Democracy’s coming to the European Union
The idea of the European Citizens Initiative was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. Specific rules and procedures were set out in a Regulation implemented by the member states since 2012. In this way the EU forces democracy principles into the Union’s decision-making.
Over last three years (since the introduction of the citizens’ initiative principle into the member states’ legislation), about six million Europeans have supported European Citizens Initiatives (ECI). Using their voice, EU citizens brought important causes directly to the attention of European policy makers.
For the first time ever, the European Commission publishes a report showing the application of this new tool since its entry into force in 1 April 2012.
According to the report, the Citizens Initiatives have gone through the full process of the Regulation establishing the ECI and has been fully implemented. However, the report acknowledges that there is still room to improve the process and identifies a number of possible issues for further discussion with stakeholders and institutions.
ECI’s in the Lisbon Treaty
The idea of the European Citizens Initiative was for the first time in the Union’s history- introduced by the Lisbon Treaty.
The whole new title in the treaty „PROVISIONS ON DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES“ was introduced, consisting of four articles; one of them (art.11.4) specifies the ECI.
Specific rules and procedures were set out in a Regulation adopted by the European Parliament and Council on 16 February 2011.The Regulation started to apply in the member states since 1 April 2012. The Regulation foresees that by 1 April 2015 and every three years thereafter the Commission shall present a report on its application.
Under the rules set out in the Lisbon Treaty, if a Citizens Initiative collects over one million statements of support (signatures), in an area where the European Commission has competence to propose law, then the Commission must formally discuss the issue and publish a response in the form of a Commission Communication.
ECI’s practical application: pros and cons
The Report shows that, in the past three years, 51 requests to launch an initiative have been received. From these 51 requests, 31 were in fields of Commission competence and have been registered; 3 have so far reached the threshold of one million signatures; 12 reached the end of their collection period without reaching the threshold; 3 are still collecting statements of support; and 10 were withdrawn by the organisers.
Statements of support have been received from citizens in all EU-28 states. However, there are situations where some citizens have not been able to support the ECI due to diverging member states requirements.
The Commission presently follows constructive discussions with the states concerned to address these issues and has adopted measures to facilitate a resolution.
The creation of online collection systems for signatures has also proved difficult for organisers and in some cases impacted on the time available to collect statements of support. The Commission has offered temporary hosting solutions to organisers and recently commissioned a study on ECI Information and Communication Technology impacts to seek a sustainable solution.
In announcing the report, Commission’s first Vice-President, Frans Timmermans underlined that the ECI’s initiative was had been one of the building blocks for strengthening trust in the European institutions and for promoting active participation of citizens in EU policy-making.
He added that the member states have to look for innovative ways to encourage greater and more effective use of the citizens’ initiatives as an important instrument of the Union’s democracy, trying to use its full potential.
Eugene Eteris Baltic-course.com