The task of gathering 1 million signatures is not easy and it is also not the finish line for your ECI. After gathering all those signatures, it is time to submit them for verification by going through several steps of the verification process. First, you need to group the signatures by nationality. Second, you need to send the signatures to the designated national authorities in each Member State. Third, the national authorities have 3 months to verify your signatures. Once the signatures are validated you receive a certificate of verification from each Member State. When you have received all certificates of verification and have met the required thresholds, you can finally submit your initiative to the Commission!
To better understand the verification process and how to avoid invalid signatures from citizens that are supporting an initiative, we interviewed five national authorities from Belgium, Czechia Estonia, Luxembourg and Sweden. The authorities in charge of verifying signatures are typically interior ministries, electoral commissions or population registries. Our goal, in these interviews, was to understand why signatures are sometimes rejected and to gather some tips and tricks for organisers.
Some key takeaways and tips from the national authorities:
When asking citizens to sign your initiative via paper collection or online:
1. Alert citizens that their signature is only valid when they are old enough to support European citizens’ initiatives.
All the national authorities emphasised the importance of making sure that the citizen is old enough to sign the initiative. Many times, the national authorities must reject a signature because the citizen is not of voting age. For most Member States that age is 18, but there are some exceptions: Estonia (16), Greece (17), Malta (16), Austria (16). This is subject to change at the discretion of each country. For example, in Belgium as of 1 May 2023 the minimum voting age for the European elections will be 16, meaning that Belgians aged 16-18 will also be able to support ECIs starting from that date. When you use of the Commission’s central online collection system, citizens are alerted about this requirement on the signing page.
Clearly inform citizens of the requirements to be able to sign an ECI: eligible to vote in European elections and an EU Citizen. National authorities noticed that most of the time signatures are rejected because the citizen is not of age or is not an EU citizen.
2. Explain to citizens the importance of filling in the form, whether that be online or via paper, completely and correctly.
Many signatures are rejected due to incomplete forms. Also, for paper signatures, make sure the people are writing clearly. The most common mistakes the national authorities encountered were incorrect or incomplete personal ID numbers, incorrect names and incorrect date of birth. Don’t forget to always remind citizens that they must use their full legal name when signing an initiative.
The national authority from Luxembourg also explained a certain flexibility when possible: “During manual verification of paper signatures we try to take into account possible mistakes of the signatory (such as swapping first/last name, swapping day and month of birth, etc.). However, in some cases we have no choice but to reject the signature.”
Guide citizens in signing your initiative to ensure that all steps are completed. The Forum is in the process of preparing an info sheet that you can refer to on your own website to alert citizens about these tips.
To find out the data requirements for each Member States that citizens must provide when signing an initiative, please click here.
3. Inform signatories of the strict data protection rules and that the privacy of their data is taken very seriously!
Citizens may be reluctant to provide personal information to sign your initiative, so it is also in your interest to explain to the citizens how their personal information will be used and ensure that it is secure. The national authorities stressed that during the verification process the information provided by citizens is never saved or given out, the purpose of this information is solely to ensure that the citizens signing the initiative are EU citizens and eligible to vote in European elections. Check out also the Q&A on data privacy on the ECI website to which you can refer: https://europa.eu/citizens-initiative/how-it-works/faq_en#Data-protection
4. Keep paper signatures from citizens with different nationalities separate, do not let them sign on the same paper! Remember you need to submit the signatures by nationality.
5. Encourage citizens to use the online signature platform. There are some automatic checks on the online platform which reduce the likelihood that the signature will be rejected. Remember for initiatives registered after the end of 2022, you will only be able to use the Commission’s Online Collection System.
Remember, it is important to guide citizens in the signature collection process by informing them of all the necessary data needed to sign an initiative, i.e., the data required to sign it and the data protection rules. Ultimately, as more citizens become aware of ECIs and the process of signing an initiative, it will become easier for you as an organiser to gather validated signatures. But do not forget, successful signature collection derives from a well-planned and well-executed campaign strategy!
If you have any further questions on the verification process or any other aspect of the ECI process, do not hesitate to submit your questions to Seek Advice on the ECI Forum.
To learn more about signature collection, check out How to Collect Signatures
To learn more about organising a campaign, check out How to Organise a Campaign
To learn more about the verification and submission process, check out our online course (Module 3, Verification and Submission)
Would you like to ask national authorities other questions regarding the verification process? Submit your questions in the comment section below.
The European Citizens' Initiative Forum Team
Participatory Democracy Coordinator, European Citizen Action Service (ECAS)