Representatives of all three EU institutions this week outlined an agreement on implementing the European Citizens' Initiative, paving the way for the first petitions to be accepted next year once outstanding issues have been ironed out later this month.
At a trialogue meeting on Tuesday evening (30 November), officials from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council, which represents EU member states, agreed on admissibility criteria for the Commission to accept a petition.
The tentative deal met most of the demands set out by MEPs the previous day following a vote in the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee (EURACTIV 01/12/10), paving the way for the final adoption of what is seen as one of the main democratic advances of the Lisbon Treaty.
First, they agreed that the minimum age for signing a petition should be the European election voting age in the country concerned.
Second, the three institutions agreed that a check will be carried out to determine whether an initiative is admissible at the point of registration.
To ensure that ECIs are "well-founded and have a European dimension," a so-called 'citizens' committee' of at least seven members coming from seven member states will be set up to register an initiative, as requested by MEPs prior to the trialogue meeting.
This means that a previous admissibility threshold of 300,000 signatures has been scrapped.
ECI deal 'greatest homage' to Lisbon Treaty
"The goal of the Lisbon Treaty is to promote a more democratic, effective and transparent Europe closer to its citizens. That is now a reality," said Belgian State Secretary for European Affairs Olivier Chastel following Tuesday's agreement.
"Confirmation of the citizens' initiative is the greatest homage we could pay to the Lisbon Treaty," Chastel declared.
Under the terms of the trialogue deal, signatories of an ECI must come from a minimum of one quarter of EU member states. The Commission had initially proposed that this threshold be one third, while the Parliament wanted a minimum of one fifth.
"Since our last informal meeting of 17 November, significant progress has been made – with a discussion in the Permanent Representatives Committee, which enabled the Council's position to be clarified, and the unanimous vote […] in the AFCO committee of the European Parliament," said Belgium's Chastel after Tuesday's trialogue talks.
The Commission will also help the organisers of an initiative by providing a user-friendly guide and setting up a help desk.
It was also agreed that it should be left to member states to verify the authenticity of signatures and that governments would be free to decide how to do so. Countries will thus have some flexibility in choosing which personal information is required from signatories.
The Parliament is keen to make sure that signing an ECI is as easy as possible, primarily by ensuring that only a minimum amount of personal data is required.
The institutions hope to put the finishing touches to the agreement in ongoing talks ahead of a meeting of national experts on 8 December.
One key issue that remains to be resolved include practicalities surrounding the organisation of public hearings with representatives of the EU institutions once organisers have successfully collected a million signatures, as well as the translation of ECIs into the EU's official languages, EU sources told EURACTIV.
Uncertainty also surrounds the timing of the regulation's entry into force, with sources suggesting that it may not come into effect for another year.
Once finalised, the deal will be submitted to a vote in the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee on 13 December with a view to formally adopting the regulation on implementing the ECI during the Parliament's plenary session on 16 December.