Special issue blog series on Transformational Change through Public Policy.
Jale Tosun, Daniel Béland and Yannis Papadopoulos
They come with names such as Save Bees and Farmers and End the Cage Age: European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECIs). This tool for giving European citizens an “opportunity to express their concerns in a very concrete way and to influence the European political and legislative agenda” has been viewed with skepticism by academics and the public. What impact could such a tool possibly have that at best can only formally induce the European Commission to issue a formal response?
In our recent article published in Policy & Politics: “The impact of direct democracy on policy change: insights from European Citizens’ Initiatives,” we argue that ECIs can actually have both direct and, even more importantly, indirect effects on policymaking in the European Union (EU). To discern these effects, it is important to appreciate the EU’s institutional setup as a multi-level political system and to consider that the effects of ECIs may take time to materialise. For example, the high-profile Right2Water Initiative resulted in the EU Commission refraining from privatising water services in the EU in 2012. However, eight years later, the Commission returned to this particular ECI when motivating the “transformative” approach it took on the issue of drinking water, which now reflects awareness of the social dimension of access to good quality water. Such effects result from ECIs placing issues onto the discussion or decision agenda and, as other EU-level actors such as European Parliament start to pay attention to the policy demands put forth by an ECI, it can eventually have an impact. The same goes for effects that materialise at the national or subnational level. The hotly debated Minority SafePack Initiative did not induce the Commission to propose policy measures on cultural and ethnic diversity – at least not yet. However, policymakers in Germany and other EU member states have expressed their intention to adopt such measures if the Commission does not take policy action. These and additional examples in our article show that direct democratic instruments should not be associated with veto intention only, as is often argued in the research literature, but citizens’ initiatives should be seen as a tool that enables citizens to shape socio-ecological transformation.
So citizens do matter in effective transformative changes to public policies.
Table of contents for special issue on Transformational Change through Public Policy
Introduction to Transformational Change through Public Policy (Oscar Berglund, Claire Dunlop, Elizabeth Koebele and Chris Weible)
The impact of direct democracy on policy change: insights from European citizens’ initiatives (Jale Tosun, Daniel Béland & Yannis Papadopoulos)
The democratic transformation of Public Policy through community activism in Brazil (Rosana de Freitas Boullosa & Janaína Lopes Pereira Peres)
Lessons from policy theories for the pursuit of equity in health, education, and gender policy (Paul Cairney, Emily St Denny, Sean Kippin, Heather Mitchell)
A Future Research Agenda for Transformational Urban Policy Studies (Meghan Joy & Ronald K. Vogel)
Transforming Public Policy with Engaged Scholarship: Better Together (Leah Levac, Alana Cattapan, Tobin LeBlanc Haley, Laura Pin, Ethel Tungohan, & Sarah Marie Wiebe)
When do disasters spark transformative policy change and why? (Daniel Nohrstedt)
New pathways to paradigm change in Public Policy: Combining insights from policy design, mix and feedback (Sebastian Sewerin, Michael Howlett & Benjamin Cashore)
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