European Citizens’ Initiative
‘Tool for participatory democracy’ enters into force
By Elise Mertens | Thursday 29 March 2012
From 1 April, it will be possible to launch European citizens’ initiatives (ECI). It will have taken three years for the project to come to fruition, after Article 11.4 of the Lisbon Treaty laid down the general principle of what is already thought of as the tool of the future for participatory democracy: “Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of member states may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the treaties.”
But how does the citizens’ initiative work in practice? The procedure can be summed up in seven steps.
1. The minimum age for organising or participating in an initiative is the age at which citizens are eligible to vote in the European elections. In all member states but one, this age is set at 18; in Austria, citizens can vote in the elections for the European Parliament from age 16.
2. The ECI must be organised by a citizens’ committee. This committee must be made up of at least seven European citizens (excluding members of the European Parliament) residing in at least seven different member states. The organisers must be able to provide information on their sources of funding and support for their initiative throughout the process.
3. The ECI must be registered in one of the official European Union languages, in a register set up by the European Commission
(1). The EU executive has two months to respond to the proposal. It may refuse to register the initiative on four grounds: if the composition of the citizens’ committee is not in conformity with the rules; if the initiative does not fall within the framework of the Commission’s powers; if its content is clearly abusive, frivolous or vexatious; or if the proposal is contrary to EU values. Once the initiative is registered, the organisers may request the translation of the ECI into other official languages.
4. The signature collection system must first be certified by the member state where the data will be stored. The competent national authorities have one month to approve the system before organisers start collecting statements of support.
5. The organisers have one year to collect at least one million signatures. Statements of support must come from at least seven different EU countries. The minimum number of signatures must be equal to the number of members of the European Parliament elected in each member state, multiplied by 750. The signatures may be collected on paper or online.
6. The ECI must be verified by the national authorities. Once the organisers have collected the necessary statements of support, they must submit them to the national authorities for certification. Within three months, the member state must certify the number of valid signatures. If the organisers receive certification from the national authorities they may present their initiative to the Commission.
7. The Commission examines the ECI and decides what action to take. It has three months to respond and will meet the organisers to discuss the initiative. The organisers may also request a public hearing at the European Parliament in order to present their initiative. If the Commission rejects the initiative, it must give the reasons for its decision. If the initiative is accepted, the Commission must begin discussions on a possible legislative proposal in the area targeted by the ECI.
Regulation 211/2011 of 16 February 2011 lays down the different requirements to be met by an ECI
(2). For further information, see
(1) The register is available at ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/how-it-works/registration(2) The regulation is available at eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:065:0001:0022:EN:PDF