The first six European Citizens’ Initiatives (ECIs) in EU history have launched campaigns and are collecting signatures, but it’s at the moment impossible to support an ECI online due to what one group calls "severe" problems.
Civil society groups have asked for help in dealing with the Commission's online administrative procedures to register an ECI and collect digital signatures.
The costs involved in fulfilling the requirements and providing a server have amounted to several thousand euros – too much for many civil society groups.
The European Commission has registered six initiatives so far, including one calling on water and sanitation to become a human right and another asking the EU executive to propose a directive on cow welfare. Three have been rejected, including one asking for an EU-wide ban on nuclear power and another recommending to sing the European anthem in Esperanto.
The online collection problem is urgent because once civil society groups register an ECI, they have 12 months to collect the one million signatures they need to trigger the Commission into action.
However, no one is actually collecting signatures at the moment, according to activists at 'The ECI Campaign', who described the situation as "an absurdity".
“We have regularly informed the EU Commission about these severe problems, which are creating huge problems for ECI organisers. The Commission has fully acknowledged the problem and their responsibility," the campaigners said in a statement.
A Commission spokesman said any problems faced by organisers are being taken very seriously indeed.
"Vice-President Maroš Šef?ovi? received one letter from some ECI organisers outlining the problems they are having, and immediately asked his staff to respond," the spokesman said.
"The letter was received on 29 May, and a reply was sent on 1 June inviting the organisers to meet all the key Commission officials concerned, to explain their difficulties and see what solutions could be found. At the request of the organisers, this meeting took place on 13 June, and was very successful. Commission IT experts offered to continue contacts with each organiser bilaterally, to sort out any software problems they were having," he added.
The spokesman also emphasized that ECIs are an exciting experiment in transnational, participatory democracy that has never been done before. Some teething troubles were therefore inevitable, but the Commission is determined to do everything it can to make sure ECIs are a success.
The ECI campaign is currently exploring ways to make available both software and a server for all ECI organisers.