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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsOne of the traditional prerogatives of nation states in their dealings with international organisations is that they act as so-called gatekeepers of interest articulation. In other words, while states may, and indeed should, listen to their populations as to what their interests are, it is the state itself that decides which interests are to be pursued, both at home, but also through multilateral means, such as through international organisations. Traditionally, thus, in a liberal democracy, citizens are represented by elected officials who then act on their behalf. However, this traditional notion of citizen representation has also been redefined for those states that participate in the EU integration project.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 secondsWhereas in certain EU institutions, EU citizens are represented only indirectly by their national representatives, the composition of other EU institutions is decided directly by EU citizens themselves. The first is the case of the Council of the European Union, where ministers of the discussed topic from the individual member states meet regularly. The latter, then, is the case of the European Parliament where EU citizens get to vote for their representatives every five years. Naturally, the means of representation also determines the mandate of the institution in question. As such, while the Council of the European Union pursues the interests of the member states, the European Parliament acts on behalf of the citizens of Europe.

Skip to 1 minute and 41 secondsSince the Lisbon Treaty, European citizens have been empowered even more to bypass their nation state's traditional gatekeeping role. The treaty introduced the European Citizen Initiative, or ECI, enabling a large enough group of citizens to table a legal initiative with the European Commission provided the European Commission is the relevant EU institution to address the matter in question. This initiative, meant to boost direct democracy within the European Union, enables at least one million EU citizens stemming from at least one quarter of the EU member states to request the European Commission to initiate legislation. While the process can be described as rather burdensome, the ECI has up until now been widely appreciated as a tool of direct representation.

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 secondsThe first successful ECI was the so-called Right 2 Water Initiative, whose authors argue that water is a public good and not a commodity. As a result, the initiative, which collected almost two million signatures, calls upon the European Commission to propose legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation. This issue has been taken up by the European Commission, which has been preparing a drinking water directive. Yet while potentially being an important tool for fostering more direct citizen involvement at EU level, not all initiatives are, of course, successful ones. Some fail to meet a formal criteria, such as number of collected signatures, while others request the European Commission to propose legislation in areas that remain outside of the commission's powers.

Skip to 3 minutes and 29 secondsAn example of the latter could be, for instance, the initiative to sing the European anthem in Esperanto or the heavily medialised Stop TTIP Initiative, which asked the commission to repeal the negotiating mandate for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiated with the United States of America. Overall, then, we can argue that participating in the European integration process has once again renegotiated the traditional understanding of the nation state. By providing European citizens with additional channels of political representation, both direct and indirect, the nation state's traditional role of serving as interest gatekeepers vis-a-vis third countries or multilateral institutions has been transformed.

Representation and participation in a supranational democracy

In this video, Dr Marek Neuman explains how European integration changes the relationship between the state and its citzens.

Traditionally, citizens are represented by elected officials who then act on their behalf in international affairs. However, this traditional notion of citizen representation in matters of foreign policy has also been redefined for those states that participate in the EU integration project. EU integration creates novel forms of political participation for citizens on a supranational level, such as voting for the European Parliament or proposing directly new EU legislation.

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European Culture and Politics

University of Groningen

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