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European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) - guide

15 December 2010
by eub2 -- last modified 15 December 2010

The European Parliament and Council have today reached agreement on the European Citizens' Initiative, which will for the first time allow citizens to directly suggest new EU legislation. An innovation contained in the Lisbon Treaty, the ECI will allow at least one million citizens from at least one quarter of EU Member States to invite the European Commission to bring forward legislative proposals in areas where the Commission has the power to do so. The organisers of a Citizens' Initiative, a citizens' committee composed of at least seven citizens who are residents of at least seven different Member States, will have one year to collect signatures and the Commission will have three months to examine an initiative and decide how to act on it. On request of the Council, the legislation on the European Citizens' Initiative will start applying only one year after it is published in the Official Journal, meaning that the first initiatives can be considered from early 2012.


I. General Q&A on the European Citizens' Initiative


1. What does the Treaty of Lisbon say on the European citizens' initiative?


The Treaty of Lisbon introduces the European Citizens' Initiative. It provides that "not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties." (Article 11(4) of the Treaty on European Union)


It also provides that the procedures and conditions required for such a citizens' initiative, including the minimum number of Member States from which citizens must come, shall be determined in a Regulation to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on a proposal from the European Commission (Article 11(4) Treaty on European Union and Article 24 Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). The Commission adopted its proposal on 31 March 2010. The Parliament and the Council have now reached final agreement on the Regulation.


2. Is it already possible to present a citizens' initiative? When will it be possible to launch the first citizens' initiatives?


The rules for the citizens' initiative have been agreed but in accordance with the Regulation, it will be possible to launch the first citizens' initiatives only one year after its entry into force. Member States need time to adapt their national law before the first initiatives start.


3. What happens in a case like the recent Greenpeace petition? Can that be resubmitted once the Regulation on the citizens' initiative applies?


Petitions like the recent Greenpeace one cannot be considered as a citizens┬┤ initiative. As the Treaty specifies that the procedures and conditions required for the citizens' initiative shall be determined by a Regulation adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, initiatives launched before the Regulation is adopted and applicable therefore cannot be considered as "citizens' initiatives" as foreseen by the Treaty since the rules and procedures are not yet in place. Signatures collected before the date of application of the Regulation cannot be used later; the Regulation provides that the statements of support can only be collected after the registration of the proposed initiative with the Commission, which will be possible only once the Regulation is applicable. In the meantime, the Commission will of course carefully study the views expressed in the Greenpeace petition.


4. What is the added value of the ECI?


Under the Lisbon Treaty, the functioning of the European Union shall continue to be founded on "representative democracy" and European citizens will continue to be directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament. The Lisbon Treaty duly recalls these fundamental principles.


However, with the ECI, the new Treaty is widening up the sphere of public debate, allowing citizens to participate more intensively in the democratic life of the Union, through this new "participatory democracy" tool.


Whilst the Commission retains its right of initiative and will therefore not be bound to make a proposal following a citizens' initiative, it is committed to carefully examine all initiatives that fall within the framework of its powers in order to consider whether a new policy proposal would be appropriate.


The Commission therefore believes that this new instrument will make a very positive contribution not only to European democracy but also to EU policy making.


5. What is the difference between an ECI and a petition?


The right to petition the European Parliament, which has already existed under the previous Treaties, differs substantially from the new citizens' initiative introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. Petitions can be submitted by citizens of the Union as well by natural or legal persons residing or having their registered office in a Member State, either individually or in association with other citizens or persons and must concern matters which come within the Union's fields of activity and which affects him, her or it directly (e.g. a complaint). Therefore they do not necessarily concern new policy proposals. Petitions are addressed to the European Parliament in its role as the direct representative of citizens at Union level.


The citizens' initiative, on the other hand, enables at least one million citizens to call directly on the Commission to bring forward new policy initiatives.


6. Are there citizens' initiatives within the Member States?


Citizens' initiatives already exist in a majority of Member States, either at national, regional or local level. The following Member States have citizens' initiatives at national level: Austria, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and The Netherlands. Regional citizens' initiatives exist in Austria, Germany, Spain, Sweden and The Netherlands. Local citizens' initiatives can be found in Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. Citizens' initiatives are also present outside the EU (Switzerland, USA...). These initiatives differ considerably as regards their scope and generally operate according to different procedures.


7. Can an ECI deal with the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg?


No, making a proposal on this matter does not fall within the framework of the Commission's powers. The Regulation specifies that proposed citizens' initiatives that fall manifestly outside the framework of the Commission's powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union for the purpose of implementing the Treaties shall not be registered. The seat of the institutions is determined by common accord of the governments of the Member States.


8. Will citizens be able to launch a revision of the Treaties with an ECI?


No. In accordance with the Treaty and as also stated in the Regulation, citizens' initiatives can only concern proposals on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.


9. Can third country nationals residing in the EU sign-up to an ECI?


No. In accordance with the Treaty, third country nationals cannot sign-up to an ECI. Indeed, the Treaty clearly states that only citizens who are nationals of the Member States can sign-up to an initiative.


II. Q&A on the Regulation: how will the ECI work?


1. Who can organise an initiative?


Citizens' initiatives must be organised by citizens' committees composed of at least 7 citizens residing in at least 7 different Member States. The members of the citizens' committee shall be citizens of the Union of voting age in the European elections (18 in all Member States except Austria, 16 in Austria). They will have to designate one representative and one substitute who will be mandated to speak and act on behalf of the citizens' committee throughout the procedure. Members of the European Parliament cannot be counted for the purposes of reaching the minimum number required to form a citizens' committee.


2. Can organisations be the organiser of a citizens' initiative?


Organisations cannot organise citizens' initiatives. Nevertheless, any entity can promote or support proposed initiatives provided that it does so with full transparency.


3. Will there be provisions on transparency of funding?


In the interests of transparency and democratic accountability, the organisers of initiatives will be required to provide throughout the procedure regular updated information in relation to the organisations that support an initiative and how the initiatives are funded. This is in the interest of the citizens considering signing up to an initiative; this is also in line with the Commission's European Transparency Initiative.


4. Will any form of EU funding be provided to the organisers of an ECI?


No EU funding is foreseen for this purpose.


5. How will citizens find out about on-going initiatives?


All on-going initiatives will be registered and made publicly available on the Commission's website. This will allow for the follow up of on-going initiatives and provide a tool for communication and transparency.


6. How will the Commission verify that the groups launching initiatives are serious?


The Regulation foresees that proposed initiatives which are obviously not serious (e.g. those that are frivolous, abusive or vexatious) will not be registered. Nevertheless, as the organiser of a citizens' initiative has to be a citizens' committee, the number of non-serious proposed initiatives should be limited.


7. How will the Commission stop extremists using this tool as a platform for their views?


The Regulation foresees that the Commission has to reject the registration of proposed citizens' initiatives which are manifestly against the values of the Union so as to avoid giving publicity to extremist views on the Commission's website.


8. What will the requirements in order to register a proposed initiative be?


The organisers of an initiative will have to ask for the registration of their proposal with the Commission. They will have to provide the following information in one of the official languages of the Union, in an on-line register made available by the Commission:


* the title of the proposed citizens' initiative;

* the subject-matter;

* the description of the objectives of the proposal on which the Commission is invited to act;

* the Treaty provisions considered relevant by the organisers for the proposed action;

* the full name, postal address, nationality and date of birth of the seven members of the citizens' committee, indicating specifically their representative and their substitute as well as their email addresses;

* all sources of funding and support.


The organisers will also have the possibility to provide more detailed information in an annex, including a draft legislative text.


Based on this information, the Commission will register the proposed initiative provided that the conditions foreseen in the Regulation are fulfilled, in particular the fact that the proposed initiative does not fall outside the framework of the Commission's powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.


9. Which language will the organisers have to use to ask for the registration of a proposed initiative?


The organisers can ask for the registration of an initiative in any official language of the Union.


10. Will the Commission translate the proposed initiatives?


No. It will be the responsibility of the organisers to translate their proposed initiative into the languages they want. After the confirmation of the registration in one official language, organisers will have the possibility to ask for the addition of other official languages to the register. Before uploading them in the register, the Commission will check whether there are no manifest significant inconsistencies with the original version of the title, the subject-matter and the objectives.


11. How could potential organisers be sure that their idea is within the Commission's competences?


The Commission will provide information on its competences on the website of the citizens' initiative. This information should allow potential organisers to find out if there is a Treaty provision allowing the Commission to act in the field concerned.


12. The Commission always said that it wanted a registration stage and an admissibility test stage later in the procedure. Why has this idea been given up?


The Commission wanted the admissibility check to be done after the collection of a significant number of statements of support to make sure that organisers were serious about their will to collect statements of support and had already gathered substantial support for their proposed initiative, to avoid the risk of abuse.


During the discussions, the Parliament proposed the idea of the citizens' committee to respond to the same concern. Indeed, this committee made up of at least 7 citizens coming from at least 7 Member States will make sure that initiatives are serious and genuinely European from the start.


Moreover, the Commission will not make a formal admissibility decision as it was foreseen in its proposal, but it will be required to register proposed initiatives only if the conditions laid down in the Regulation are met, in particular the fact that the proposed initiatives do not manifestly fall outside the scope of the Commission's power under the Treaties to submit a proposal for the requested legal act.


13. Why say that signatories of an initiative have to come from a quarter of Member States? Why not just from one?


It is necessary to establish the minimum number of Member States from which citizens must come in order to ensure that a citizens' initiative is representative of a Union interest and given that the Treaty says that citizens must come from "a significant number of Member States".


The number agreed by the Parliament and the Council is ┬╝ of Member States, which currently means seven.


14. Why use a multiple of the number of Members of the European Parliament as the threshold for the minimum number of statements of support per Member State?


In its Green Paper, the Commission had suggested setting that threshold as 0.2% of the population of each Member State. However many respondents to the Green Paper considered that 0.2% of the population was an unnecessarily high threshold in order to achieve the objective of ensuring representation of a European interest. Others considered that such a percentage would not be equitable, as it is much easier, for instance, to collect statements of support from 1.000 citizens (representing 0.2% of the population) in Luxembourg than 160.000 in Germany, and therefore easier to count small Member States than large ones.


The approach chosen therefore reflects these two concerns. The Regulation provides for a fixed threshold for each Member State, which is digressively proportional to the population of each State with a minimum threshold and a ceiling.


In order to ensure that these thresholds are based on objective criteria, they are based on a multiple of the number of Members of the European Parliament elected in each Member State. The multiple chosen is 750 in order to reflect the demands of many stakeholders to set a threshold below 0.2% of the population, on the one hand, and to take account of concerns that the threshold in small Member States should not be too low, on the other.


This system will thus allow a proportionately lower number of signatories for large countries and a proportionately higher number for small countries.


The minimum number of signatories per Member State is listed in Annex I of the Regulation.


15. What about the statements of support collected in the Member States where they do not reach the minimum threshold?


These statements of support will of course be added to the total number of signatures but the Member States concerned will not be counted in the quarter of Member States required.


16. How old will citizens have to be to sign-up to an initiative?


All citizens of the Union who are of voting age in the European elections will be able to give their support to an initiative. This means a minimum age of 18 in all Member States except Austria (16).


17. Will citizens need to be registered to vote to sign-up to an initiative?


No. Citizens of the Union will only have to be of voting age in the European elections.


18. If a citizen is a national of one Member State living in another Member State, in which Member State will her/his statement of support be counted?


This will depend on the data the signatory will provide and therefore on the Member State which will verify her/his statement of support. If she/he provides the data requirements corresponding to her/his Member State of residence, she/he will be counted in her/his Member State of residence. Likewise, if she/he provides the data requirements corresponding to her/his Member State of nationality, she/he will be counted in her/his Member State of nationality. For example, an Austrian national living in Estonia can either fill in the form to be verified in Estonia and therefore counted in Estonia, providing his first names, family names, address, date and place of birth, nationality or fill in the form to be verified and counted in Austria, providing in addition to the previous data a personal identification number among the list accepted by Austria and available in Part C of Annex III of the Regulation.


In any case, citizens are allowed to sign-up to an initiative only once.


19. Will it be possible for citizens of the Union residing outside the EU to sign-up to an initiative? In which Member State will their statements of support be counted?


The possibility for citizens of the Union residing outside the EU to sign-up to an initiative will depend on the Member State from which they are nationals. Indeed, some Member States are not able to verify statements of support from their nationals living outside the EU. The Commission proposal offered the possibility to sign up to all citizens of the Union residing outside the EU. Given the new requirements asked by the Member States, some citizens may not be able to sign up. For those who will have this possibility, they will be counted in their Member State of nationality.


20. Will it be possible to sign-up to an ECI on-line?


Citizens will have the possibility to sign-up on-line. The organisers will have to set up an on-line collection system complying with the technical and security requirements set out in the Regulation. The Commission will develop technical standards and make available an open source software to help the organisers to build their system.


21. How can citizens be sure that signing up to an initiative on-line is secure?


In any case (including when the organisers use the open source software set up by the Commission), prior to starting the online collection, the organisers will have to ask for the certification of their on-line collection system to the competent national authority where the data will be stored. The national authorities will check that the security and technical features of their on-line collection system comply with the minimum requirements fixed in the Regulation. This will ensure that signing up is secure.


22. How can citizens who give their support to an initiative be sure that their personal data will not be used for any other purpose?


The Regulation ensures that data protection is fully assured, in the organisation and follow-up of a citizens' initiative, by all the relevant actors - organiser, Member States and the Commission. Legislation in force on personal data protection will apply to the processing of personal data carried out for the purpose of a citizens' initiative. The organisers of a citizens' initiative, as the data controllers, will be liable for damage they cause in accordance with applicable national law and subject to appropriate sanctions for infringements of the Regulation.


23. How will statements of support be checked?


In their statements of support, citizens will have to fill in the information required according to the Member State they come from (either their Member State of residence or their Member State of nationality), which can include their first names, family names, address, date and place of birth, nationality as well as for a number of Member States a personal identification number. Part of this information (like full address, place or date of birth) is not required by some Member States. The details of the data requirements are available in the two models for the statements of support form contained in Annex III (Parts A and B) of the Regulation. As for Member States requiring a personal identification number, the list of documents/numbers accepted by each of them is available in Part C of Annex III.


The organisers will have to collect on the same form only signatures from signatories to be verified by the same Member State. Then they will have to send these statements of support to the national authority of this Member State. The national authorities will then carry out appropriate checks in order to certify the number of valid statements of support collected.


24. How will the Commission answer successful initiatives?


The agreement provides that the Commission will have a time-limit of three months to examine a citizens' initiative which has gathered the necessary statements of support as required in the Regulation and which has been submitted to it. Before setting out its conclusions in a communication, the Commission will receive the organisers at an appropriate level so that they can explain in detail the matters raised by their initiative. A public hearing will also be organised at the European Parliament.


25. What happens if the Commission decides not to act on a citizens' initiative? What right of redress do people have?


The citizens' initiative is an agenda-setting initiative and therefore does not affect the Commission's right of initiative. It will, however, oblige, the Commission, as a college, to give serious consideration to the requests made by citizens' initiatives. If it decides not to act on a citizens' initiative, the Commission will clearly explain its reasons. This political analysis on the substance of the initiative by the Commission cannot be subject to an appeal procedure.


On the contrary, the decision on the registration of the proposed initiatives which is based on legal grounds can be contested. In case of refusal of registration, the Commission will inform the organisers of the reasons and of all possible judicial and extra-judicial remedies available to them.


26. Will it be possible to present an initiative which is contrary to another on-going initiative? Will it be possible to present the same initiative several times?


The Regulation does not impose any rules as regards the successive presentation of the same or similar citizens' initiatives. Likewise, it does not prevent opposing initiatives from being launched.


27. Why do the Member States need a year to implement the ECI?


Many Member States need to adapt their national law to be able to carry out the verification of statements of support and/or to ensure that organisers are subject to appropriate sanctions for infringement of the Regulation.


28. Doesn't the agreement make the ECI far too bureaucratic?


The citizens' initiative will not be subject to unnecessary bureaucratic rules. The rules agreed achieve the right balance between the need to make sure that this instrument is credible and the need to keep it easy to use for citizens.


Moreover, the Commission intends to draft a comprehensive and user-friendly guide to facilitate the understanding of the different stages of the procedure and will provide assistance to organisers, where needed.


Source: European Commission


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