An Overview of the First Two Years of the European Citizens’ Initiative
Over 5 million signatures were collected.
1,000s of conversations and debates took place among European citizens.
100s of events were organized by citizens’ groups across Europe.
These are some of the first quantitative results of the introduction of the European Citizens’ Initiative.
Out of 43 proposed ECIs, 24 were registered and 19 were rejected
Between its entry into force on 1 April 2012 and 1 September 2014, 43 initiatives submitted an application for registration to the European Commission. Of those, 24 initiatives were accepted for registration by the Commission and started the very involved and challenging ECI signature gathering process. A surprisingly high number – 19 proposed ECIs – were declared inadmissible by the Commission for being “outside the Commission’s competence”.
Of the 24 ECIs registered, two were withdrawn and never resubmitted. 9 ECIs “gave up” and stopped collecting signatures before the end of their 12-month signature collection period, but did not officially withdraw.
As of 1 September 2014, 21 ECIs have ended and 3 are still ongoing. Out of these, 3 ECIs have managed to collect over 1 million signatures from at least seven member states.
Almost 90% of signatures from just three ECIs
In respect of the 5.5 million signatures collected by the first 21 ECIs, the first striking observation is that signatures are concentrated within a few ECIs. Almost 90% of ECI signatures were collected by the three successful initiatives: One of Us (35%), Right to Water (34%) and Stop Vivisection (20%). The remaining 11% of signatures largely come from four closed ECIs: Unconditional Basic Income, End Ecocide, Fraternité 2020 and European Initiative for Media Pluralism. This means that the other 14 closed ECIs only collected a tiny percentage of total ECI signatures.
ECI Divisions: tiny upper class, small middle and large lower class
If one divides the 24 current and completed ECIs into three groups according to the number of collected signatures one could identify a small “upper class” of 3 millionaires (ECIs which have collected more than one million signatures), a small “middle class” of 7 ECIs concentrated on the lower end (ECIs which collected between 40,000 and 300,000 signatures) and a large “lower class” of 14 ECIs with fewer than 40,000 signatures.
The categorisation does not only correspond to the number of signatures collected by each group, but also to the level of organisation and funding. This shows that in the current ECI framework ECI organisers must either have stable funding or a huge pan-European network of volunteers. Without at least one of these two elements, collecting one million signatures in 12 months seems like a “mission impossible”.
A special focus on the first three successful ECIs
The ECIs Right to Water, One of Us and Stop Vivisection are the pioneers among the first of more than 40 attempts to set the EU agenda. All of them have hit the magic hurdle of one million statements of support. However, they each reached their goal in very different ways. A closer look at the growth rates of signatures offers interesting insights into each individual campaign’s design and infrastructure.
All ECIs began to collect significant numbers of signatures relatively late in their campaigns. This is probably related to the dysfunctional online signature collection system software (OCS) which stopped many ECI campaigns for several months and led the Commission to extend official deadlines. Only Right to Water would have succeeded within its original 12-month deadline. The other two ECIs each had an impressive “last sprint”, collecting significant numbers of signatures during their final months.
Right to Water was the best-prepared and equipped campaign among all of the first ECIs. With 100,000 Euros fundraised before starting the campaign and with a similar amount of money raised in member states like Germany, this campaign was able to start with an ideal infrastructure. The funds were used for paid staff and the manifold tasks connected with an ECI. In particular, funds were used for practical and organisational issues such as translations, the registration, legal expertise, the development of the website, the facilitation of the online collection system, regular newsletters and volunteer and signature return management.
Even though Right to Water was well prepared, it too had a long phase before it took off with signature gathering. After the first six months, only 3.5% of the necessary signatures had been collected. Their real success only began after a German national TV report on water privatisation caused large-scale “snowball effects”. Within eight weeks after this TV report, more than one million signatures had been collected, primarily in Germany and online. This made this ECI the first to reach the million signature goal.
The ECI One of Us experienced a similar slow start. However there was no “big bang” event that helped them to take off. Instead one can observe a very steady growth which gives evidence of a solid campaign team and stable infrastructure. General media attention was relatively low key but it received prominent support from both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. This ECI was backed by thousands of volunteers who largely collected signatures on paper. But it also received a considerable amount of funds at 160, 000 Euros. All of these factors combined to make the ECI One of Us currently the largest ECI in history with 1.9 million supporters.
In stark contrast to the first two successful ECIs, which had significant funding and professionalised campaigns, the ECI Stop Vivisection is the first successful ECI which was purely driven by volunteers. Its tiny budget of only 14,000 Euros makes this ECI all the more impressive. They also had to wait six months until their online signature collection system (OCS) started to work. As of July 2013, four months before the end of their deadline, they had only collected 500, 000 signatures. A large percentage of these were collected on paper. Only an intense and expansionary use of the internet changed things. This ECI had the best social media traction which brought an impressive addition of nearly 800,000 signatures during its final months.
Over 1/3 of all ECI signatures were collected on paper
The decision to collect signatures online or on paper is probably one of the crucial questions which ECI organizers have to ask themselves before starting the signature collection. While the media have often portrayed the ECI as primarily an e-participation tool, current experience shows that the ECI is not only an online tool. In fact, most ECIs use both paper and online signature collection.
Of all the signatures collected by all ECIs, 37% were collected on paper. The One of Us ECI collected 65% of their almost 1.9 million signatures on paper. The Stop Vivisection ECI collected 44% and the ECI Right to Water collected 18% of their signatures on paper. Smaller ECIs have also collected signatures on paper: 18% of signatures for 30 km/h ECI and 7% for EndEcocide.
Paper signature collection brings with it additional challenges. Signatures collected on paper have been declared invalid by national authorities at much higher rates than those collected online (see interview with the BVA, the German verification authority in Part II of this publication). Paper forms are sometimes illegible and ECI supporters fail to include essential information like ID numbers. Paper signature collection also requires many more campaign workers and is more risky in terms of data protection liability than online collection. However, if the data requirements were to be reduced, it could be much more effective, making the whole ECI instrument more participatory.
Most ECIs from large member states
Given the basic data on the overall number of signatures, it is interesting to analyse their origin in the individual member states of the European Union.
Just two countries, Germany and Italy, lead the field for ECI signatures collected. Around 32% of all ECIs signatures have been collected in Germany and 26% in Italy. Next come Spain, Poland and France, which altogether collected 16% of all signatures.
Part of this is related simply to the size of the country. It is not surprising that five of the six largest EU states collected 74% of all ECI signatures. The UK is an exception. Only 1.5% of total ECI signatures have been collected from UK citizens. ECI rules have prevented many UK citizens living abroad from supporting an ECI, but this is probably not the main reason for this low participation rate.
Country support also seems to be tied to campaign presence in different countries, as well as the relevance of the issue in a country. For example, the ECI Right to Water benefited from a strong German campaign team as well as national media coverage of water privatisation. The ECI One of Us drew strong support in predominantly Catholic countries such as Italy, Poland, Spain and France. The ECI Stop Vivisection was aided by the strong involvement of Italian animal rights organisations and collected the largest number of its signatures from Italians.