10 reasons to preserve ECI organisers’ right and freedom to use individual online collection systems

2018-10-30 News

The EU institutions are currently negotiating on the future regulation of the ECI. The EU Council wants to ban individual online collection systems, allowing future ECI organisers no choice but to use the Commission-run central online collection system for online campaigning. The ECI Campaign believes that the ECI cannot become a success without preserving ECI organisers’ right and freedom to use individual online collection systems. Find our 10 reasons below. 

1. Individual online collection systems give maximum flexibility and ownership to ECI organisers.
Some citizens trust civil society organisations more than governmental authorities. By using an individual online collection system like ‘openECI’, ECI organisers can integrate the ECI signing page into their own websites, instead of having to refer signatories to a Commission webpage with a standard design. Organisers can embed and design the signing page in a way that suits their specific interests and wishes, while complying with all security and other requirements set by the regulation.

2. Individual online collection systems enable organisers to operate more independently from the Commission, thus securing the trustworthiness of the process.
By using an individual online collection system like ‘OpenECI’, ECI organisers can operate more independently from the Commission than if they use the Commission’s central online collection system (in which case they will hand over the role of data controller to the Commission). While some ECI organisers prefer to be alleviated from the burden of IT and data protection management of their campaign, others want to operate in the most self-sufficient and independent manner possible. Given that the Commission is the ultimate addressee of a citizens’ initiative (and not a neutral operator), it is of critical importance that organisers maintain the freedom to operate with maximum independence until the moment of ‘signature hand-over’, thereby securing trust in the process and the overall prestige of the instrument.

3. Individual online collection systems are in frequent and increasing demand by ECI organisers.
Even if ‘OpenECI’ is currently the only and still a relatively new and unknown individual online collection software, developed with very little resources compared to the Commission’s online collection system, it is in frequent demand by ECI organisers. 7 groups of ECI organisers have chosen to use ‘OpenECI’. This includes ECI Stop Glyphosate, the most recent successful ECI, which collected the necessary 1 million statements of support in a record time of 5 months. Furthermore, the demand has been increasing, with 50% of the currently open and collecting ECIs using this alternative collection system. This demand is remarkable, as the choice for an alternative collection system requires an extra financial investment in order to cover hosting services (which are offered free-of-charge to those using the Commission’s software).

4. Having one or more individual online collection systems provides the Commission with free learning opportunities, thus saving money.
Having more than one online collection system facilitates a mutual learning process. The Commission’s software has already taken over many of the features of ‘OpenECI’, including notably the amount of clicks that one needs in order to sign an ECI. However, with ongoing technological developments, there is a need for continuous learning in order to fully exploit the ECI’s online participation potential. By freely copying best practices from a competing online collection software, the Commission saves money for research and development of the software.

5. An open market for ECI online collection system facilitates a healthy competition between OCS providers, resulting in the best possible online collection software and services for ECI organisers.
Having more than one online collection system does not only create a learning opportunity, it also creates an incentive for the continuous development of one’s software and services, thereby securing the best possible end product for ECI organisers. This increases the accessibility and user-friendliness of the instrument.

6. By having more than one online collection system, one spreads the risk of system breakdown and one makes the overall delivery of OCS services more secure.
Relying on a single central online collection system, without any alternatives, creates a central point of attack, with disastrous consequences in case of system breakdown. By having more than one system for online collection, you spread this risk and increase the overall security of OCS service delivery.

7. Preserving individual online collection systems provides civil society with an opportunity to further invest in the ECI’s underexploited online participation potential.  
‘OpenECI’ is borne out of frustration with the Commission’s online collection system, and out of conviction to make the ECI work for citizens and campaigners. Being the product of civil society collaboration, it has already significantly contributed to the limited success of the ECI in its current form. However, ‘OpenECI’ is only a first step by civil society to exploit the digital dimension of the ECI. Banning individual online collection systems would undermine any possibility for civil society to further invest in the ECI’s online participation potential.

8. There is broad public and expert support for preserving ECI organisers’ freedom of choice for online collection tools.
67% of the over 5000 respondents of the online public consultation on the ECI wanted to preserve the option for organisers to use individual online collection systems, in addition to the Commission’s offer of using the central online collection system. Additionally, 18 ECI and online campaigning experts call for this right and freedom of choice for organisers to be preserved.

9. The administrative burden associated with individual online collection systems is negligible compared to the added value it brings to the ECI.
Civil society organisations and ECI organisers have borne the largest share of the burden of using individual online collection systems, due to the investment in software development and hosting services. The administrative burden on Member States has been minimal, since there has been – and there may very well continue to be – only one individual online collection system. The German competent authority has done the certification of this very same collection software in all cases but one, and the other 26 Member States have never certified individual online collection systems.

10. The European Citizens’ Initiative cannot afford a step backwards.
The ECI was hardly used in 2015 and 2016. The urgent need to resurrect this instrument was apparent to all parties and stakeholders involved. The whole point of the legislative revision was to make the ECI more accessible and more user-friendly for campaigners and citizens, but a ban on individual online collection systems would have the opposite effect, with consequences that can hardly be foreseen. It undermines the revision process and the ECI instrument as a whole.