Brussels’ first ECI hearing after summer break

September 19, 2010 News

Real Participation or More Frustration?

“Let’s save the ECI” – this is the message we have been explaining and promoting last week at the ECI hearing in the European Parliament – the best attended public event of its kind ever. Everyone knows, now is the time for final decisions on how (or if at all) the ECI shall work for the next years to come.

All stakeholders from the EU-Commission and the EP-rapporteurs for ECI presented their current thoughts. The hosting MEPs de Brún and Bisky made it clear in the beginning: “It is extremely important that the Citizens’ Initiative is as accessible as possible. This should be about mobilising people. We have two choices: we can create an initiative that empowers and involves people, especially young people, or we can create an inaccessible bureaucratic nightmare with a whole series of restrictions and obstacles.”

Maros Sefcovic, Vice-President of the EU-Commission, explained that the informal “trilog-negotiations” with Commission, Council and Parliament have started last week. The finalisation is planed for the end of this year (for the complete time line see below). He agreed that ECI must be designed in a citizen-friendly way and that we still are in the middle of a learning process. Mr. Sefcovic indicated his sympathy to simplify the admissibility check (point 3 of our proposals). Instead of first obtaining the large number of 100,000 supporters, the legal admissibility check of an ECI could better be in the beginning after successful registration. Another way  to make ECI accessible shall be through a help-desk, which provides future organizers of an ECI with support. However it was not explained what this support looks like (for suggestions see point 7 of our proposals). Moreover there probably will be a public hearing in the end of a successful ECI.

Also MEP Alain Lamassoure, ECI-rapporteur for the conservative group, highly recommended to make ECI as accessible as possible. One should better take the time for some more months, in order to develop a useable and citizens-friendly ECI. Listening to the two other rapporteurs MEP Wallis and Häfner made us optimistic as well, that the EP will come with a further developed and improved proposal – they support almost all of our proposals, see their working document.

In the open discussion round we have made publicly clear that the current proposal would make ECI unusable; we directly urged again Mr. Sefcovic and Mr. Lamassoure to simplify the signature form and eliminate the ID number requirements, as such extraordinary intrusive personal data requirements would clearly deter supporters from participating in ECIs at all. While Mr. Lamassoure indicated that he personally is in favour of a simplification, he said that “we must rely on the Member States to verify signatures”. This kind of perception appears to be one of the biggest problems at the moment. We replied that there must be a common European standard and coordination, in order to guarantee similar signature collection and verification methods in all Member States. (While Six Member States have already decided not to ask citizens for their ID-number, others currently still do require it.)

As ECI-Campaign we explore that this one of the biggest dangers at the moment, that could kill ECI through Member States. Current regulation proposals would allow Member States to determine which personal data to collect and how to verify signatures. There is no enforceable deadline to develop rules or outside review of these rules. Unless common procedures are put in place, the result will de-facto be discrimination based on nationality. For instance, interests of citizens in countries that do not require ID card numbers will be over-represented in ECIs. Citizens from countries where procedures to verify signatures have not been developed will not be heard at all.

The EU-institution of Member States, Council, currently suggests to wait another entire year after the ECI-regulation is accepted by all three EU-institutions. As ECI-campaign we are urging the Member States to use their time now, in order to prepare the signature collection and verification methods, so that ECI can actually enter in to force in the beginning of 2011 instead of 2012.

Moreover there are other crucial points to make ECI workable, that have not taken into account yet. The proposed maximum time period of 12 months to collect one million signatures from nine countries is considerably insufficient. Often 18-24 months will be needed, especially for ECIs coordinated by smaller organisations without a huge budget or for issues that are not yet well known or understood by the general public. Furthermore it needs to be explicitly clarified, that ECI may not be restricted to secondary law (policy proposals). Otherwise citizens would be denied to participate in the most important political issues at European level.

ECI-Campaign will intensify its engagement for a accessible and citizen-friendly ECI, please contribute with your talents and capacities as well. Now is the time.

Tentative Time line for ECI within EU-Institutions

30.9. AFCO/PETI meeting with National Parliaments (COSAC)

5.10 EP: expert hearing with Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann and Prof. Jürgen Meyer

8.11. AFCO discussion of the draft report

November PETI and AFCO adopt their reports

October / November: trilogy negotiations on basis of the draft report

Early December COREPER Meeting (EU-government representatives)

13.-16.12 Vote in the Plenary of the European Parliament

AFCO = Constitutional Affairs Committee

PETI = Petitions Committee