On 1 April, the European Union became more democratic. This is the argument of defenders of the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) which came into force that day. From now on, EU citizens can “call on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal.”

To do that, they can collect a million signatures “on matters where the EU has competence to legislate.” In this case, they can bring their proposal before the EU executive and at a public hearing organised by the European Parliament. After the presentation of the signatures, the Commissioners have three months to accept (or not) the proposal, which would then enter the Community’s normal legislative procedure.

While the Commission has been seen for years as a bastion of Eurocrats cut off from the citizens and Parliament as an elected assembly with no real connection with their constituents, the ECI represents undeniable progress.

But while the famous “democratic deficit” of the EU is regularly denounced by Eurosceptics and has now been pointed out by intellectuals like Jürgen Habermas, and while others, like Ulrich Beck are calling for a “Europe of the citizens”, it is surprising that the entry into force of the ICE has not elicited more reactions in the European press. As if, yet again, the lack of political dramatisation and technocratic absurdity rule out any interest in European politics.

Yet this is indeed a European political reality, although the complexity of the procedure imposes many limits to entry. Consider how the million signatures must be gathered: they must come from at least seven EU countries, and be collected by a committee of seven people from seven countries; in addition, a minimum number of signatures for each country has been established based on that country’s population.

This means that for a proposal to be valid, it must transcend borders, national issues and political and cultural differences. Potentially, therefore, the ICE may mark the emergence of a truly European policy, with transnational debates and actions.

And if this procedure proves useful and effective, it will have shown the way forward for this utopian project: the election of MEPs on transnational lists, even the creation of true pan-European political parties. This would represent a turning point in the European Union.

But we are still far away from that, and the defenders of the ECI must still prove that it guarantees more democracy in the Union. First, of course, we must see if the Commission takes on board many of the citizens' proposals. The proposals, however, must also be relevant and representative.

That is to say, they must not come from vested interests or be claims based on emotions of the moment. In this respect, the risk comes as much from ideological groups – though it is stated that “a proposal from a citizens’ initiative should not be “ unreasonable, frivolous or vexatious” – as it does from economic lobbies. For these two types of players in the public discourse may more easily find seven people in seven countries to create a committee, and to mobilise their supporters.

The ECI, a tool under the control of participatory democracy, deserves to be taken seriously and to be evaluated uncompromisingly. If not, it risks becoming merely another Community gadget.