European Parliament and Council about to finalize ECI review Process

September 2, 2015 News

afco

On 16 April 2015 MEP György Schöpflin, the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) rapporteur, presented a draft motion for a European Parliament Resolution on the ECI. Since then numerous committee debates on the future of the ECI have taken place, including in the petitions and legal affairs committee. After several months of in-depth analysis, over 20 members of the AFCO committee have come up with 127 amendments to the draft report.

The shadow-rapporteurs of the different political groups will meet about the ECI and to discuss the AFCO proposals on September 15/16, and the committee will vote on September 28. A final plenary discussion and vote on the motion is expected in November this year.

In parallel to the European Parliament’s ECI review process, the Council of the EU has started to elaborate its position. Both institutions will have to indicate the need for a full legal revision of the ECI regulation, if the European Commission is to come up with a proposal for a revised ECI Regulation. This would probably be negotiated in early 2016. Please find below an up-date and comment on both institutions’ current proposals.

AFCO Committee / European Parliament

Most members of the AFCO committee have understood the dramatic and dangerous situation in which the ECI finds itself today, and they have therefore not limited themselves to a review of just the technical and organisational issues facing the ECI. First amendments to the “Schöpflin-Report” stress the fact that “it must be one of the priority objectives of the European Union to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of its institutions” (Andrej Plenković) and that “the European Citizens’ Initiative is a unique and innovative agenda setting tool in the European Union” (Charles Goerens, Sylvie Goulard, Maite Pagazaurtundúa Ruiz). What is more, its “potential must be exploited fully and enhanced in order to encourage as many citizens of the Union as possible to participate in the further development of the European integration process” (Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann). Several MEPs clearly indicated that a revision of the ECI Regulation is needed, at some point even calling the ECI a “sham” (Vicky Maeijer).

These are the other concrete proposals included in the list of 127 amendments:

1. Stronger promotion of the ECI among European people (e.g. Louis Michel, Josep-Maria Terricabras)
2. An ECI should be able to “ask for the EU to act or to cease acting” (Morten Messerschmidt)
3. Lower the minimum age threshold for being entitled to support an ECI to 16 years (e.g. Josep-Maria Terricabras, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, Siôn Simon, Jo Leinen)
4. Remove Art 4(2)(b) so that an ECI proposal only needs to be within the values of the Union and not abusive, frivolous or vexatious to be registered (e.g. Barbara Spinelli, Helmut Scholz, Kostas Chrysogonos)
5. Provide comprehensive guidance as early as possible, especially of a legal nature (e.g. Siôn Simon, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann)
6. It should be possible to propose an initiative that also concerns the primary law of the Union or non-regulated acts (Enrique Guerrero Salom, Ramón Jáuregui Atondo, Josep-Maria Terricabras, Barbara Spinelli, Helmut Scholz, Kostas Chrysogonos)
7. To set budgetary and time restriction, so that initiatives cannot be presented on recently adopted legislation (Enrique Guerrero Salom, Ramón Jáuregui Atondo)
8. An independent figure should be established to assess whether the legal basis of an ECI submitted is correct, along the lines of the Hearing Officers used in competition proceedings (Fabio Massimo Castaldo)
9. The European Commission should inform the European Parliament about its decision concerning the registration (György Schöpflin)
10. To improve the user-friendly character of its software for the online collection of signatures, particularly for people with disabilities (Siôn Simon, Josep-Maria Terricabras, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, Jo Leinen)
11. To modify the OCS so email addresses can be collected on a non-mandatory basis on the same screen as the support form, but stored in a separate database (Barbara Spinelli, Helmut Scholz, Kostas Chrysogonos, Josep-Maria Terricabras)
12. To end the automatic link between the registration of an ECI and the beginning of the 12-month period within which expressions of support can be collected, so that the organisers of an ECI themselves can decide when they wish to start to collect expressions of support (Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, Siôn Simon, Jo Leinen)
13. To give the organisers the possibility to register only part of an initiative where an ECI does not fall entirely within the Commission’s remit and inform the organisers at the time of registration which part may be registered, a maximum deadline of six months being stipulated (Claudia Tapardel)
14. To introduce the necessary reforms to stop certain groups of citizens, such as those who are blind or living abroad, from being prevented from exercising their right to support citizens’ initiatives, as such exclusion limits equality among citizens (Ramón Jáuregui Atondo, Enrique Guerrero Salom)
15. To provide a refund to all members of committees which organise ECIs, to ensure they are able to attend hearings before Parliament (Fabio Massimo Castaldo)
16. To encourage Member States to reduce data requirements and to remove identification number requirements except for Member States that absolutely need them to verify signatures (e.g. Josep-Maria Terricabras, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, Siôn Simon, Jo Leinen, György Schöpflin)
17. To create a legal status for the citizens’ committee (Josep-Maria Terricabras, Sylvia-Yvonne Kaufmann)
18. Period for Member States to certify the online collection system should be extended to three months (Claudia Tapardel)
19. To inform the national parliaments’ European affairs committees on a periodic basis about ECIs in progress which have already gathered a significant number of signatures (Morten Messerschmidt)
20. To consider incorporating an additional administrative channel into Regulation for initiatives that have been rejected because they fall outside the Commission’s remit but which could be dealt with using other policy instruments, given their public interest, such as recommendations to the Member States, opinions, etc., with the aim of avoiding the failure of worthwhile citizens’ initiatives and thereby strengthening citizens’ democratic involvement (Ramón Jáuregui Atondo, Enrique Guerrero Salom)
21. The Commission should start preparing a legal act on successful ECIs within 12 months of their submission. Where the Commission fails to provide a legislative proposal within this period, the competent committee of the European Parliament will initiate a legislative-initiative report for which the selected rapporteur shall consult the ECI organisers in another hearing (Josep-Maria Terricabras)

General Affairs Committee / Council of the EU

The Council’s internal discussions on ECI reform has continued since the European Commission report released in April. First results were published only recently, see here. The Working Party on General Affairs examined the Commission’s report in four meetings on 24 April, 8 May, 29 May and 5 June 2015. During those discussions delegations were invited to share their preliminary positions and comments.
The Latvian Presidency has prepared a short and preliminary summary of what has been discussed and proposed. These are the issues that were acknowledged by the delegations:

1. Awareness of the ECI has to be increased
2. Campaigners have to be better advised on organising an ECI
3. Signature collection period should be longer and organisers should have the ability to pick the starting date
4. Online collection system still needs a number of improvements
5. Data requirements should be simplified, so that no citizens are excluded from signing an initiative
6. The Commission should launch a political debate on the topic of an ECI even when it is rejected
7. Issue of legal liability of ECI organisers has to be solved
8. The Commission should provide clearer and more extensive reasons when rejecting ECIs
9. EP public hearings should be broadened and a ‘mid-term hearing’ could be organised after the collection of 500 000 signatures
10. Establishing electronic signatures could facilitate the collection of signatures and the identification of ECI signatories.

In the report the Commission stated that it did not plan to propose a revision of the ECI regulation this year, although it is still an option. According to the Commission: “The risk of reviewing the ECI Regulation too early, given that it has been in force for three years only, was to improve things only partially and not to address all aspects of the instrument.”
The Commission also stated that it does “not intend to establish a new, formal and systematic form of dialogue with ECI organisers” for responding to successful ECIs. However, it was “looking at ways to improve communication within the current framework.”

With regards to calls for the Commission to improve its justifications when refusing to register an ECI, it argued that its responses already aimed to be as detailed and explicit as possible.

Conclusions

The ECI Campaign welcomes a number of the much-needed and important proposals presented by the Members of the European Parliament and the Working Party in the General Affairs Committee of the Council. We are glad that amendments to the AFCO report include all our 12 recommendations. However a key point – making the registration far less restrictive – needs more support in the EP.

The Council of the EU, however, still needs to significantly develop its recommendations, if the ECI is to survive. In particular the summary still lacks six points:

1. Make the registration procedure less restrictive.
2. Allow ECIs that require treaty amendments to implement.
3. Ensure that the Commission takes successful ECIs seriously.
4. Eliminate ID number requirements.
5. Allow the collection of e-mail addresses within the ECI support form and permit ECI organisers to contact signatories.
6. Lower the age of ECI support to 16.

Therefore, we call on the Council to take into consideration all the missing recommendations and include them into their discussions.

We also call on the EU institutions to recognise the need for a full revision of the ECI regulation and not to limit the current ECI review.