Italian authorities undermine ECI ‘People4Soil’ by claiming inability to certify signature collection system in due time

2016-09-12 News

Months of efforts to launch the ECI “People4Soil” on September 12th are being undermined by the Italian authorities in charge of the ECI, who have said it could take them up to 12 months to certify the campaign’s online system.

There certainly was no need for more proof that the ECI needs reform. Yet here is a new development showing that the ECI is fraught with more complications due to the complexity in setting up the online collection software.

Under the current ECI regulation, all new initiatives have to certify their online collection software (OCS) prior to the collection phase. The certification must be obtained from the national authorities of the country where the servers are located. National authorities have up to one month to certify the campaigners’ software (Art. 6.3 of the ECI implementing regulation).

Yet on Thursday 8th September, the ECI “People4Soil” was told by “Agenzia per l’italia digitale” (AGID), the competent Italian authority, that it would take them from 4 to 12 months to certify the campaign’s online system.

“This is extremely frustrating”, People4Soil campaign coordinator Tiziano Cattaneo said. “We were supposed to be certified in August, in order to be able to launch the campaign and allow people to sign by September 12th.”

People4Soil is advocating for Europe to recognize soil as “a common good essential for our lives and to assume its sustainable management as a primary commitment.”

People4Soil campaigners decided to use OpenECI as its online collection system. OpenECI was developed by the ECI Campaign’s association over the past two years to provide ECIs with a powerful alternative to the one developed by the EU Commission, which has proved to be too user-unfriendly.

The irony is that OpenECI has already been certified by German authorities and is currently being successfully used by the ECI FairTransport. There seems to be no valid reason why the Italian authority AGID is not capable of certifying the software in due time.

The People4Soil campaign has been extremely well prepared. Already more than 300 civil society organisations have committed to support it and the official launch is planned for 22 September in Turin. Postponing the launch date would come at a high cost for the organisers.

Ironically this would also undermine the EU Commission’s own efforts to help ECIs decide their own launch date.

Pressure to find an alternative solution

As a backup solution, ECI People4Soil were offered swift support from the Luxembourg governmental authorities, who said that they could certify the software. However, this would require the EU Commission’s DG Digit to host the campaign’s OCS on their servers (because no private hosting solutions are available in Luxembourg for such services).

The Commission later said that they could offer hosting facilities – but only for their own OCS system: the one which all ECI campaigns so far have unanimously said was not sufficiently user-friendly.

Another alternative for People4Soil would be to switch their servers to Germany and ask the German authorities to certify OpenECI again. However, this option would likely take up another month, thus delaying the campaign launch.

People4soil are currently being advised by The ECI Campaign and lawyers in order to evaluate the best options to be taken. In any case, it is clear that the Italian authority AGID has failed to deliver on its expected competence and should be penalised.

“For the sake of not creating further frustration and anger against the European Citizens’ Initiative, we are calling all relevant stakeholders to offer their creative and flexible cooperation in order to make sure People4Soil can be launched on time”, ECI Campaign Association coordinator Carsten Berg said.

Credit picture CC Nicolas Raymond