EU citizens strongly dissatisfied with the personal data requirement in the Citizens’ Initiative’s draft regulation, survey reveals
Press Release by ECAS.
Brussels, October 4th – The draft proposal for the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) foresees an instrument which is not sufficiently user-friendly. The requirements and conditions under which the initiative would work could seriously undermine its efficacy, potentially advantaging only powerful associations and lobbies able to comply with them and handle a large number of refusals to sign. Citizens could well be refusing to sign on purely formal grounds, rather than because they do not agree with the objective.
The legal basis of this Initiative is art. 11.4 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which states that “not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties”.” The European Parliament and Council are expected to reach an agreement on the regulation towards the end of 2010.
In the consultative process and hearings organized by different European political groups, one of the most disputed points of the draft regulation concerns the amount and quality of personal data an ECI supporter has to provide in order to sign the initiative. Under current rules, Member States are expected to set their requirements for signing an initiative. Likewise, they are free to decide how to verify signatures of their nationals, including whether to verify every signature or just a sample. In the Council proposal (June 2010), most countries have endorsed an obligatory set of personal information containing “descriptive” data (name, date of birth, address) as well as “sensitive” data (such as the ID number or equivalent) although the European Data Protection Supervisor affirmed that ID card numbers are not necessary in this case.
Remarkably, the choice of the personal data required has been done without consulting the end-users of the initiative, the European citizens. Therefore, ECAS has been conducting a survey regarding the Citizens’ Initiative ID number requirement (available at www.ecas-europe.eu). The survey has collected 360 responses from citizens of the 27 Member States as well as from citizens of accession candidate countries.
The results show that a majority of respondents could accept providing their name and place of birth (75,6%) and their personal address (66,2%) when signing an initiative, but showed that there is a strong resistance to providing their Identity Card or Passport Number (66,2% were against).
These results should be placed in the context of a general reluctance of European citizens to disclose their ID number. Extensive studies and surveys show that EU citizens are very concerned about providing sensitive data out of fear for their privacy both in the field of data tracking and of identity theft. These studies stress the fact that European citizens do not trust their governments to be able to protect their sensitive data.
Is this justified when it is clearly stated in the Lisbon treaty that the Citizens’ Initiative is an agenda-setting device and is not binding on the Commission? It is likely that the ID requirement will severely damage the potential for success of an initiative. “On the ground” experts in petitions and initiatives have experienced and underlined how difficult it is to collect signatures. The introduction of such a sensitive requirement such as the ID number could result in the failure of an initiative.
Finally, only 21 Member States endorse the ID number collection, while six others have no such requirement. National Parliaments have also asked for the suppression of this requirement. Different national rules mean it will be easier for citizens of some countries to support an ECI than others, increasing the gap among national procedures.
Simplification and extension are the keys to success
Alongside with the ID numbers, there are a number of topics that need to be readdressed in order to ensure a user-friendly, potentially successful ECI regulation. These include: a clearly defined pattern for follow-up of a successful ECI including the Commission’s duties towards the organizers and an extension from 12 months up to a total of 18 months for signature collection.
ECAS is an international NGO active in the fields of Civil Society Development, Citizens’ Rights and Citizen Participation. For more information please visit www.ecas-citizens.eu and contact Elisabeth Victoria Lasky +32 2 548 04 94 ElisabethVictoriaLasky@ecas.org
 Backhouse and Halperin: 2007; JRC IPTS, 2009; EC Eurobarometer 64: 2005, to quote a few.
 These are: UK, Ireland, Denmark, Slovakia, Finland and the Netherlands.