Citizen-friendly consensus on ECI regulation getting closer

November 9, 2010 News

This morning, the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) and Petitions (PETI) committees both discussed the draft regulation for implementing the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) — with the participation of Commission and Council representatives. Their goal is to arrive at a consensus position within the Parliament and between the three major EU institutions before the end of this month. This is so the entire Parliament can approve the ECI regulation in mid-December in the first reading.

Today MEPs strongly defended the idea of a mandatory public hearing for every successful ECI — but disagreed on its sponsor. AFCO co-rapporteurs Zita Gurmai and Alain Lamassoure were vague about which EU institution should organize this hearing. PETI co-rapporteurs Diana Wallis and Gerald Häfner insisted that it should be the responsibility of the Commission. Commission representative Mario Tenreiro insisted that the mandatory (private) meeting between ECI organizers and the Commission was itself a “hearing” and that the public hearing would be a “second hearing” and should be the responsibility of the European Parliament.

The ECI Campaign strongly agrees with the PETI committee position that the Commission should itself be responsible for organizing a mandatory public hearing. The Commission should not be allowed to simply pass responsibility for responding to citizens’ concerns on to another EU institution.

Similarly, MEPs generally opposed the collection of ID card numbers from citizens supporting an ECI. However, this is a very sensitive issue within the Council with some Member States insisting they either need ID card numbers to verify signatures and/or their citizens are comfortable sharing this private information. Alain Lamassoure suggested a compromise position whereby citizens would indicate which type of identity card number (e.g., passport, ID card) they could share if necessary during signature verification — without actually sharing its number at the time of signing an ECI.

There was still considerable disagreement between MEPs over whether the deadline for signature collection should be 12 or 18 months and whether the minimum number of Member States for signature quotas should be 1/5 or 1/3. Supporters of the longer 18 month deadline insist it is necessary to allow ECIs from grassroots groups, as well as ECIs on new and unknown topics. The short 12 month deadline could limit ECIs to those from big lobbies and on negative topics (i.e., opposing activities rather than suggesting solutions).

The ECI Campaign is delighted by the progress made so far in the European Parliament towards making the ECI regulation as citizen-friendly as possible. In the coming weeks, it will be vital for ECI supporters to keep up pressure on the European Parliament, Council and Commission to ensure that the final ECI regulation is indeed as citizen-friendly as possible.

To see precisely who said what, read our twitter posts from this morning’s entire AFCO committee meeting and part of the PETI meeting at #ECINow.