the European Charter of Rights on Active Citizenship

The “Charter” is an effort “to develop the concept of ‘Civic Participation’, which is mentioned in the European Constitution (art. 47 and art. 72, second part), but then not explained.”

It is a draft for public debate. It aims to address “the paradox” that, “while citizens and their autonomous organizations are usually asked to contribute with material and immaterial resources to filling the ‘democratic deficit’ of the European Union, they are, at the same time, hardly considered and often mistrusted by public institutions.”

The “right to participation” is thus defined: “Each individual has the right to actively participate, through Autonomous Citizens’ Organizations (ACOs), in public life.” This may sound alarmingly collectivist–can’t individual Europeans participate directly in public life?–but I think the goal is to supplement the extensive individual civil and political rights that are already enshrined in European law with a formal acknowledgment of associations.

ACO’s are assigned rights in this charter, but most of them sound like rights already protected under laws concerning citizens’ free speech and assembly. For instance, the charter says, “Whenever citizens’ rights and general interests are at stake, ACOs have the right to intervene with opinions and actions.” European citizens already have rights to state their opinions, and they are within their existing rights if they choose to express themselves through associations. Thus the most interesting parts of the charter are the obligations imposed on governments to engage ACOs, plus the appendix that lists “best practices” for doing so.

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