A million citizens from 9 countries kick off EU legislation

The Spanish EU Presidency has obtained the consensus of all EU countries to set the rules of the so-called ‘citizens’ initiative’ envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty. The 27 agreed that the million signatures needed to trigger the Union’s legislative initiative must come from a minimum of nine member states. EURACTIV Spain reports.

Spain has received the support all 27 member states to push forward the citizens’ initiative, said Spanish State Secretary for European Affairs Diego López Garrido. The consensus is that signatures from those nine countries should constitute at least one third of the Union’s members.

Speaking at an informal meeting of EU affairs ministers in La Granja on 13 January, Garrido added that all the Union’s members had also agreed to proceed with the EU’s adherence to the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights and on making operational the Solidarity Clause, which will oblige all member states to come to the aid of one of their number in the event of a terrorist attack.

All three initiatives are contained in the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December 2009 and whose transposition into practice is a major priority for the Spanish EU Presidency (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

Ministers also discussed mechanisms to check the authenticity of signatures, a process for ascertaining the procedure’s admissibility, and safeguards designed to counter attempts to abuse the citizens’ initiative by harnessing it for means contrary to the Union’s values.

As for the EU’s adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights, signed in Rome in 1950, and its five protocols, signed between 1952 and 1966, the ministers decided that the Union should enter into consultation with the Council of Europe to formalise the procedure.

Ministers decided to put in place the necessary legal basis of the Lisbon Treaty’s ‘solidarity clause’, which would facilitate mutual assistance between member states in the event of a terrorist attack or natural or man-made disasters.

Ministers also discussed issues related to the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS), and agreed on the need to maintain a geographical and institutional balance. They also insisted that all member countries must be represented in the new body, as well as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council.

Felipe González, head of the EU’s reflection group on the future of Europe, also met with ministers in La Granja, EURACTIV Spain reported. 

The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, seeks in particular to reinforce the democratic fabric of the European Union. One of its major innovations is to introduce the European citizens' initiative.

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 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 (ECI) would therefore enable European citizens and civil society organisations to directly influence the political agenda of the EU for the first time in history.

The European Parliament adopted last May a resolution on the ECI, which provides detailed guidelines for its implementation. As a next step, the European Commission launched a consultation last November, calling for further advice on how to implement the initiative (EURACTIV 11/11/09). 

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