Some Comments on the New Legislative Report on the Revision of the ECI Regulation

July 10, 2017 News, Opinion

July 12th will be the date for the EP´s first discussion on its new draft report with recommendation to the Commission on the revision of Reg 211/2011 on the ECI (2017/2024(INL). The responsible committee is AFCO (Committee for Constitutional Affairs), Rapporteur: György Schöpflin.
Below are some brief comments on the draft report.

In general, the proposal for an own initiative report is extremely welcome and the recommendations made clearly address a number of issues that will significantly strengthen the effectiveness of the ECI. It is particularly pleasing to see a strong recommendation related to the question of the follow-up by the Commission to successful initiatives. The concern is that the Commission will limit the changes to the ECI mainly to those technical issues that do not require a change to the Regulation, with perhaps a small number of technical changes that require minor alteration to the Regulation. The own initiative report is important to encourage the Commission to fully embrace the value of the ECI and make the changes to the Regulation, both technical and substantive, that are needed to maximise the democratic potential of the ECI and to bring the EU institutions closer to EU citizens.

Comments on some details:

A. PRINCIPLES AND AIMS OF THE AMENDMENTS

Consideration 2: “to receive an appropriate follow-up by the Commission”. It is questioned whether this could be strengthened to reflect the presumption that there will be a follow-up from the Commission to successful citizens initiatives; albeit that this presumption can be rebutted. This presumption would also then be included in the preamble to reflect these strengthened expectations.

B. TEXT OF THE MODIFICATION REQUESTED

Article 3   Requirements for organisers and for signatories

The proposed changes to Art 3(4) are welcomed. Some additional proposals for inclusion in this section of the Regulation are made next:

  • The fact that legal advice for the framing of ECI proposals could be emphasised here: “shall provide full legal and practical assistance and guidance”.

  • Independent advocacy sources of advice relating to campaigning, which is outside the remit of the Commission and Europe Direct, could be referred to here.

  • A proposal could be made for the co-creation of an online platform, by Commission members, independent experts, members of the EESC

  • A specific reference should be made to availability of the voluntary translation service of EESC as an official task for the EU bodies in the framework of the regulation.

  • The issue of compensation for organisers might also be added in this article.

Article 4   Registration

  • “A citizens’ initiative may concern the modification of a current legislative proposal”. This is a welcome proposal but it is suggested that this should be included in Art (4)(3) and that it should be expanded further to indicate the range of proposals that can be made by an ECI. Wording could be used that indicates that a citizens’ initiative could propose any new legal act, the abrogation of any existing legal act, and the modification of a current legislative proposal.

  • In connection to the previous point, the reference to Art 296 TFEU is welcomed as a means of ensuring that the Commission considers the full range of available legal acts as being suitable for citizens’ initiatives.

  • The ability to partially register an initiative, and the strengthened requirement to give reasons, which reflect the CJEU judgments, are welcomed.

  • The reference to translation being the responsibility of organisers could be removed from Art 4 and replaced with a statement that the Commission will support organisers in providing translation services.

Article 5   Procedures and conditions for the collection of statements of support

  • The proposed additions to Art 5 are positive steps towards reducing the barriers to citizens supporting citizens’ initiatives and to removing the possibility that citizens are unable to support an initiative because of the onerous personal data requirements.

  • The proposed change to Art 5(3) goes some way to removing the possibility that some EU citizens are excluded from supporting citizens initiatives. However, the issue is that some EU citizens are not even able to be signatories. To remove this possibility a clause could be added that states, for example, “All EU citizens should be able to be signatories to a citizens’ initiative either based on their residence or a form of identification they can possess.”

  • The proposed change to Art 5(5) is an important change to the timeline for ECI campaigners

Article 6   Online collection system

  • Art 6(1) – “Statements of support may be collected online” is the proposed change. The commission has a question in its questionnaire asking whether or not signatures on printed paper should be allowed. It is important for campaigners to be able to collect on paper as well. Therefore we suggest that Art 6(1) should instead start: “Statements of support may be collected on paper and online”

  • “The Commission shall provide….. simplify the collection of statements of support as well as the checking of those statements by the national authorities”. It shoud be guaranteed that independent online collection platforms also have access to personal data.

  • “The organisers may use other certified online collection statements”. The other online collection systems should be allowed to store their data on the commission´s servers as well. Own servers in the member states are extremely expensive.

Article 10   Examination of ECI by the Commission

  • The amendments to this article are critical to the strengthening of the democratic potential of the ECI and to the EU institutions maximising the benefits of the ECI. We discussed the complexities of this issue and the the proposal of a rebuttable presumption that the Commission will follow-up on any successful ECI. This presumption of action would be a very positive step if written in to the Regulation. Given the limitations of Art 11(4) TEU, which states that a citizens’ initiative only invites the Commission to act, it is recognised that this a rebuttable presumption is about as far as we can go legally in ensuring follow-up from the Commission. Perhaps the wording proposed in the report goes further than a rebuttable presumption in stating that “successful citizens’ initiatives shall be followed up by a legal act within a twelve-month period”, but if this could be included in the Regulation that would be excellent. That said, the next sentence does make it clear that ‘no legal act’ is a possibility. As an alternative, if the Commission does not agree with this proposed change, it would be hoped that the wording in the Regulation could at least include wording to the effect that there would be an expectation that the Commission would follow-up with a legal act within 12 months, and that only in exceptional circumstances would this not happen.

  • The proposal for change regarding the Commission’s justification of its decision could be strengthened further. The same phrase proposed in this report for Art 4(3) could be used. The current Art 10(1)(c) could be amended: “The Commission should explain its reasons for taking or not taking action exhaustively and in full detail”.

  • Again the reference to Art 296 TFEU is welcomed to confirm that the citizens’ initiative is not limited to legislative proposals.

Article 11   Public Hearing

  • This article could be amended to include a requirement of a plenary hearing and a vote in the European Parliament. This is an important way to strengthen the follow-up to an initiative for campaigners and to check the democratic validity of the proposals.

Article 13   Liability

  • It would be beneficial to campaigners to include a statement that a citizens’ committee of a registered ECI would be a legal body. This would avoid the resource-consuming process of setting up as a legal body prior to applying to register an ECI. A question is asked about this in the Commission consultation.

  • It is important to include the requirement for publicity of the ECI

About the  Author

James Organ is a lecturer at the School of Law and Social Justice at the University of Liverpool and a team member of The ECI Campaign. Read more here