The world’s first direct, digital and transnational tool of participative democracy, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) took effect on 1st April 2012, when the EU Regulation No. 211/20111 entered into force. The ECI gives citizens within European Union (EU) the right to call on the European Commission to propose new or change existing EU legislation. For an ECI to be considered, the subject matter must be within the Commission’s legislative competence and petitioners must gather at a minimum one million signatures from at least ¼ of EU Member States (currently 7) in one year.
After one year of operation, the ECI has given rise to 25 initiative proposals, of which 16 initiatives were registered; 2 of these have been withdrawn which means that there are currently 14 ongoing initiatives. The 8 initiatives that were refused did not meet the conditions for registration. One request for registration is still under analysis. The scopes of policy areas covered by the 14 registered initiatives are: education, climate change and energy, media pluralism, animal testing, voting rights, roaming charges, future of the ECI itself etc.2
But the ECI has also met with several difficulties. Firstly, one of the major problem was related to the development and validation of online collection systems. In addition, citizens were generally unwilling to sign ECIs in countries that require ID or passport details. So, ECI organizers were left to invest their own energy and funds to find a host platform, notify data protection authorities, install the software, and prepare and submit risk and business management documents for certification of the online collection system.
Secondly, reaching the one million signatures seems still to be far away, even though the Commission has solved some of the initial technical collection problems by directly prolonging the collection timeline for many initiatives or by allowing the initiatives to re-submit and re-register. Just one initiative, “Right2Water”, has managed to reach the goal of one million signatures (but they are still collecting signatures because they still need to meet the required geographical balance).
Despite its early difficulties, the ECI represents an innovative first step towards a more inclusive and democratic Europe, and it could help in the building of greater solidarity within the EU. The ECI could, also, help to bridge the gap between the EU and its citizens, many of whom feel detached from polices being made for them by Brussels, and do not see the relevance of the EU to their everyday lives. But, to achieve this, EU institutions and civil society organizations should play a key role in providing the supportive infrastructure and assistance to ECI organizers to ensure that EU citizens utilize their new right.
So, the first year with the European Citizens’ Initiative has not only offered many useful lessons and interesting details about process and practice of transnational democracy, it has also given a lot of relevance to forthcoming reforms and revisions. The revision of the ECI Regulation in 2015 should take into account the challenges from first year of implementation, including the need for a more citizen-friendly ECI, supportive infrastructure and better public education on the new right.
- Regulation (EU) No. 211/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council 16 February 2011 on the citizens’ initiative. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:065:0001:0022:EN:PDF