The European Citizens' Initiative

  

The European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) is the EU's foremost instrument of direct democracy and the first of its kind in a transnational context. Introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, will be used from 1 April 2012.

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Overview

The European Citizens' Initiative (ECI), as introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, allows citizens to request new EU legislation once a million signatures from a significant number of member states have been collected asking the European Commission to do so (EurActiv 14/01/10).

According to Article 11 of the treaty, "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". 

The European Citizens' Initiative will therefore enable European citizens and civil society organisations to directly influence the political agenda of the EU for the first time in history.

Back in May 2009, the European Parliament adopted a resolution which provides detailed guidelines for implementing the initiative.

On 31 March 2010, the European Commission unveiled a draft regulation setting out concrete steps for how the ECI would be implemented in practice. But MEPs feared that under the Commission's proposals, a conspicuous amount of personal data would be required and specific conditions would have to be adhered to before citizens could propose legislation.

The Council, meanwhile, adopted its general approach to the ECI in June 2010.

The ensuing debate, which focused on issues like admissibility criteria and admissibility checks, how many countries and how many nationals of each member state would be have to sign, and what personal details the signatories would have to provide, went on until the end of 2010.

A final agreement was reached in trialogue talks between the Commission, the Council and the Parliament by December, allowing the European Parliament to adopt an EU regulation governing the implementation of the ECI on 16 December 2010.

The regulation stipulates that an ECI must have the backing of a million signatures from seven countries if it is to be successful.

Smaller countries will need proportionately more signatories than bigger states.

A so-called 'citizens' committee' comprising people from at least a quarter of EU countries – "at least seven persons who are residents of at least seven different member states" – must be set up to register an initiative.

A minimum number of signatures must be collected in each country if it is to count towards the seven, ranging from 74,250 in the EU's largest member state, Germany, to 3,750 in Malta. The figure is calculated by multiplying the number of MEPs in that country by a factor of 750.

At the point of registration, the Commission will carry out a check to determine whether an initiative is "well founded" and has "a European dimension".

Once the EU executive has given an ECI its green light, it is officially registered and the organisers are free to continue collecting signatures.

The Commission will carry out an admissibility check once 300,000 signatures have been collected.  

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