The European Parliament passed the ECI yesterday (for a guidebook on it, see my previous post).
The key facts are:
– a citizen committee (individuals, not organizations) from at least 7 EU member states can initiate an ECI initiative.
– it can be in any of the official EU languages
– at least one million citizens from a ‘significant number’ of member countries have to support an ECI to be successful
– in case of success, the commission has 3 months to react to the ECI.
– the commission will offer an open-source online-tool to support the initiatives
– first ECI’s are expected in 2012, as soon as all member countries have updated their legislation.
The press release reads:
Commission welcomes agreement on European Citizens’ Initiative
The European Commission warmly welcomes today’s 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’m delighted that the Parliament and Council have managed to reach agreement on the Citizens’ Initiative so quickly” said Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President for Inter-institutional Relations and Administration. “The ECI will introduce a whole new form of participatory democracy to the EU. It is a major step forward in the democratic life of the Union. It’s a concrete example of bringing Europe closer to its citizens. And it will foster a cross border debate about what we are doing in Brussels and thus contribute, we hope, to the development of a real European public space..”
What form will a Citizens’ Initiative take?
An initiative must be backed by at least one million citizens from at least one quarter of the Member States. In each of these Member States, the minimum number of signatures required will 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 will 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 or manifestly outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to propose the requested legal act. The statements of support can be collected on paper or on-line, and the organisers will have one year to collect the necessary signatures after the Commission has confirmed the registration of the proposal. In order to facilitate and secure online collection of statements of support, the Commission will develop technical standards and set up and maintain open source software, available free of charge.
How will the Commission deal with an initiative?
Once the signatures have been collected and verified by the Member States, the citizens’ initiative has to be submitted to the Commission. From that moment, the Commission will have three months to examine the request made by the citizens. Meanwhile, the organisers will be received at the Commission and they will also have the opportunity to present their initiative at a public hearing organised at the European Parliament. The Commission will then set out in a public document its conclusions on the initiative and the action, if any, it intends to take and will explain its reasoning..
The agreement 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 the need for 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 supported by at least 1 million citizens.