As the experience of all the closed and ongoing ECIs shows, organising an European wide citizens’ initiative is not easy. Therefore, if you are serious about organising an ECI, you will need assistance and should calculate at least half a year to prepare and another full year to collect signatures. To facilitate the organizational process, we advise you to consider the following check-list before you start an ECI.
1. Identify and develop your idea as much as possible. Determine if you really need to change EU law in order to accomplish your goal. Explore the possible political reception of your idea, ideally with those who are familiar with how your policy area has been handled in the past by the EU institutions.
2. Verify legality. Check whether or not EU law allows for the type of legislation you propose. Ask for the informal legal pre-check through Europe Direct. For questions on competences, a procedure involving the competent Commission services is in place from this entry point. You will receive a reply based on an informal analysis and without prejudice to any formal reply that may be given by the Commission following a request for registration of your proposed citizens’ initiative.
3. Consider alternatives. Compare all available alternatives for reaching your goal. Choose the instrument which best suits your goal. It may not be the ECI.
4. Research ECI procedures. Request information from the Commission’s General Secretariat. Check their official ECI website and register. Study the implementation rules as outlined in the ECI regulation (EU Regulation 211/2011) and the free ECI guide provided by the Commission.
5. Write the initiative. Write in an understandable way and get independent legal help. Make sure your wording is complete but does not provide a target for those who may oppose your goal.
6. Build a multinational citizens’ initiative committee. It must have members from at least seven EU member states and is required to officially organize your ECI and communicate with EU institutions.
7. Build an alliance. Contact like-minded groups and individuals in at least nine different countries. Alliance building is an absolutely critical task. You need all the support possible.
8. Evaluate opposition. Analyse the strength and validity of opposing viewpoints and organisations.
9. Develop a budget. Consider costs for staff, translation office equipment, online services, signature collection, advertising, printing, phones and postage. Political campaigns, especially at transnational level, can cost a lot of money. At least 100,000 Euro should be secured in funds before launching.
You will need to develop plans for:
1. Signature collection support. The EESC offers a translation service for the ECI 800-character descriptions. After your ECI has been validated by the European Commission, the original text can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with a list of the desired target languages. More information on the EESC ECI Help Desk.
Up to 20% of signatures could be invalidated by national authorities due to incomplete or inaccurate information. So plan to collect at least 1,250,000 signatures. Ask groups and individuals to commit to collect a certain number of signatures over a specific period of time.
2. Online signature collection. Determine the software needed for online collection in order to meet both legal requirements and your campaign’s needs. Embed your online signature collection in a broader online campaign. Talk to IT-experts of earlier ECI campaigns. You can use OpenECI, a campaigner and citizen-friendly alternative for collecting signatures online to the European Commission’s Online Collection System (OCS). Read more here.
3. Paper signature collection. Determine how many signature forms and in which languages you need for distribution to organizations and volunteers.
4. Organisation. Identify and assign key tasks and responsibilities within your ECI committee, as well as among paid and volunteer staff. Create clear job descriptions.
5. Volunteer management. Decide how to manage your most valuable partners: your volunteers. Determine how to recruit, train, motivate, supervise, schedule and reward them.
6. Fundraising. Estimate how much money you will need to complete all the tasks listed in your campaign plan. Contact potential large donors, use direct mail and organise fundraising events to reach your fundraising goal.
7. Communications. Make use of all relevant media to inform the maximum number of potential signers, contributors and volunteers for your ECI. Prepare a plan for how to use paid and unpaid media, speakers, events, endorsements, etc.
8. Signature return management. Signatures from different sources must be assembled in time for submission to national authorities in the different member states.
9. Signature submission. You must follow EU rules to protect both paper and online signatures and personal data. Check national rules and regulations for signature submission for each member state.
Based on our own experience with signature collections, The ECI Campaign recommends that the following criteria be met before a one-million campaign is launched:
1. Create an alliance of at least 100 NGOs.
2. Decentralize and build up national/local alliances for the ECI in at least eight EU member states.
3. At least 100,000 signatures should be “expected” from NGOs as an advance commitment.
4. At least 100,000 Euro should have been secured in funds.