Tuesday 18 May 2010

ECI, transaction tax & the details of EU policy-making

The German and Austrian Social Democrats have decided today that they want to initiate a European Citizens' Initative (ECI) on the introduction of a financial transaction tax.

The way their press release is formulated makes it sound like they are calling for a referendum (cf. last sentence that reads: '... for that 500 million Europeans can decide over the taxation of financial market speculation'), not mentioning that all they can do with an ECI is make the Commission consider the issue.

They should also mention the timeframe of an ECI and that once they had a successful ECI, the proposal needed to be taken up by the Commission (where there is no social-democratic majority) and it had to be passed (probably according to Art. 113 TFEU) by the Council with unanimity. The European Parliament would only be consulted (if the decision was taken under Art. 113 TFEU).

And only the EU experts - those who know that the ECI regulation is not yet in place and that you cannot even start an ECI right now - will notice that the last paragraph of the press release is actually just a demand that the ECI regulation will be put in place until autumn, so that the Social Democrats can begin their ECI. For the rest of the readers this sounds like the Social Democrats demand an EU transaction tax until autumn.

And if they knew the present state of the ECI discussions, they would also know that 500 million Europeans (as formulated in the last sentence) will not decide about an ECI because the participation age for the ECI is proposed to be the election age of EU citizens which will exclude some 100 million Europeans from this agenda setting instrument. But they anyway only need 1 million signatures.

It is thus nice that the German and Austrian Social Democrats want to make use of the new democratic element given to EU citizens, but the way they treat this issue is far from realistic and thus merely a PR instrument - but the press will surely buy it.

PS.: German social democratic MEP Matthias Groote is aware of that and thus focuses on his demands regarding the implementation of the ECI which seems much more reasonable at this point.