European Citizens' Initiative
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The European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) is one of the major innovations of the Treaty of Lisbon, aimed at increasing direct democracy in the European Union. The initiative enables one million EU citizens, who are nationals of at least one quarter of the Member States, to call directly on the European Commission to propose a legal act in an area where the Member States have conferred powers onto the EU level. This right to request the Commission to initiate a legislative proposal puts citizens on the same footing as the EP and the Council, who enjoy this right according to Art. 225 and 241 TFEU, respectively. The Commission holds the right of initiative in the EU. The start of the ECI was marked on 9 May 2012 (Europe Day) with the registration of Fraternité 2020.
- 1 Legal basis
- 2 Initiatives
- 3 Procedure
- 4 Differences from referendums and their limitations
- 5 Ombudsman review of ECI procedures February + March 2014
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The legal basis of the citizens' initiative is set out in Article 11, Paragraph 4 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and Article 24, paragraph 1 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Both articles were newly introduced with the Treaty of Lisbon. The ECI complements the existing right of petition the European Parliament and the right of appeal to the Ombudsman as set out in the Treaty of Maastricht (1993). Petitions and the ECI are fundamentally different however in terms of function, addressees and conditions.
The practical arrangements, conditions and procedure of the ECI have been determined in a new regulation. On a proposal from the European Commission, the EP and the Council adopted a regulation which defines the rules and procedure governing this new instrument. According to this regulation, the earliest possible date to register an ECI was 1 April 2012.
Before the entry into force
Greenpeace collected one million signatures in December 2010 for a petition against the authorisation of new GM crops in Europe, hosted by Avaaz. Although Greenpeace has called the petition an ECI in the media, it has never been formally registered with the Commission - as this was not possible before 1 April 2012 - and can therefore not be regarded an ECI as introduced by the Lisbon Treaty.
The first registered initiative
The European Commission chose the symbolic date of 9 May 2012 (Europe Day) to officially launch the very first ECI. This turned out to be Fraternité 2020, which was announced by Vice-President of the Commission Maroš Šefčovič via his Twitter account already one day earlier. Fraternité 2020 was officially registered on 9 May and boasts registration number ECI(2012)000001.
The first successful initiative
On the 21 March 2013, Right2Water became the first ECI to collect more than a million signatures and they reached the minimum quota of signatures in 7 countries on 7 May. They stopped the signature collection on the 7 September with a total of 1,857,605 signatures. The initiative was submitted to the Commission in December and a hearing was organised at the European Parliament for February 2014. 
Later approved ECIs
More initiatives have later been registered by the Commission and include (in order of registration):
- Fraternité 2020, on EU exchange programmes;
- Right to Water, on affordable and non-privatized access to clean water;
- One of Us, against the use of human embryos in research;
- Stop Vivisection, against animal experiments;
- High Quality European Education for All;
- Pour une gestion responsable des déchets, contre les incinérateurs;
- Suspension of the EU Climate & Energy Package;
- Central public online collection platform for the European Citizen Initiative;
- European Initiative for Media Pluralism, against political interference and excessive concentration;
- Single Communication Tariff Act aka One Single Tariff, on roaming fees;
- Unconditional Basic Income - Exploring a pathway towards emancipatory welfare conditions in the EU, on the case for a European basic income;
- End Ecocide in Europe A Citizens’ Initiative to give the Earth Rights;
- Let me vote, on expanding voting rights for foreigners.
- 30kmh - making streets liveable!, a regular speed limitation(30 km/h) in cities and villages, with local authorities deciding on exceptions on their street network. An initiative for security and environmental reasons;
While the first few ECIs have been approved, a few have been rejected. Among these are:
- A European Citizens Initiative campaigning to phase out nuclear energy in the EU My voice against nuclear energy;
- A European Citizens Initiative to recommend singing the European Anthem in Esperanto;
The following ECIs have decided to withdraw after being approved:
- Happy Cows, on animal welfare of dairy cows;
There are a few steps absolutely necessary to organise an ECI:
- Prepare the initiative and set up a citizens' committee:
The members of this committee (at least 7 EU citizens, who must live in at least seven different EU countries, old enough to vote in European Parliament elections) designate from among them a representative and a substitute to speak and act on its behalf vis-à-vis the Commission;
- Registration of the ECI in one of the 23 official EU languages on the Commission's website (answer of the commission within two months);
- For the use of an online signature collection get your system certified (by national authorities, answer within 1 months);
- Collection of statements of support (max. 12 months):
You need to have a minimum number of signatories in at least seven EU countries on the way to 1 million (see the thresholds for each country in the table below).
- Get statements of support in each EU country certified by the national authority (answer within 3 months);
- Submit the ECI to the Commission.
|Czech Republic (CZ)||16,500|
|United Kingdom (GB)||54,750|
The on-line signature collection system
The ECI process allows organizers to also collect statements of support on-line. Even though some developers and organisations has announced the development of software tools, so far only the EC has managed to developed a tool called OCS. The first versions of the software have been heavily criticized by some developers. Some organisers has criticized the security regulations regarding the ECI collection process.
Differences from referendums and their limitations
Citizen initiatives are democratic mechanisms that let citizens propose and vote on laws and policies. By gathering a certain number of signatures, citizens can demand a binding vote on a proposed policy or legislation. Citizen initiatives differ from referendums in which citizens only can accept or reject a law or policy proposed by parliament.
A common problem is that the large numbers of signatures required and the short time frame ensure that only those who can afford to use expensive professional signature-gathering firms can submit an initiative. Another problem is that citizen initiatives are often subverted by the manipulations of wealthy and powerful interests and political elites. Big business frequently pours huge sums of money into misleading campaigns to influence the outcome of the vote. It is also common that corporations and corporate lobbies launch counter-initiatives to defeat initiatives on social or environmental issues that they don't like. 
Ombudsman review of ECI procedures February + March 2014
The European Ombudsman asks for feedback: How well do the ECI procedures work? Emily O'Reilly wants to see what the Commission has done to implement the ECI and will make recommendations to increase the effectiveness of the process, if necessary.
Specific issues for scrutiny include:
- the effectiveness of the Commission's software for collecting signatures online,
- how the contacts with the different national authorities work, and possible protection of privacy concerns.
- ideas on possible future changes to the ECI Regulation
Once the Ombudsman has collected the ECI feedback, she will ask the European Commission to respond.
Citizens and organisations can learn more about the consultation here: http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/press/release.faces/en/53306/html.bookmark
- 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.
- EU citizens force water debate, Euractive, 14 Jan 2014
- European Commission > European Citizens' Initiative > EU Directive on Dairy Cow Welfare
- ECI for all (http://eci4all.wordpress.com/), ECI in a box (http://www.tttp.eu/news/eci_in_a_box)
- Camilla Hansen http://new-compass.net/articles/what-would-real-democracy-look
- ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative – European Citizens' Initiative on the European Commission's website
- European Citizens' Initiative on the initiators' websites:
- citizens-initiative.eu – European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) on the ECI Campaign / Citizens of Europe web
- ClicknSign, the first social platform dedicated to citizens' empowerment through the ECI
- democracy-international.org/eci.html – European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) on the Democracy International web
- mehr-demokratie.de/eu-buergerinitiative.html – Europäische Bürgerinitiative on the Mehr Demokratie (More Democracy) web
- Websites of European Citizens' Initiatives (in order of registration)