Democracy International: The European Transport Federation has launched a new European Citizens’ Initiative “Fair Transport Europe”. What is the cause?
Eduardo Chagas: The initiative seeks to raise public and political awareness of the need to put an end to the downwards spiral that social dumping practices are dragging the transport sector into. It is to end deplorable working conditions in the EU transport sector. We are working with citizens across the European Union, and the initiative is in its very nature a project that reaches beyond nationality.
You are collecting one million signatures in the frame of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). Why did you decide to use this official EU instrument, rather than run a petition for example via Avaaz?
Fair Transport Europe has submitted a European Citizens' Initiative for several reasons. We want to engage the European public with this issue, because it affects all Europeans. We want to show that a broad alliance of Unions, fair businesses and the European public is behind this call for Fair Transport.
We see the European Citizens’ Initiative as a way of engaging constructively and democratically with the European Institutions, and trust that the institutions will use this opportunity for increased cooperation. We wish to engage in an intensified and fruitful collaboration with the Commission, as well as with national governments and the European Parliament.
This instrument has frequently been criticised for being weak and difficult for citizens to use. Although you have only just launched, you have surely gathered some experience with the tool already. Has this experience rather been positive, or have you faced many obstacles?
It is no secret that an ECI is a difficult and bureaucratic instrument to use, and that there is a lot of complicated work to be done even before beginning the collection of one million signatures.
It has been a significant administrative burden to go through registration, however we understand that the process of approval has to be thorough and that it is necessary to ensure that the collection of signatures is done in a safe way.
We have decided to use another software for the online collection of signatures than the one provided by Commission and as we are just getting started, we do not yet have much experience with the functionality. However, we are happy that the beginning stages have been completed successfully and that we can go ahead with what we want to do, which is creating support for a call for fair competition and fair working conditions in European transport.
How has your interaction thus far been with the EU institutions, have you received support from them?
We have only had limited contact with the Commission regarding the registration of the ECI, but they have provided us with the support needed for launching our collection and so far it has been a more or less smooth process. We are also continuously in contact with both members of the European Parliament as well as national governments in regards to gathering support for the campaign. This work will of course continue throughout the coming year.
Few citizens across the Union know that the ECI exists and what it is. What do you think could be done to make it better known?
It has been very clear to us from the beginning that many Europeans do not know much about the ECI instrument. However, we believe that what will make the ECI system more prominent, is Europeans seeing it used to create real change and awareness among European decision makers on some of the major issues of our time. The Fair Transport Europe initiative would appreciate being part of promoting such change by making not only European institutions, but the entire European public aware of what changes can provide the millions of transport workers in the EU with fair working conditions. This is a key issue in Europe, and we believe that initiatives like this will help expand knowledge of the ECI instrument.
Currently the EU institutions are talking about how to reform the ECI to make it more user-friendly. If you could tell the vice-president of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, one thing that must be included in the reform, what would have top priority for you?
I think we are too early in the process to provide any concrete proposals as to how the instrument could be made easier to use by European citizens. However, we do encourage the EU institutions to look into how the process can be simplified and find ways for ensuring that the ECI lives up to its promise of being a means of making Europeans politics more inclusive of the public and the issues that influence all Europeans. We want to be part of this and would expect that the European Commission wants the same.
You can read more on "Fair Transport Europe" and sign the ECI at www.fairtransporteurope.eu.