The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) Stop Vivisection petition calls on the EU to prioritise the protection of animals by drafting “a coherent legal framework at European level”. It was launched by a number of civil society groups defending animal rights, as a response to the adoption of a 2010 EU directive protecting animals used for scientific purposes.
The European Commission will now scrutinise the list of signatures to check whether the criteria are fulfilled: apart from the one million signatures threshold across the EU, the petition needs backing from a minimum number of citizens in at least seven member states.
If all criteria are fulfilled, the Commission will have to issue a response within three months. The organisers of the citizens’ initiative will also present their case before the European Parliament in a public hearing, presumably at the beginning of next year.
Maroš Šefčovič, European Commission Vice-President in charge of administration and inter-institutional relations, congratulated the three successful petition organisers. “The fact that three very diverse ECIs now appear to have succeeded proves that this important instrument for citizens' democracy is working as hoped, and sparking genuine pan-European debates on issues that are important to citizens."
Rough start for participatory measures
Introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, the European Citizens’ Initiative is part of a new set of measures to promote participatory democracy and aimed at opening up EU law-making to citizens across Europe. The ECI allows for civil society groups to start petitions on regulation in which the EU has a competence.
If the petition reaches a million supporters within one year, the EU Commission is obliged to “set out in a communication its legal and political conclusions on the citizens’ initiative, the action it intends to take, if any, and its reasons for taking or not taking that action” within three months after the filing deadline, according to the ECI regulation.
In April 2012, the European Commission opened up the registration procedure. Three of these first six ECIs now claim to have reached their criteria within the set deadline:
- The Stop Vivisection initiative says it reached a million signatures just this week.
- The ‘Right2Water’ initiative gathered support for “water as a public good, not a commodity” and says it reached just under 1.9 million signatures.
- The ‘One of Us’ initiative seeks to end EU financing of activities that require the destruction of human embryos, and says it reached over 1.5 million signatures.
But the first steps of the ECI was not without problems. Civil society groups involved in the early initiatives told the Commission that the requirements to host the online signatures gathering – which required an own server – weighted too heavily on the organisers. After the European Commission offered to host the petitions on its own servers in October 2012, the Commission’s servers were themselves plagued by technical difficulties.
The Commission therefore pushed the deadline for registering the first initiatives to 1 November 2013 – this Friday.