Right to petition
In Europe the 'Right to Petition', to address authorities as citizens with a written declaration, is limited.
- an individual European citizen can address the European Parliament. But the 'subsidiarity principle' applies here. It is Europe after all. Meaning, the European parliament only deals with issues about the implementation of European regulation. Therefore it has no 'agenda setting' capacities. It is more technical than explicitly political. Also, it does not assume it comes from a group of individuals signalling a concern in society. The petition is signed by one citizen. It does not gain 'weight' when more citizens sign.
- an individual European citizen (or group of citizens) can also go 'all the way' and address the European Court of Human Rights. This approach is even more juridical. It can have huge political implications as it can function as an escalation of a complaint about cases where the applicant has 'suffered a significant disadvantage'. Other cases are declared inadmissible. It does not deal with EU-law yet, although the Lisbon Treaty states that it will, but about all legislation in 47 member states of the Council of Europe.
See The Evolution of the Right of Individuals to Seise the European Court of Human Rights by Astrid Kjeldgaard-Pedersen of the University of Aarhus.
- an individual or organisation can address the The Court of Justice of the European Union when their rights have been infringed by an EU member state or EU institution. Obviously this is even further removed from the 'Right to Petition' in the sense of addressing something politically, although it can have such an impact along the way.
In European Memberstates
In European Memberstates the 'Right to Petition' is established in the constitution in some but not in others.
Every person shall have the right individually or jointly with others to address written requests or complaints to competent authorities and to the legislature. (Article 17 of the Constitution )
In the Netherlands:
Everyone shall have the right to submit petitions in writing to the competent authorities.
The right to petition seems to be buried deep into the constitution. In article 69.
A referral may be made to the Economic, Social and Environmental Council by petition, in the manner determined by an Institutional Act. After consideration of the petition, it shall inform the Government and Parliament of the pursuant action it proposes.
Petitions can not be addressed to the parliament and government, but first go to a economic, social and environmental council which then informs parliament or government on what to do. If the council does not act (immediately) on it, the government and parliament are unaware of the existence of the petition. In effect, there is no strong right to petition.
And in article 72.
The conditions in which voters in each territorial community may use their right of petition to ask for a matter within the powers of the community to be entered on the agenda of its Deliberative Assembly shall be determined by statute.
Restrictive, because instead of 'everyone' it refers to the right of 'voters'and a certain territorial community. Furthermore, each level of government is supposed to describe how the right to/of petition takes shape. More restrictions.
Interestingly, in an earlier article (68) the right to petition is used as an instrument to hold a member of the Government liable by victims.
In title II article 28, of the Constitution the right to petition is formulated:
"Ieder heeft het recht verzoekschriften, door een of meer personen ondertekend, bij de openbare overheden in te dienen. Alleen de gestelde overheden hebben het recht verzoekschriften in gemeenschappelijke naam in te dienen."
The Flemish parliament even supports this with a right to a reply from the government since 2006 in a special decree. (Bijzonder decreet over de Vlaamse instellingen, article 17) :
Ieder heeft het recht verzoekschriften, door één of meer personen ondertekend, schriftelijk bij het Vlaams Parlement in te dienen. Zij mogen niet in persoon of door een afvaardiging van personen worden overhandigd. § 2. Het Vlaams Parlement kan de ingediende verzoekschriften naar de Vlaamse Regering verwijzen met het verzoek omtrent de inhoud ervan uitleg te verstrekken binnen de door het Vlaams Parlement bepaalde termijn.
Within six months a reply follow, or if this is not possible (motivated), extended with another three months. In 2001 (updated in 2005) a number of 15.000 signatures became the condition. There is even a hearing and a possible appeal to the ombudsman.