European Court of Justice to rule on admissibility of an ECI for the first time

2013-07-31 News

For the first time in judicial history the Court of Justice of the European Union will rule on the issue of the admissibility of a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). So far eight ECIs have been declared inadmissible (cf. website of the European Commission). However, the organizers of the “ONE MILLION SIGNATURES FOR A EUROPE OF SOLIDARITY” ECI are the first to challenge the validity of the rejection.

The objective of this ECI is related to the current financial crisis and its burdensome impact on citizens in Greece and other member states. The initiative proposes to establish the principle of a “state of necessity” – in a sense a state of emergency for a country (more here). The organizers argue: “When the financial and the political existence of a State is in danger because of the servicing of the abhorrent debt, the refusal to pay it is necessary and justifiable.” In particular the organizers state that: “the rate of interest on the loans which the Troïka have lent to Greece is much more than those rates at which the State creditors borrow. The financial crisis in Greece has been taken advantage of by Member States, who gain inadmissible enrichment at Greece’s expense. This represents the total denial of communal solidarity”.

According to the Court’s website this appeal requests to “annul the decision of the European Commission of 6 September 2012 by which it rejected registration” of this ECI and “to order the Commission to register the above-mentioned initiative in accordance with the law”.

The Judgment of the General Court is awaited with great interest. The Athens-based lawyer of this ECI, Alexis Anagnostakis, has said that: “for the first time in the judicial history of Europe, the European Court of Justice will rule, by interpreting the principle of solidarity, whether or not it is legally possible for countries and populations in a state of necessity (with galloping unemployment, the collapse of wages and pensions, the closure of hospitals, schools and social services, and extensive poverty) to write off their odious debt.”

As in earlier cases with other ECIs the Commission has refused to register this proposed initiative on the assumption that it would “fall manifestly outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union for the purpose of implementing the Treaties”.

In this context, it must be remembered that it was never the intention and spirit of the members of the European Convention 2002/03, where the ECI instrument was created, to reduce the ECI instrument to secondary law only.

The Court must specify whether the notion “for the purpose of implementing the treaty” means that ECIs “for the purpose of revising the treaty” are included or excluded from the scope of possible initiatives. According to The ECI Campaign – an NGO that works to ensure successful implementation of the ECI instrument – proposing treaty amendments via an ECI is quite clearly acceptable.

A Treaty amendment via an ECI is not explicitly excluded in the current treaty. In European countries with citizens’ initiatives, the fact that this instrument cannot be used to revise primary law is stated explicitly, i.e. in a sufficiently certain and precise manner and without any ambiguity whatsoever.

Since there are explicit provisions in the Treaty on European Union dealing with the goal of revising the treaties (Art. 48 TEU), the notion of “implementing the treaty” encompasses the notion of “revision”. In plain language, if the Commission itself may propose amendments to treaties, it belongs to the competences of the Commission, thus there is no reason why ECIs should be prevented from proposing treaty amendments.

This Court decision will have profound effects on the value and impact of the new citizens’ right to launch ECIs. It is worth recalling that ECIs on many topics of greatest interest to EU citizens require treaty amendments. Registering such ECIs rather than silencing them is vital to motivate citizens to become actively engaged in the EU decision-making process and to release the potential of the ECI instrument.

The ECI Campaign has published on this issue earlier see here. It will also attempt to attend the public trial and report live from Luxemburg. For further questions contact ECI Campaign Coordinator Carsten Berg