On 12 December, the European Parliament, Council and Commission reached a deal in trilogues on an updated regulation on the European Citizens Initiative (ECI). A reform is needed as only 4 ECIs managed to collect the required 1 million signatures across Europe. More than 30 initiatives failed.
Now, future ECIs will see ECIs made slightly more accessible. It will ease the work of ECI organisers, that they will have to prepare for only 2 instead of 13 different sets of data requirements that Member States can choose from. Also, Member States can chose to allow 16 and 17 year olds to support ECIs even where they do not yet have voting rights as it is the case in Austria.
But, no progress has been achieved to increase the impact of a successful ECI. Commission and Council were not ready to commit themselves to more action when more than 1 million Europeans demand a change with their signature. Only the European Parliament is about to change its Rules of Procedure in order to give ECIs a full plenary debate. But this change is not dependent on changing the ECI regulation.
As a setback for ECIs, Council won against Parliament and Commission in banning individual online collection systems that NGOs created to collect signatures for ECIs and at the same time contacts to establish a growing European public sphere. NGOs such as WeMove.eu built a growing European public sphere using ECIs, e.g. the Stop Glyphosate ECI. This was based on an individual, open source collection system, financed by NGOs with around 50 000 EUR and certified by Member States for its compliance with the law. Under the deal reached, by 2023, all NGOs will have to use a Commission provided central online collection system. Individual systems will be forbidden, only a central online collection system provided by Commission will be allowed. Yet, all addresses registered under this system have to be deleted soon after the ECI ends even if they chose to be informed in the future. The found deal will be voted in the European Parliament’s Plenary, possibly already in January 2019.
MEP Sven Giegold, Parliament’s rapporteur for transparency, accountability and integrity of EU institutions commented on this trialogue outcome:
„Limited progress on cutting red tape for new ECIs is overshadowed by the expropriation of NGOs. NGOs must be able to trust European law that motivated their massive investment in IT tools to collect support for ECIs and contacts to build a European public sphere. ECIs need the support by larger NGOs in order to collect more than one million signatures. Denying NGOs to reach out to ECI supporters who wish to stay in contact is a lost opportunity for stronger European public spaces. Larger NGOs will be discouraged from supporting ECIs and continue to use simple petitions instead. The ECI as a symbol for citizens’ participation in EU democracy is weakened. With this deal we run the risk of having even less successful ECIs.
Council’s assault on NGOs individual collection systems is supposed to reduce some national bureaucracy to certify such systems. Commission and Council effectively sacrifice participatory democracy for saving some hours of national admin work. This blockade of Commission and Council against progress for the ECI is short-sighted when Europe needs its democrats to stand together against the assaults of anti-European populists.
Commission’s stubbornly resisted against any commitments what to do for successful ECI. Even small limitations their own freedom of initiative where too high a prize for encouraging citizens to participate in EU lawmaking. Successful ECIs will acquire no new rights for a stronger reaction of the Commission.
Not everything in the deal on a new ECI regulation is bad. Less red tape for future ECIs thanks to harmonised data requirements and limitations to legal risks for organisers are welcome support but cannot shift the balance of the deal. NGOs should now elaborate if they see enough progress in order to accept this deal. Greens will carefully listen to NGOs before deciding whether to accept or reject this deal in Plenary. Greens do not want to wait for a full stop in successful ECIs before EU institutions finally give ECIs the strength necessary for a powerful participatory European Democracy.“
assessment by ECI-supporting NGOs: http://www.citizens-initiative.eu/eu-deal-creates-a-highly-uncertain-future-for-eci/
BACKGROUND: on ACCESSIBILITY
The new option for an ECI to become a legal entity limits personal liability of organisers.
The new disconnection of registration and collection period gives ECI organisers 6 months more flexibility to plan and prepare the launch after receiving their registration.
A partial harmonisation of data requirements leaves only 2 instead of 13 different sets of data requirements that Member States have to choose from, thereby simplifying the organisation of ECIs. Yet, supporters still have to provide their full ID number, a hurdle that might scare away possible supporters. Parliament has argued for just the last 4 digits but Council prevailed.
Member States can lower the minimum age to 16 yet 16 and 17 year olds will have no clarity from the new regulation and confusing mix of rules per Member State.
Commission will provide a central online collection system free-of-charge for ECI organisers. Organisers will also be allowed to ask for the e-mail address of supporters in addition to data necessary for support. Yet, – pending last clarifications – these addresses have to be deleted after the ECI ends, thereby not allowing NGOs to stay in contact with supporters even if they would wish this. This will weaken the potential of ECI’s to build European political online-communities.
Individual online collection systems must not be used after 2023, despite them being certified by Member States already.
Translations provided by Commission for ECIs also include the annex of ECIs yet with a restriction in the number of characters to be translated for free, which looks like a fair compromise.
The only major change on the follow up is not part of the deal reached in trialogues but a change of Parliament’s Rules of Procedure. After the unilateral change by the Parliament future ECI’s, Parliament is to have a plenary debate after the hearing of organisers and before Commission relpies to the ECI. This was adopted in Parliament’s Constitutional affairs committee without controversy and is to be finally decided in January by Plenary. Yet Parliament’s majority was against making this part of the new regulation on ECIs.
For the hearing of a successful ECI in Parliament, Parliament wanted Commission to be represented by a Commissioner. Instead, only „at the appropriate level“ remains in the regulation, a disappointing result.
Commission will continue to set its own timeline for when Commission proposes what it commits to in a reply to a successful ECI. Any attempts by Parliament to set a 12 months deadline for a promised proposal were rejected.