The European Commission will filter citizens' petitions to make sure that "silly" initiatives like abolishing the EU are blocked, Maroš Šef?ovi?, a vice-president of the EU executive, told EURACTIV in an interview ahead of talks today (6 May) on improving the transparency of EU decision-making.
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 Commission to do so.
"Citizens have an instrument to set the agenda of the European Union," said Šef?ovi?, responsible for inter-institutional relations and administration at the EU executive, expressing hope that grassroots organisations will use the ECI to help citizens "influence the work of the Commission" and request action on "concrete purposes".
The Slovak commissioner predicted that the ECI would be used "in a positive manner," but warned that "great care" would be required to ensure that it is not abused.
An "admissibility check" after 300,000 signatures have been collected should ensure that an initiative has genuine backing, Šef?ovi? said.
Moreover, the Commission has introduced "safeguards" on registering new initiatives, including an obligation to provide details of who is behind the petition, how they are being funded and what they are hoping to achieve before a new initiative can be registered, he explained.
Asked whether the ECI could one day oblige the Commission to draft legislation on abolishing the EU or banning the Islamic burqa, Šef?ovi? said "it is quite clear that if it comes to silly initiatives, there will just be an administrative procedure and the initiative will not be registered".
"You can very easily have contradictions between freedom of expression and freedom of religion," he warned, explaining that "political decisions" on the admissibility of controversial cases would be referred to the college of commissioners.
"Of course, these decisions will be challengeable in the European Court of Justice," Šef?ovi? said.
The Commission vice-president expressed hope that the Lisbon Treaty's entry into force would see national parliaments begin to debate the 'Europe 2020' strategy to boost growth and jobs.
"It would be an excellent sign if it was not only European affairs committees dealing with issues like EU 2020, but if they were also distributed to other specialised committees," he said, singling out a role for commissioners themselves in communicating the strategy to professional associations back home.
Joint lobby register 'by next year'
Šef?ovi? will today (6 May) represent the Commission at the second meeting of an inter-institutional working group convened to discuss the creation a common lobby register between the EU executive and the European Parliament.
"We'll be working very intensively on creating a joint register by next year at the latest," he said, expressing hope that introducing a common scheme would "increase the motivation" for companies to join.
MEPs would prefer to make registration mandatory, but the EU executive has long insisted that its register works fine on a voluntary basis.
"For us it is very difficult to proceed with a mandatory system because we don't have a legal basis for that," Šef?ovi? said. "It's not in the treaty."