European Commission amends ECI rules

2013-07-18 News

Although the badly needed revisions in the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) Regulation are officially planned for 2015, Member States and the European Commission plan to change some of the ECI rules already by October of 2013. Upon request of the Member States the Commission has now published a Delegated Regulation  introducing several changes to Annexes II and III of the Regulation on the citizens’ initiative. The Delegated Regulation is a new prerogative of the EC introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, which allows for the amendment of non-essential elements of a legislative act. As reported earlier, the two most important changes are the removal of burdensome data requirements (ID numbers) in Luxembourg and the admission of signatures of Dutch citizens living abroad. Generally however the amendments still remain insufficient to ensure successful implementation of the ECI instrument.

The specific amendments proposed by the Commission

Firstly, the documentation process required of ECI organizers has been simplified in Annex II. Organizers will now have to include certain documents already at the beginning of the registration process, including the full names, postal addresses, nationalities and dates of birth of the seven members of the citizens’ committee. In addition, ECI organizers must provide their telephone numbers for contact information. According to officials these changes should facilitate the registration process and “reduce the likelihood of requests for registration being refused because the citizens’ committee had not been formed in conformity with the Regulation’s requirements.”

The Commission’s decision to modify Annex III will have more important effects on future ECIs as it deals with the sensitive aspects of data requirements and ECI signatures. Specifically, it concerns changes in the “statement of support forms” where signatories must provide data in accordance with the regulations of their Member State.

As stated in the official explanatory memorandum, Luxembourg requested the removal of personal identification number from their data requirements. The Netherlands requested the addition of the possibility for Dutch nationals residing outside the Netherlands to use the Dutch statement of support form. Spain requested that the requirement of permanent residence be removed and that date of birth of the signatory now be mandatory. It further requested that a personal identification number be added to the list of possible personal identification formats. France requested that the list of personal identification documents be limited to passport and national identity card and that place of birth be added. Ireland requested the removal of place of birth. Slovenia requested that identity card and passport be replaced with a personal identification number.

The explanatory memorandum points out that ECI organisers who are currently collecting statements of support “may use both the current forms and the forms as amended by this delegated act, until the end of the collection period for their respective proposed citizens’ initiatives.” However, the delegated act is not  binding before early October, 2013 (the European Parliament and the Council still need to agree, but such an agreement is likely). Consequently, the amended Annexes will only be relevant for the newly registered ECIs.

Amendments still insufficient to make the ECI work

The announced amendments have resulted in mixed reactions. The ECI Campaign – an NGO that works to ensure successful implementation of the ECI instrument – shares the Commission’s view that some of the amendments can “be seen as an improvement for all interested parties: signatories, organisers of initiatives and Member State authorities responsible for verifying statements of support”. However they come quite late in the day and still are too weak to make the ECI instrument work properly. Moreover not all the changes  are improving the ECI instrument. France for example, has decided to require even more personal data (i.e. the place of birth, in addition to ID numbers etc.), which is clearly  worsening  the conditions for citizens and ECI organizers.

In principle, many of the problems stem from the fact that in 2011 the 27 Member States decided on different data requirements in each country. This has now caused massive organizational problems for ECI organizers and has led to the absurd situation that in some countries disproportionately high barriers have been implemented for collecting signatures (e.g. France and Spain) while in other countries they are lower (The Netherlands, Finland and Germany).

While it is encouraging to see the abolishment of ID number requirements in Luxemburg, 18 Member States still call for this information, which is both intrusive and burdensome, and represents an obstacle to many citizens who wish to make use of the ECI instrument.  The changes made to the ECI instrument in the Netherlands are also important as they will ensure that Dutch citizens have the opportunity to support an ECI regardless of where they are currently residing. At the same time, there are still millions of EU citizens who live outside their home country being denied this right – for instance, Irish nationals living outside the EU or EU nationals in Austria. Either national regulations must change or new solutions must be proposed to allow  these citizens equal opportunity to support an ECI.

In recent years, the ECI Campaign has fought intensely for such reforms in the ECI instrument, that is, to simplify the signature form and eliminate ID requirements. The next step needed would be a holistic and thorough revision of the European Citizens’ Initiative Regulation (officially planned for 2015). Following the presentation of a list of the eight most important changes to the ECI instrument to the Commission, the ECI Campaign will continue its campaign work on the improvement of ECI rules.

For further details contact ECI Campaign Coordinator Carsten Berg