ECI Campaign welcomes the approval of the ECI Regulation
However signature collection and verification rules are still excessively bureaucratic and a serious response from the European Commission is not guaranteed.
Press Release by ECI Campaign, 15 December 2010
Today the European Parliament approved the regulation to implement the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI): a new tool created by the Lisbon Treaty which gives 1 million citizens the right to ask for changes to European law.
According to Carsten Berg, ECI Campaign Director “We warmly welcome the introduction of the ECI. It is the first transnational instrument of participatory democracy in world history. With it, Europe enters a new territory of citizen participation. It is the result of nearly a decade of work.” The ECI Campaign is a grassroots coalition of democracy advocates and over 120 European NGOs dedicated to the creation and successful implementation of a European citizens’ initiative right. It first campaigned for the inclusion of the ECI in the EU Constitution and later for user-friendly implementing rules.
While the final regulation approved today by the European Parliament is much simpler than the Commission’s original proposal, it still remains unnecessarily bureaucratic and burdensome. It will be relatively easy for citizens’ groups to launch an ECI, but extremely difficult to complete one successfully.
Based on the ECI Campaign’s experience with over 20 unofficial citizens’ initiatives, using the rules approved today, it will be impossible for truly grassroots, volunteer-run citizens’ campaigns to gather 1 million signatures in 12 months. Only very well-organized and financed lobbies have a chance to succeed, and even they will find it a challenge.
Perhaps most disturbing is the personal data citizens must provide to support an ECI will depend on where they live. Currently, 1/3 of Member States plan to make it relatively easy for their residents to support an ECI. The other 2/3 of Member States will create unnecessary barriers, in particular requiring EU citizens residing in their country to provide intrusive personal data such as ID card numbers. The European Data Protection Supervisor determined that ID card numbers were not necessary and should not be collected from citizens supporting an ECI. Yet, in the regulation, Member States have been given carte blanche to determine how to verify signatures and what personal data to collect. Member States have one year to create national laws and procedures to implement the ECI . During that time, the ECI Campaign hopes that more Member States will adopt citizen-friendly signature collection and verification rules.
During the past two weeks, over 180,000 EU citizens signed our online petition, sponsored by the international advocacy community Avaaz, calling for a citizen-friendly ECI regulation. Specifically, they asked for no ID card numbers, 18 months to collect signatures, a quota of 1/5 of Member States and a mandatory public hearing with the participation of the Commission. Only the mandatory public hearing has been included in the final ECI regulation.
The ultimate success or failure of the ECI, however, will depend on how the Commission responds to a successful ECI. According to Mr. Berg “One million citizens cannot be ignored. A successful ECI must have consequences and lead to political decisions. Only when citizens realize that they are actually being heard will this instrument strengthen the democratic engagement of citizens. Otherwise it will simply lead to more frustration.”