European Parliament can still prevent Member States from weakening the ECI

2010-09-29 News

National signature collection rules key to success of European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)

Brussels – European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) regulations now under consideration in the European Parliament would make it relatively easy to launch an ECI but nearly impossible to complete one successfully. If approved, European citizens will get an inaccessible suggestions box rather than a real democratic instrument to influence the EU legislative agenda.

As set out in article 11.4 of the Lisbon Treaty, the ECI allows one million citizens from a significant number of EU Member States to ask the European Commission to propose new legislation. The European Parliament will vote on the ECI regulation in December.

According to ECI Campaign coordinator Carsten Berg “signature collection rules which vary significantly between countries and a too-short deadline will make it difficult for an ECI to succeed. A ban on treaty amendments and unclear Commission response to a successful ECI will discourage ECIs on many of the most important topics facing the EU. Unless these are changed, the ECI could become a PR tool rather than a real democratic instrument.”

Inconsistent signature collection rules could lead to de-facto discrimination based on nationality

In current draft regulations, Member States are given carte blanche to establish the single most important criteria determining the success of the ECI: which personal data an individual citizen must provide to support an ECI. Member States are equally free to decide how to verify signatures of their nationals, including whether to verify every signature or a sample. There are no common standards for, outside review by a neutral European body of or enforceable deadlines to create these rules.

For example, according to the European Data Protection Supervisor, ID card numbers are not necessary for organising an ECI and should not be collected. Yet 21 Member States still will require their citizens to provide them for an ECI. Six will not. Intrusive personal data demands raise public fears of violation of privacy and identity theft. This deters potential supporters from signing and raises ECI campaign costs. Different national rules mean it will be easier for citizens of some countries to support an ECI than others. The end result could be de-facto discrimination based on nationality.

Ban on treaty amendments would ignore important citizen interests

Right now many issues important to citizens that would require a treaty amendment, such as a single seat for the European Parliament, could not be ECI topics. This is the current view of the EU Commission. However, the framers of the Lisbon Treaty intended that ECIs include all subjects on which the Commission may propose legal changes. This needs to be clarified in the ECI regulation so as not to artificially restrict citizens’ initiative rights.

Unclear follow-up could dissuade ECI organisers

The European Commission’s response to a successful ECI still remains unclear. Every successful ECI should be recognized with a public deliberative hearing. Moreover the Commission should be given a time limit to issue a legislative proposal, as is the case for initiatives from the European Parliament. If the Commission’s only required response remains a written communication, the ECI will not be used.

Inadequate time for signature collection could weaken the ECI’s democratic nature

ECI campaigns must collect 1 million signatures in only 12 months. However, up to 24 month may be needed for ECIs coordinated by smaller organisations or for issues that are not yet well known or understood by the general public. National experience has shown that short time limits weaken the democratic nature of initiatives by limiting their use to well financed, well organised lobbies.