Brussels, 31 March 2010
European Citizens' Initiative: giving citizens new possibilities to influence EU policy
European citizens would for the first time be able to directly suggest new legislation through the European Citizens' Initiative, proposed in detail today by the European Commission. An innovation contained in the Lisbon Treaty, the ECI will allow at least one million citizens from at least one third 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 proposal sets out how many signatures must be gathered from each country, and suggests that the Commission examine whether the initiative is admissible after 300,000 signatures have been gathered from three Member States. It sets a time limit of one year to collect signatures and gives the Commission four months to examine an initiative and decide how to act on it. The Commission hopes that the Council and Parliament will reach final agreement on the ECI before the end of this year, to allow the first initiatives to be brought forward in 2011.
"I'm very excited about the Citizens' Initiative, because it will introduce a whole new form of participatory democracy to the EU," said Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President for Inter-institutional Relations and Administration. "This is a real step forward in the democratic life of the Union. It's a concrete example of bringing Europe closer to its citizens. And it should foster a lively debate about what we are doing in Brussels. The Commission will have to give serious consideration to requests made by citizens' initiatives."
Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Citizenship Commissioner, said, ""The Citizens' Initiative can be a very important element for citizens to make themselves heard. I welcome an instrument that will show that the EU is serious about listening to its citizens' concerns. At the same time, we have safeguards to ensure that any proposed initiative must respect our values and be in conformity with our fundamental rights."
What form will a Citizens' Initiative take?
An initiative must be backed by at least one million citizens from at least one third of the Member States. In each of these Member States, the minimum number of signatures required would be calculated by multiplying the number of Members of the European Parliament from that country by a factor of 750. The minimum age for signatories would be the age at which people are entitled to vote in the European Parliament elections. Proposed initiatives must be registered on an online register made available by the Commission – registration can be refused if the initiative is manifestly against the fundamental values of the EU. There are no restrictions as to how statements of support should be collected, but national authorities would have to check whether online collection systems comply with certain security and technical requirements and this verification must be done within three months. The organisers would have one year to collect the necessary signatures.
How will the Commission deal with an initiative?
The organiser must ask the Commission to check the admissibility of the initiative once 300,000 signatures have been gathered from three Member States. The Commission would have two months to decide whether the initiative falls within its powers and is in an area where legislation is possible. This admissibility test would not prejudge the Commission's decision on the substance of the initiative. If the initiative were judged admissible and once the signatures had been verified, the Commission would have four months to examine the initiative itself. It would then have to decide whether to make a legislative proposal, to follow up the issue for example with a study, or to not take any further action. It would then have to explain its reasoning in a public document.
The proposal seeks to ensure that the procedures for launching a Citizens' Initiative are simple, user-friendly and accessible to all, and should not be too burdensome for national authorities. It is important that this new feature of the democratic process should be credible, should fully assure data protection and should not be open to abuse or fraud. While it does not affect the Commission's right of legislative initiative, the Citizens' Initiative will oblige the Commission to give serious consideration to a request made by a group of citizens.
Given the importance of the Citizens' Initiative and the complexity of some of the issues, the Commission launched a broad public consultation with the adoption of a Green Paper on 11th November 2009. There were 330 replies, which fed into the preparation of the proposal. The Commission held a public hearing in February and also took account of the European Parliament's resolution on the issue.
For more information, see MEMO/10/116.