The ECI needs the European Parliament to show more ambition and courage! Our take on the EP’s work on the ECI revision so far, and what is left to be done

2018-05-24 News

The ECI revision is entering a crucial stage. In March and April, MEPs tabled their amendments to the Commission’s proposal, and on 20 June the Constitutional Affairs Committee (AFCO) will vote on them. Afterwards, the AFCO report will be voted upon in plenary, providing the basis for negotiations with the Council starting after the summer. Before the European Parliament finalises its position, we share with you the main points we take from the European Parliament’s work on the ECI revision up till this point and the important points that still need improvement.

The most important aspect to be addressed during the legislative revision is the role of the European Parliament in the follow-up to successful ECIs. While the ECI is designed around the Commission’s competences, and its right of initiative in particular, it is of crucial importance that the European Parliament takes more responsibility for the ECI. More concretely, and most importantly, we urge the EP to oblige itself to hold a debate and vote in plenary on every single successful ECI before the European Commission takes in a position, because the European Parliament – as the only body directly elected by and answerable to European citizens – is the only body capable of mediating between the expectations of citizens and the institutional reality of EU policy-making. A second public hearing after the Commission’s reply would further enable MEPs and citizens to hold the Commission accountable for its decisions and follow-up on a successful ECI. While we are happy to see that several amendments address the issue of follow-up by the European Parliament, this will only have significance if the above-mentioned reform proposals are supported and defended by the European Parliament collectively.

Furthermore, we support a number of amendments that aim to correct and improve the Commission’s proposal, notably on the following issues: to extend the collection period, to ensure that the European Parliament is the sole organiser of the public hearings, to guarantee that the Commission follows up on ECIs in a timely manner, and to maintain the current review period set at 3 years. Additionally, we appreciate the call for financial support for civil society stakeholders working on and with the ECI instrument, and for their further involvement in the development of the online collaborative platform. On the question of the scope of the ECI, MEPs have presented conflicting amendments. Here we side with those MEPs aiming to define the scope of the ECI in the broadest possible manner, including the possibility of ECIs proposing treaty changes in analogy to the Commission’s right to propose amendments to the treaties. Lastly, we regret that certain MEPs aim to undo the Commission’s ambition to reduce the minimum age for signatories to 16 EU-wide.

While the amendments tabled by MEPs cover many topics, there are several issues that have remained untouched. While the consultation with a randomly  selected Citizens’ Panel has recently made its first official introduction into EU politics, MEPs so far fail to see the added value that such a panel can bring to the evaluation of successful ECIs (see our previous article calling for a Citizens’ Initiative Review). Furthermore, using e-signatures as a collection method is only made possible for online collection software hosted on the Commission’s servers. This should be extended to organisers using other collection software (e.g. the OpenECI software made available by Campact and The ECI Campaign) hosted on their own servers.

With the internal deliberations in the European Parliament and the Council coming to a close, the ECI revision is entering a crucial stage. This is the time for the European Parliament to show courage and ambition. Only the European Parliament has got what it takes to make the ECI reform politically meaningful, so we call upon MEPs to take on board our feedback and suggestions for improvement and to save the ECI from becoming a mere ‘democratic decoration’, to use the words of the European Ombudsman during ECI DAY 2018.