Open Letter: European Parliament, save the ECI from severe damage!

2019-01-18 News

Dear Members of the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee,

On 12 December 2018, EU negotiators reached a provisional political agreement on a new regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). On Tuesday, you will be voting on this deal within your committee. With this open letter, we call upon you to save the ECI from severe damage by rejecting the current deal and re-opening interinstitutional negotiations. We call upon the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee to stand up for the Parliament’s existing position, to ensure a better deal for both the European Union and its citizens.

The ECI is the world’s first-ever instrument for transnational, participatory and digital democracy. The high hopes and expectations with which the instrument was launched in 2012 have not yet been met. In fact, European civil society’s use of the ECI has been decreasing. The legislative revision process, started in 2017, has provided a great opportunity to harness the potential of this new participatory instrument. However, the provisional political agreement runs the risk of leaving the ECI worse off as compared to the current regulation.

While the deal contains some relevant legislative improvements that would make it easier for citizens to start and prepare an ECI campaign, there are some dispositions which raise serious concerns in our view:

  1. The proposal to ban individual online collection systems (iOCS) would make the ECI massively less appealing for citizens and organisations with the sufficient resources to have a serious chance of reaching the 1 million signatures. The option to use individual online collection systems is a cornerstone of the ECI architecture, which absolutely should not be called into question. A ban would significantly limit organisers’ flexibility and lower their chances of success. It is only by using an iOCS like OpenECI that ECI organisers can operate in the most flexible, effective and independent manner, as has been demonstrated by the fastest successful ECI Ban Glyphosate. The Commission’s original proposal said that the use of iOCS should continue, and the European Parliament supported that proposal. However, during trilogue negotiations, the working staff document accompanying the draft regulation proposal contained incomplete information. It indicated that no ECIs used an iOCS in the years 2014 and 2015, which resulted in the Council recommending to discontinue their use. However, OpenECI (an iOCS) was launched in late 2015, and many ECI organisers have used it in 2016, 2017, and 2018 (see also these 10 reasons to preserve online collection systems).
  2. The obligation imposed on organisers to delete signatories’ voluntarily shared email addresses would prevent the ECI from becoming a true transnational community-building instrument, which contributes to the construction of a European public sphere. The new General Data Protection Regulation does not require deletion of voluntarily shared email addresses.
  3. The provisional agreement does not address the strict ID data requirements from some countries. A high number of potential supporters have refused to sign an ECI when asked to share national ID numbers or other personal information. The European Data Protection Supervisor determined that it was not necessary to collect ID numbers, yet the regulation still requires them (in 18 member states). Such unnecessary and highly sensitive data that prevents citizens from signing an ECI must be eliminated in the reformed ECI regulation. What is equally scandalous: countries such as France, Bulgaria or Greece never use ID numbers to verify statements of support and yet they require ID numbers from citizens.

All in all, we expect that the provisional agreement, if passed into law, would result in an increased number of registered ECIs, at least in the short run, but it will further limit the chances of new successful ECIs emerging. Only through successful ECIs will this instrument maintain and strengthen its credibility and public outreach. Knowing that ECI Ban Glyphosate was the only successful ECI launched over the last 5 years, this is a gamble that we cannot afford.

We greatly regret that EU negotiators have so far decided to ignore the emergency call from 18 ECI and online campaigning experts to preserve individual online collection systems in the negotiations. It is for this reason, and in the light of our overall assessment of the provisional agreement, that we urgently call upon you to vote against the provisional agreement and to re-open the interinstitutional negotiations, so as to save the ECI from severe damage.

This open letter is supported by:
The ECI Campaign
The Danish Society for Nature Conservation
Pesticide Action Network – Europe
Greenpeace European Unit
GLOBAL2000 (Friends of the Earth Austria)