Commission says “no” to ECI Revision
After three months of silence, the Commission has finally responded in writing to the Parliament’s ECI resolution that was overwhelmingly approved in plenary on 28 October 2015. The Council still remains silent. The Parliament asked the Commission to submit as soon as possible a proposal to revise the ECI Regulation 211/2011. The Commission replied unequivocally and with no explanation or justification whatsoever “it is too early to launch a legislative revision of the Regulation”.
What more information could the Commission possibly need?
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) has been in use for nearly four years. Over 350 citizens have joined an ECI citizens’ committee, drafted a text and submitted it to the Commission for registration. Over 30 ECIs have been registered, created campaign structures and collected signatures. Over six million EU citizens have signed an ECI. A veritable army of academic researchers, policy consultants and staffers in EU institutions have studied all of these ECIs. The list of research reports and policy analyses of the ECI is long and exhaustive. Over two dozen ECI organisers have directly shared their own experiences with policy-makers in innumerable hearings, events and publications.
All of these analyses, reports and presentations paint a strikingly clear and consistent picture: the rules and procedures governing the ECI outlined in Regulation 211/2011 are not user-friendly, simple or proportionate to the nature of the ECI. Furthermore, they do not subject all EU citizens to similar conditions. These same resources describe exactly what must be changed in order for the ECI to meet these requirements. The ECI Regulation must be revised. Public communications and practical support to ECI campaigns must also be improved. Even the key Commission administrative staffer working on the ECI has publicly admitted that there is “very little divergence of opinion” on what is wrong with the ECI Regulation or how to improve it.
Clearly “too soon” to revise the ECI Regulation has nothing to do with facts or data.
“Too soon” seems instead to be a euphemism for a lack of political will for participatory democracy at the very highest levels of the EU decision-making apparatus. Recent discussions within the College of Commissioners have revealed both a profound misunderstanding of the ECI and a deep distrust of citizens. The ECI has even been erroneously framed as a threat to the Union! These leaders have utterly failed to grasp the positive potential of the ECI to overcome national divisions and restore citizen trust in EU institutions. They’ve misinterpreted ECIs that were critical of specific EU policies as being critical of the EU itself. If the ECI Regulation is not reformed, the ECI will almost certainly fall out of use. The only thing more time will do is allow the ECI to die quietly, by benign neglect. This begs the question if this is in fact the Commission’s unstated goal.
Perhaps this is why the Commission’s report not only rejects the idea of revising the Regulation anytime in the foreseeable future, it also rejects all calls for new measures to raise public awareness of the ECI, support ECI campaigns or make its registration decisions more transparent and detailed. In a point by point response to the Parliament’s demands, the Commission either explains how what it is already doing is sufficient or it will take suggestions under advisement as part of an “ongoing assessment” of the ECI. The table below summarises key points.
|Paragraph||What Parliament asks for||Commission’s answer|
|3||Communications in all EU languages. |
More publicity and promotion of ECI.
|4||Draw lessons from national initiatives. |
|5||Citizens should be directly involved in the initiation of legislation (via ECI).||No response.|
|6-7||Improve awareness of and communications about the ECI.|
Use Member State communications.
Discussing with Member States.
|8||Only three successful ECI.|
Few new ECIs.
|This is regrettable.
We registered six in 2015.
|9-10||Dedicated ECI office. |
ECI offices in Member States.
|Already do (Europe Direct).
Considering ways to improve dialogue with ECI organisers.
|11||Provide guidelines for interpretation of legal basis of ECIs.|
Make Member State data protection rules clear.
|Already do (on ECI website).
Organisers can contact MS offices themselves.
|12||The ECI instrument should be simple, clear, user-friendly and widely publicised.||We provide information on the ECI that is simple, clear, etc.|
|13-14||Commission has a conflict of interest in registering ECIs. Need more transparency. |
Give EP role in registration.
|Regulation says Commission must do. We publish our decisions.
The EP’s role is to organise a hearing.
|15-16||Need more detailed explanation for why refuse to register an ECI.|
Register only part of an ECI.
|We provide enough explanation.
|17-18||Make hosting on Commission servers permanent.|
Allow campaigns to collect emails.
Allow social media tools.
|19||Let ECIs choose start date.||We help them prepare.|
|23||More inter-institutional cooperation on the communication of ECIs.||Already do.|
|24||Create a one-stop shop for ECIs.||This exists: Europe Direct.|
|25||Reduce and harmonise personal data.||We’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing – i.e., ask Member States.|
|26||Lower the age to 16.||Regulation says “voting age”.|
|27||Limit liability for citizen committee members. Give committees legal status.||We’ll consider.|
|28||Make sure all EU citizens can sign an ECI.||We’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing – i.e., ask Member States.|
|29||Regret that only 3 ECIs succeeded and had no legislative impact.||There are new ECIs.
We responded “positively” to 2 ECIs.
|30||Follow up within 12 months to ECIs on which issue a positive opinion.||The Commission’s right of legislative initiative must be preserved.|
|31||Include stakeholders and experts in hearing.||Stakeholders representing diverse views should be present in hearing.|
|32||EP should ask the Commission to propose legislation if it doesn’t otherwise act.||No response.|
|33||Provide financial support to ECIs.||Not in Regulation and too risky.|
|35||Submit a proposal to revise the Regulation.||It’s “too early”.|
|38||Make the OCS mobile-friendly.||Doing this.|
|39||Prevent abuse by private interests.||Already do.|