Latest draft regulation lacks meaningful response to successful ECIs

2010-11-05 News

European Parliament deserves a Yellow Card

Due to the tireless efforts of advocates for the European Citizens Initiative (ECI), there is now real progress within the European Parliament towards a citizen-friendly ECI regulation.

To view the latest draft ECI regulation, click here and select the fourth item (available in 22 languages). This will be discussed on 8-9 November 2010 in the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) and Petitions (PETI) committees.

The latest draft ECI regulation contains many positive elements. Yet it still does not ensure that the ECI will be a usable democratic instrument for engaging ordinary citizens in EU policy.

Positive changes that must be defended

The ECI Campaign applauds particularly the following amendments in the Parliament’s draft regulation. However, many face opposition from the Council of Ministers and Commission and must be defended.

1. No ID card numbers will be collected from citizens signing an initiative. However, many Member States still insist ID card numbers are necessary to verify signatures and will push for their collection. In the regulation, the Commission may unilaterally amend the annexes, where the ID card number was found. So this requirement could easily return.

2. Signatures must reach a minimum quota within 1/5 of Member States rather than 1/3. However, many in the Council insist on 1/3 and will fight for this.

3. There is a single registration and admissibility check procedure. The cumbersome requirement for ECI organisers to first collect 100,000 signatures  before the ECI is deemed admissible has thankfully been removed. Although problematic for the Commission, the Council seems to accept this, at least for now.

Vital elements still missing

The ECI Campaign deeply regrets that the Parliament has not gone far enough in defending the new initiative right of citizens. Specifically, the draft regulation is still missing:

1. A serious response from the European Commission to successful ECIs, including mandatory Commission-sponsored public hearings. It requires a reasoned response from the Commission, a meeting between Commission staff and ECI organisers and a public hearing with any EU institution. In practice, this hearing could be with powerless consultative bodies (the EESC and the Committee of the Regions). A successful ECI should result in a mandatory public hearing with the only EU institution with the right to propose new legislation: the European Commission. Without this, the ECI will be meaningless.

2. A signature collection deadline that can be met by citizens’ groups, not just big lobbies. The inadequate 12 month deadline has been retained. The ECI Campaign recommends a 24 month deadline. Several MEPs support an 18 month deadline. So with citizen pressure, perhaps the deadline could be lengthened.

3. Support elements for ECI organizers such as translation assistance. It only provides an ECI user guide, help desk and free, open-source signature collection software. This is not enough to ensure that under-resourced citizens’ groups can sponsor an ECI.

4. Clarification of the admissibility of treaty amendments. This issue is no longer discussed in any institution.

Parliament, Council and Commission negotiating agreement on final regulation now

In late November, the two responsible parliamentary committees (AFCO and PETI) will approve the version of the ECI regulation to be put to a vote in plenary session by all MEPs in mid-December. Whatever version they approve this month will likely become the final regulation.

There is an informal agreement between the three main EU institutions that the Parliament will approve the ECI regulation in the first reading. This implies that MEPs will not vote on their own position, but rather a compromise negotiated in informal “trilogue” meetings between the Council, Commission and Parliament.

Key differences highlighted above between the Parliament and Council make this condensed approach to decision-making very risky for ECI advocates. They echo earlier conflicts over the ECI during the Constitutional Convention. The ECI has never been on the wish-list of EU governments. It entered the Constitutional and Lisbon Treaties only through the active involvement of citizens, NGOs and parliamentarians (read the story behind).

Over the next few weeks, as the final ECI regulation is negotiated, we need the same kind of cooperation between citizens and their representatives in Parliament as during the Constitutional Convention. Only then will we have a chance of saving the ECI and opening the doors of the EU to the real democratic engagement of its citizens.