The European Citizens’ Initiative as of 2020: Flexible Timeline, Simplified Registration, Straightforward Signature Collection and a New, User-Friendly Forum
Improvements in the rules of the European Citizens’ Initiative simplify the process from start to end and provide better support for organisers and citizens interested in using this important tool of participatory democracy in the EU. The new Regulation which started to apply in 2020 brings a number of structural and technical improvements to make the European Citizens’ Initiative more user-friendly and accessible to facilitate increased participation of European citizens in the democratic process of the Union. The main changes include:
Flexible timeline of the European Citizens’ Initiative procedure
The new Regulation adds more flexibility to the procedure’s timeline. Organisers now have the possibility to choose the starting date of the period of collection of the needed signatures for support within six months of the registration of their initiative – giving them more time to prepare their campaigns instead of starting immediately on the day their initiative has been registered, as they had to do in the past. They can also use a period of three months after the collection period to prepare for the submission of the signatures for verification to the Member States’ authorities. Likewise, they have three months after the end of the verification to submit their successful initiative to the Commission. The examination phase by the European Commission is also extended to six months. These improvements are designed to make the European Citizens’ Initiative more campaigner-friendly, flexible and to ensure better preparation throughout the whole process.
Simplified collection of statements of support
The biggest challenge for organisers is that they have one year to collect at least one million signatures in at least seven Member States, following a country-specific quota system. The new Regulation substantially simplifies this process. Firstly, the personal data to be collected from signatories are more harmonised: Member States are now limited to choosing from only two different forms, instead of the 13 different ones used before. Secondly, the new Regulation aims to foster participation by allowing Member States to lower the minimum age for supporting an initiative to 16 and makes it possible for all EU citizens to sign regardless of their place of residence. Finally, the European Commission has introduced a new, free of charge and centralised online collection system. This new system presents a number of features aimed at simplifying the collection of signatures. The individual online collection systems will still be an option for organisers to choose from but only until the end of 2022.
Removal of registration hurdles
Strict application of the legal admissibility rules by the European Commission has for a long time made the registration of European citizens’ initiatives difficult for organisers although the Commission has adopted a more flexible approach in the recent years including the partial registration of initiatives. The new Regulation now enshrines this possibility of ‘partial registration’ and gives the possibility to organisers to revise their proposal. These elements confirm the willingness of the EU to remove excessive barriers to the launch of genuine initiatives by its citizens by allowing more flexibility to register eligible parts of an initiative at least instead of discarding it altogether.
Enhanced support for organisers – the launch of the new European Citizens’ Initiative Forum
Finally, the new rules make better support available for organisers of European citizens’ initiatives. Each Member State is now required to establish at least one contact point to provide free of charge information and assistance to groups of organisers. The European Commission has also updated its support infrastructures for organisers by launching a new European Citizens’ Initiative website including revamped organiser accounts where they can register and run their initiatives all in one place. Most importantly, the European Citizens’ Initiative Forum, an online collaborative platform that was launched in 2018 as a pilot project, has become an official part of the new Regulation. The Forum is an essential support infrastructure as it provides citizens and organisers with access to learning material, opportunities to discuss and share their views on specific ideas for initiatives and topics related to the European Citizens’ Initiative as a tool, to connect with other users for future partnership, and to receive tailor-made legal, campaigning and fundraising advice.
The new Forum was launched on 7 January 2020 and is operated by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) on behalf of and under contract with the European Commission. ECAS has a strong track record in the management of online collaborative platforms for citizens’ engagement and specific long-standing expertise in supporting citizens in using the European Citizens’ Initiative as a tool for transnational participatory democracy.
Elisa Lironi is the Senior Manager European Democracy, working at the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) since 2015. She develops and leads ECAS’ European Democracy focus area by implementing EU projects and research studies related to Digital Democracy, Online Disinformation and Populism. She is the ‘ECI expert’ in the team working on developing and implementing the European Citizens’ Initiative Forum since 2018.
Elisa is also an active user of the European Citizens' Initiative Forum. Connect with her!