Server problems still haunting EU’s first ‘citizens’ initiatives’

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Fraternité 2020, the first registered European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), will start collecting signatures as soon as the organisers have overcome server problems. The organisers from the Citizens’ Committee still maintain the goal of collecting one million signatures from all over Europe by May 2013.

Fraternité 2020 organisers want to enhance EU exchange programmes such as the Erasmus student exchange scheme or the European Voluntary Service (EVS) in order to contribute to a united Europe.

To collect the signatures, Fraternité 2020 organisers made the decision to do it online only.

Therefore, they need to set up what is called an online collection system (OCS). The OCS consists of two parts: the software to collect the signatures, and the servers to run them. The software is provided free of charge by the European Commission, but the servers are not working, so the Austrian IT company More-onion has offered the Fraternité 2020 citizens’ Committee the certification of the online collection system for €7,200.

“Unfortunately the offer is only valid until 26 July because they are busy with other projects,” Simona Pronckute, member of the initiative’s citizens’ committee, told a press conference at the European Parliament on Wednesday (11 July).

“To be able to pay for these servers, we plan to collect the amount from individuals and foundations. We have already collected €1,000 for the OCS so far, and we hope to collect the rest in time,” Pronckute said, adding that the online signature problem has also hit all the other ECIs.

Commission to extend timeline for gathering signatures

German MEP Gerald Häfner, from the Greens group, said the Parliament and the Commission were looking at what they could do to support initiatives.

“What we face is a situation where the system provided by the Commission simply doesn’t work. We have server problems, lots of problems, and having been rapporteur on the ECI, I have really worked very hard on that and there are many initiatives that write to me and tell me about their problems,” Häfner said.

He said the Commission has conceded that the timeline for sealing the regulation, 12 months, will start when all the problems are solved.

This was later confirmed by the EU executive which said it is ready to exceptionally extend the period for collecting statements of support for the first registered initiatives so that they don’t suffer from problems inherent in the start-up phase.

“The Commission is looking seriously into the difficulties faced by some organisers, which it sees as intrinsically related to the initial phase of this new instrument,” Commission spokesperson Marilyn Carruthers said in a statement.

“Measures aimed at helping organisers who need it to find affordable hosting for their software are currently under examination and should be communicated soon to the organisers,” she added.

Häfner said it was not nice to see all the problems with the ECIs, and he had hoped that things had worked from the start.

“We made the regulation 18 months before April of this year when they started. When we say ‘our doors are open for your proposals’ and then the citizens have started and it doesn’t work … It’s crazy,” the German MEP said.

Important initiatives in times of crisis

If Fraternité 2020 is successful, its supporters predict it could help the EU economically. Greater mobility would make it easier for people to take up jobs in countries where their skills are needed and by that bringing unemployment rates down across the EU and boosting economic growth.

Participating in exchange programmes will also improve people’s language skills and the ability to work with people from different cultural backgrounds. Eventually, this will make Europe more competitive and create jobs, according to organisers.

This is also very important in times of crisis, MEPs stressed at the conference.

”I have to also mention the crisis, and what we say quite often is that more Europe is the only solution for the crisis, but more Europe cannot come from the politicians,” said Kinga Göncz, a Hungarian MEP and member of the Socialists and Democrats group.

“More Europe should come from the citizens, and from young people who will say very loudly ’we want a European identity beside our national identity’. They are not excluding each other,” she added.

Häfner said exchange programmes like the Erasmus were building Europe from the bottom up.

“It’s building up the future of Europe via exchange, via young people, via learning to know the variety and the unity of Europe within this variety.”

Despite a rough start, Göncz noted that Fraternité 2020 comes from a young generation which is used to online petition, and therefore she didn’t expect difficulties in getting the signatures.

“I think it’s important that this comes from young people. Coming from the generation that is very active on Facebook and Twitter which are excellent tools to collect signatures, and I think it also symbolises the future of Europe.”

Polish MEP Ró?a Thun from the European People’s Party said: ”You have asked me why I support Fraternité 2020. I, myself, came from an NGO before I came to the European Parliament, and I always wanted to have such an initiative, such a possibility."

”Genuine citizen groups, non-government organisations, not necessarily huge ones, can create, speak out, propose legislation and changes to the European legislation. And it shouldn’t in our spirit cost them anything,” Thun said.

Luis Alvarado Martínez, the Incoming president at the European Students Forum AEGEE, said:

”From the very start we have been supporting Fraternité 2020 because it’s one of our main focuses. We have said that this has to move forward. It’s a very big initiative. For us mobility helps build tolerance among young people."

The European Citizens' Initiative was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. It allows 1 million citizens from at least one-quarter of EU member states to invite the European Commission to bring forward proposals for legal acts in areas where the Commission has the power to do so.

The regulation governing European Citizens' Initiatives took effect on 1 April 2012. Since then, requests for registration can be made by citizens' committees made up of at least seven EU citizens who are resident in at least seven countries.

Before registering an initiative the Commission must verify that it meets certain minimal legal criteria, for instance, that it is not manifestly abusive, frivolous, and vexatious, contrary to European values or outside the scope of the Commission's powers.

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