feel that they are being listened to, and that we take their day-to-day problems seriously.