12 ways to build An European Citizens’ Initiative That Works!
In 2012 the European Union launched the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the first tool for transnational participatory and digital democracy in world history. EU leaders declared that it would be a powerful new democratic instrument that will change how the EU is run. In practice, the ECI’s burdensome procedures have dissuaded many potential users. With few new ECIs being registered and over 20 ECI campaigns complaining of massive flaws in ECI rules, this new democratic instrument is under threat. In 2015, the ECI will be up for official review. Please help make the ECI and participatory democracy in Europe work. Join with us in telling the European Commission, Council and Parliament: “Tear down the walls blocking participatory democracy: eliminate restrictive ECI rules!”
Specifically, we ask them to:
1. Simplify and harmonise personal data requirements and procedures.
Each member state determines, without justification or EU oversight, which personal data its nationals must provide, forms to use and data protection procedures. The result is a nightmare for transnational campaigners – e.g., working with up to 28 different national authorities for signature validation. Contradictory rules also mean many expatriated EU citizens can’t support an ECI. The ECI needs common forms, data requirements and data protection rules, plus a single coordinating body for signature verification.
2. Eliminate ID number requirements.
Up to 80% of potential supporters have refused to sign an ECI when asked to share ID numbers. The European Data Protection Supervisor determined that it was not necessary to collect ID numbers, yet 18 countries still require them. Many never use the ID numbers they’ve collected. ECI supporters should only need to share name, address and nationality.
3. Make the registration procedure less restrictive.
Nearly half of proposed ECIs have been declared “legally inadmissible” by the Commission and refused registration – sometimes due to rigid legal interpretations and political pressure. To ensure its legitimacy and engage citizens, ECI topics should not be so strictly limited. Plus, since the Commission may propose treaty amendments, ECIs should be able to call for them.
4. Lower the age of ECI support to 16.
The same age limits apply to the ECI as to EU elections. But the ECI only proposes policy; it has no direct effect. Many ECI topics are relevant to youth, helping to engage them in EU affairs. The Austrian model allowing 16-17 year old ECI supporters should be expanded.
5. Redesign the online signature collection system.
Significant and persistent online signature collection problems have led every ECI campaign to lose signatures and collection time. The software needs to be redesigned from scratch with the participation of campaigners, stakeholders and civic coders to be user-friendly, accessible to people with disabilities, incorporate online campaigning best practices and facilitate safe data sharing with national authorities. In addition, the technical regulation should be simplified and all ECIs allowed Commission hosting. The ideal system contains a single online collection platform on Commission servers (signatures) connected to individual campaign websites (communications) — eliminating expensive, time-consuming procedures.
6. Collect e-mail address within the main ECI support form.
ECI campaigns do not have access to the email addresses of their ECI’s signatories. This limits the ECI’s ability to mobilise Europeans and facilitate transnational debate. To allow two-way communication, email addresses need to be collected within the main ECI support form.
7. Lengthen signature collection to 18 months.
The current time limit of 12 months is not sufficient for ECI campaigns to collect one million signatures. Transnational campaigning is time-consuming. ECIs on novel or complex subjects need extra time just to build understanding. ECI campaigns need at least an 18 month collection period.
8. Let ECI campaigns choose the start date.
The campaign begins the day the Commission registers an ECI – even if its organisers aren’t ready. Campaigns should choose their own launch date, within a two month time window.
9. Provide a legal status to protect citizens’ committee members and allow fundraising.
An ECI must be started by seven EU citizens who are each legally liable for the campaign’s actions. To fundraise and manage finances, ECIs must use national legal structures which are contrary to the ECI’s transnational nature. ECIs need an EU legal status that shields citizens’ committee members from personal liability and allows management of finances.
10. Provide an ECI support infrastructure with legal advice, translation and funding.
Most grassroots ECI campaigns struggle to fund needed legal advice, translation services and campaigning guidance. As a democratic tool, the ECI is a public good that should benefit from a public infrastructure for practical and financial support.
11. Increase public and media awareness of the ECI.
Public awareness of the ECI is so low that campaigns must educate the public about both the ECI and their topic. The ECI needs to be heavily publicised as an official EU instrument to raise public awareness and overcome citizen distrust of sharing required personal data.
12. The European Commission must take successful ECIs seriously.
None of the first successful ECIs have led to any concrete policy proposals. Yet campaigners will only use the ECI if they are likely to impact law. Every successful ECI should ideally lead to a legislative proposal, which is then debated following regular EU legislative procedures.