The Belgian EU Presidency wants to secure an inter-institutional deal on implementing the European Citizens' Initiative by December, Belgian State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel said on Tuesday (20 July), highlighting admissibility criteria and the degree of cross-national support as the most controversial issues.
"The Belgian Presidency intends to adopt the decision on the citizens' initiative before the first anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty," Chastel said after meeting the vice-president of the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee, Hungarian Socialist MEP Zita Gurmai.
The European Citizens' Initiative (ECI), introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, allows citizens to request new EU legislation once a million signatures across at least nine member states have been collected asking the European Commission to do so (see ‘Background’).
The EU institutions are currently engaged in negotiations designed to reach agreement on how the ECI will work in practice.
"In accordance with the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament and the Council will stipulate the procedures and conditions for the citizens’ initiative. This includes the number of member states in which such an initiative should be submitted," said the presidency in a statement.
One of the most contentious issues appears to be admissibility, and significant gaps have emerged between the positions of officials in all three EU institutions on the matter.
"Among other things, we have to look for common ground with the European Parliament concerning the minimum number of member states from which the signatures should come and their verification," Chastel told MEP Gurmai on Tuesday.
The Belgian state secretary said the Parliament would prefer the minimum threshold for cross-national representation to be a quarter of member states, while the Council supports a minimum of one third.
"It is important to shape a useful and accessible instrument for all European citizens," Chastel concluded.
Meanwhile, the Commission has dismissed as impractical suggestions by MEPs to scrap the 100,000 signature requirement needed to legally file a petition under the ECI (EURACTIV 20/07/10).
Diana Wallis, a UK Liberal Democrat MEP, said pre-registration checks should be enough to determine the admissibility of legislative proposals tabled under the mechanism.
A draft paper – presented by Wallis to the European Parliament’s petitions committee on 15 July – calls for the 100,000 signatures requirement adopted by governments in June to be scrapped.
But Commission officials contacted by EURACTIV dismissed Wallis’s proposal, insisting that each ECI should be first registered and then subject to an admissibility check by the EU executive as decreed in the Lisbon Treaty.
"We have been very clear that we want to maintain the two-step approach: first registration and then an admissibility check at a later stage," Michael Mann, spokesperson for the commissioner responsible for the ECI, Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi?, told EURACTIV when asked to respond to Wallis's working paper.
"This would avoid the danger of the system getting bogged down by us having to do a detailed admissibility check on initiatives which aren't serious and don't have broad backing," Mann said.
"We look forward to working with the Parliament to get a good solution," he said in response to Wallis's demands.
Belgian State Secretary Chastel, meanwhile, said on Tuesday that the European Parliament was recommending a minimum threshold of 5,000 signatures compared to the 100,000 figure adopted by the Council.
The Belgian Presidency hopes to secure agreement on the ECI before the first anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December 2009.