European Citizens' Initiative Secrets of Success Revealed: Insider Tips on How to Get 1,6 Million Signatures and Surpass the Threshold in Twenty-One EU Member States
Citizens who care, a very clearly defined purpose, a vast and reliable network of national organisers, thousands of volunteers across the EU and advanced online campaigning skills helped this European Citizens' Initiative break the records and surpass the threshold for support in twenty-one EU Member States. Find out how they made it!
Story told by Olga Kikou, End the Cage Age Initiative representative
We organised the European citizens’ initiative End the Cage Age, because we were very concerned about the use of cages in animal farming. We have a big animal welfare movement around Europe and many citizens wanted to be more actively engaged. Our initiative gave them this opportunity. A few years ago, in the European Parliament, we had a successful vote on the welfare of farmed rabbits. Rabbits are almost entirely farmed in cages, so it was an opportunity for us to tell the world about life in cages. Then we decided not to limit this to just rabbits, but to expand it to all the animals who are farmed in cages, and to use a tool to get citizens to participate in the activities of the European institutions.
We got engaged in the European Citizens’ Initiative process and we put together, after a lot of work and a lot of planning, the text of our proposal, which we then submitted to the European Commission for registration. We developed a very good and very big network of organisations that helped us, worked with us, and helped us expand first of all the network, and second, to spread the message across Europe. Our message was about a future without cage farming. The message had many positive elements. Of course, we had to look at reality, but we also had to look at the future and present alternatives.
This was an opportunity for us to do a lot of research into alternatives - what do we want to tell citizens', what do we want to tell the Commission about the future of farming? Following all this research we went to citizens and started talking to them and told them about our ideas.
We shaped our ideas with them. It wasn't just coming from us, but we learned a lot from them.
"What's wonderful about the European Citizens' Initiative process is the fact that you get feedback from the citizens; and this is what the EU institutions should also take advantage of, that they have the opportunity to learn from citizens."
One of the first things we decided to do was to develop the network. We managed to get about a hundred and seventy federations and organisations across Europe to join us in in this effort to spread the word; and they committed to spreading the word themselves. This is not an easy task. it's very cumbersome trying to bring others to join you in what you're doing, it involved a lot of planning and a lot of work from our side. We were not the only organisation involved in this, we had many on our side.
Something that is very important nowadays is the fact that most signatures are collected online and not on paper. That means that most of our statements of support came from citizens who went on the Internet and signed the European citizens' initiative online. Very few of them are collected on paper during events and in the streets. In the past, campaigning had a very public face and was very much out in the squares, in the streets talking to people directly. Now this has changed, therefore we had to change too. Social media has become a very important tool in spreading the message, we are very much aware of this and we have used various social media tools to make this happen.
Lessons regarding signature collection
First, you have to develop a network that you can depend on, a network of people and organisations that support your cause; and second, you have to pay a lot of attention to your online campaigning.
Another important lesson for us was volunteer participation. We depend on volunteers. We need to have volunteers across Europe. The ECI is not just a national tool, it's an EU tool, so we need to have presence in many countries and of course we cannot afford to do this without volunteers, citizens who care about the issue, who then take this issue on and spread the message in their own home countries.
There will be ups and downs
When we started signature collection, we saw that there's a big rush in the beginning, lots of citizens signing, however later on, maybe after a month or two – three months, numbers tend to fall down, so you need to be prepared to face this. You need to come up with other tools and other ways to bring the signatures back up again, to keep citizens interested, so they spread the word. Public campaigning is very important, using a number of different campaign tools is also important and just be aware that you won't have the same interest throughout the year. There will be ups and downs, but it's good to maintain a good number throughout the year. Be prepared to go to a second plan or a third plan in case your numbers start dropping.
Planning and goal setting
Before we embarked on this ECI process we had a very long time of reflection on what we have done before and what we were going to do. Planning is very important and coming up with a very clear goal is very important too, so that the EU institutions not only know what your ECI is about, but also how this proposal could be carried out by them and could be supported by them.
"Having a very, very clear statement about what you would like to get out of your proposal is essential."
It isn’t easy!
I would like to point out that starting an ECI as an organiser is a cumbersome process. It involves a lot of time and many people working together, so therefore I wouldn't want to create any false hopes that this is an easy thing to do. It is not. It is quite difficult,
"It takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of planning, and it takes a lot of people."
Even if the idea is good, still just the idea by itself will not work if others are not quite engaged and committed to carrying this out.
There will be many challenges during the year of the collection phase, and before, and after it. Especially if you have a successful ECI, then you have to talk to the European institutions, you have to engage with them further. It doesn't end on the day when the signature collection phase ends.
The European Citizens’ Initiative Forum comes at a very good time because we've had the experience with a number of ECIs already and quite a few of them were successful, so there are many people around that you can depend on to discuss your ECI, to learn from their experience, and to see and plan your own work in the future. We have many individuals, many citizens who participated in ECI’s actively, also many organisers and you can depend on them to provide information for you. It's a learning process, learning from what has happened in the past but also planning ahead, and as long as you take on these good experiences from others and you listen to others and you're able to also ask questions, you will be in a very good place to start your own ECI.
Olga Kikou is Head of the EU office of Compassion in World Farming, an international organisation with offices and representations in nine European countries, the US, China and South Africa, dedicated to improving farm animal welfare, ending industrial animal agriculture and achieving sustainable food and farming. Having worked in international organisations in the non-profit sector and in research and planning, she has directed her efforts towards raising awareness on the importance of citizen participation. Olga has a long-time involvement in animal advocacy and is currently lobbying the EU Institutions on key interests concerning the interlinked areas of farm animal welfare, food and farming, raising the profile of these issues on the policy making agenda, by engaging with stakeholders, exploring synergies and developing joint strategies to influence policy in the above areas. Olga is also a substitute representative of the Citizens’ Committee for the End The Cage Age ECI.
Get in touch with Olga on the European Citizens’ Initiative Forum