Green light for first ECIs – significant challenges ahead

2012-05-22 News

By May 11th the first six ECIs in EU history had been registered by the EU Commission on its official ECI registry. These ECI organizers now need to organize the support of one million citizens across Europe within a tight timeline of only twelve months. Surprisingly, however, none of these ECIs have started to collect signatures so far. Read the story about what the first ECIs are about, who is behind them and where the current challenges lie.

After years of legal and practical preparation for the general ECI process, the first six ECIs have now been registered with the EU Commission, giving them the green light to start collecting at least 1 million “statements of support”. At the same time  seven other initiatives are still waiting to be registered – see our overview of the registered and not-yet-registered ECIs. (Also check the BBC report).

First ECIs vary in content and organizational infrastructure

Not surprisingly, the first six ECIs are very diverse. They cover issues such as the protection of water, extending voting rights, abolishing roaming fees (for mobile phones), guaranteeing animal protection (cow welfare), banning research on human embryonic stem cells and increasing exchange programs for students and others.

Due to the transparency and disclosure rules all ECI organizers have to indicate their sources of support and funding. While three initiatives so far have no funding at all (Let me vote, Anti-roaming and the Fraternité2020), others have managed to fundraise several hundred thousand Euros.

The initiative against research on human embryonic stem cells has received sponsorship funding of 50,000 EUR from the Italian organization Fondazione Vita Nova. The water protection initiative is receiving funds of 100,000 EUR from the European Federation of Public Service Unions. And the cow welfare initiative is being supported by the ice cream manufacturer Ben and Jerry’s, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and the organization Compassion in World Farming. This last mentioned Initiative is the best funded with a budget of 345,000 EUR so far; it is the first ECI receiving corporate sponsorship.

Are ECI organizers and EU institutions sufficiently prepared?

The lack of a prepared budget and campaign infrastructure of several ECI organizers has raised concerns among observers. “Neither the organizers nor the recipients have any (human and financial) resources available to expand these ECIs into a pan-European dialogue process”, says Bruno Kaufmann of IRI Europe.  Evidently the criticism is not only addressed to ECI organizers but also to the EU Commission, which has so far failed to provide an adequate help desk infrastructure including practical, legal and campaigning advice as well as translation services. See our latest press release on the unresolved deficiency inherent in the ECI rules.

At the same time several ECI organizers themselves have raised strong complaints about the overly demanding Online Collection System (OCS) requirements. The costs involved in fulfilling the requirements in the specifying ECI regulation on OCS and the extra costs for hiring a server appear much too high – they seem to amount to more than 10,000 EUR.

From a practical point of view of the ECI organizers, the online collection problem is the most urgent one and could possibly explain one the biggest paradoxes which we can currently observe. After registration, ECIs are officially in the phase of campaigning and collection mode, but in fact no one is actually collecting signatures. There are as yet no paper signature forms nor is there any possibility to support an ECI online.