How citizens make their voice heard in Europe. I.
The official tools.
The European Citizens’s Initiative (ECI) was launched by the European Commission on the symbolic date of 9 May 2012, Europe Day, under the motto “You can set the agenda!”.
After 16 months, the platform has 18 open initiatives, 11 refused requests for registration, 5 withdrawn initiatives and still no initiative has been submitted to the commission. ECI is an instrument for participatory democracy and an experiment at the same time. But using this instrument is not easy. Who said that democracy is easy? People have to organize a committee of at least 7 EU citizens, who must live in different EU countries and have the requested age for voting in the European Parliament elections (18 years, except in Austria, where the voting age is 16). After an initiative is registered, the committee must build an online collection system within 2 months, which must be certified by national authorities. This certification procedures take 1 month and vary from one member state to another, depending on the software and hosting provider used. Then, the initiative must collect 1 million statements of support within 12 months, from at least 7 EU countries, respecting a minimum number of signatories in each member state. Once the statements are collected, the national authorities have 3 months to certify the number of valid statements of support by using appropriate checks, based on random sampling.
The final step is to submit the initiative to the European Commission. If an initiative is successful in raising sufficient signatures, the Commission will spend time evaluating the issue presented and the organisers will get the opportunity to present their endeavour to Commission representatives and at a public hearing in the European Parliament. A great opportunity. However the European Commission has no obligation to propose legislation as a result of an initiative.
So far, the steps are clear. In practice, using this instrument for citizen involvement implies heavy personal data requirements. When signing an ECI, citizens from 18 member states must give their personal identification numbers, a procedure that raises privacy questions. In addition, the time limit for signature collection is only one year, very short to raise the public attention and participation of one million persons.