Lessons learned from the Online Public Consultation on the ECI

2017-11-27 News, Opinion

With over 5,000 responses, the public consultation on the ECI was a big success – in terms of the input given by citizens. The question is: what has been done with this input? How serious did the Commission take the consultation? Both the framing of the consultation and the timing of the proposal raise serious doubts about the importance the Commission attached to this consultation. Heike Aghte, Campaigner for The ECI Campaign during the consultation period, shares her account of the consultation.

On September 13, 2017, the European Commission published its proposal for the revision of Regulation 211/2011 on the European Citizens’ Initiative. While we are waiting for the European Parliament and the Council to come up with their responses, as the two legislative powers, we take a step back and reflect on the consultation process preceding the proposal, the outcomes of which were presented on September 11 – only 2 days (!) before the proposal was out.

The online questionnaire of the consultation was open from the 24tth of May until the 16th of August 2017. An amazing number of 5323 respondents took part. Among the respondents were 5199 individuals and 124 organisations.This is among the top five results of 50 consultations evaluated so far this year. The questionnaires usually get less than 500 reactions (with just 30 answers to the least observed one), just five managed to get more than 5000 answers. We did not expect such a great echo, and we are excited that together with you we could give such a strong signal to the Commission. Although many questions were tricky, we were glad to see so many respondents agreeing to the positions The ECI Campaign had worked out together with our partners (Democracy International, ECAS and Mehr Demokratie).

Some questions remain though. In case you participated in the consultation you might remember various detailed questions concerning administrative and technical aspects, but the questionnaire seemingly remained incomplete as political questions were rare. Some important issues were left out, most of them interestingly connected to the Commission´s role in the process: for example, the issue of follow-ups for successful ECIs, or the Commission´s approach to the admissibility of ECIs reflecting the decisions of the European Court of Justice (with the Minority Safepack case of March 2017, and the Stop TTIP case of May 2017).  Besides, the problems of many citizens, who live in certain other countries than the country of their nationality and can not sign an ECI at all, were not addressed. A similar observation about ‘missing questions’ has been made regarding the consultation in the run-up to the introduction of the ECI in 2012 (see Thomas Bieber 2013, p. 35). Like many other respondents, we used the free space of the questionnaire in order to address the issues that were left out. But how can we be sure these remarks were taken into serious consideration, given that these comments were not reflected upon in the factual summary by the Commission?

This is closely connected to the question: how is it possible that the new legislative proposal, which is of considerable complexity and 37 pages long, is published less than a month after the public consultation with 5323 answers was closed, and only two days after the survey of the results was ready? Did the Commission work day and night? It seems that the tool of public consultations, which is directly based on Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty, needs some more pressure from civil society to be developed into a meaningful instrument where citizens can make their voices heard, not just be administered – a situation very similar to the ECI. For recommendations on the improvement of EU online public consultations, take a look at the EESC study carried out by the European Citizens’ Action Service.

See the summary of the results. See the list of all answers 

Some facts on public consultations

Public consultations are based on Article 11(3) of the Lisbon Treaty:
“The European Commission shall carry out broad consultations with parties concerned in order to ensure that the Union's actions are coherent and transparent.”
The EU commissions runs on average 100 public online consultations per year.

In 2017, 85 per cent of the consultations (98 out of 115) were published in more than one EU languages (often in all 24 official languages). This is a strong increase compared to 2014, with just 20% of consultations translated into other languages than English (23 out of 106 consultations).
The public consultation on the ECI was translated into all official EU languages.

50 per cent of the results for consultations in 2017 have not yet been published (own Internet research on 1st November 2017).
The factual summary of the consultation on the ECI came out 4 weeks after it was closed.

The Commission has recently set up a new web presence aiming at providing better structured information. https://ec.europa.eu/info/consultations_en

Contributions to the public consultation on the ECI came from all EU member states.

Highest percentage / number of contributions to the consultation on the ECI

United Kingdom11,9%620
source: European Commission