The Lisbon Treaty introduces a new form of public participation in European Union policy shaping, the European citizens’ initiative (ECI). It is widening up the sphere of public debate, allowing citizens to participate more intensively in the democratic life of the Union.
Since the December 2009, when the treaty entered into force, the European Commission, whilst retaining its initiative and therefore not being bound to make a proposal following a citizens’ initiative, it is committed to carefully examine all initiatives that fall within the framework of its powers in order to consider whether a new policy proposal would be appropriate. Through this new “participatory democracy” tool, the citizens shall have more opportunity take part of the EU debates, bringing Europe closer to its citizens.
According to the new treaty, the initiative must have the support of at least one million citizens from at least one third of the member states (i.e. at the moment from 9 MS ) for the Commission to consider it.
The European Commission has now adopted a proposal for a Regulation on the citizen’s initiative, which states in greater detail which regulations the Europeans should follow when proposing an initiative. According to the proposal, the fixed threshold of signatures in each MS must be degressively proportional to the population of each Member State. It means that in the four smaller MS the amount of signatures to be gathered is 4 500, and in the biggest MS, Germany, 72 000 citizen’s signatures. This proportionality principle has awoken a lot of dissatisfaction and disputes among the MEPs (similarily to the EEAS discussion), since collecting 72 000 signatures is far more complicated than to get the support of only 4 500 citizens.
Once at least 300 000 signatures have been gathered from three Member States, the initiative will be presented to the Commission. The Commission then has to check the admissibility of it, and decide whether the initiative falls within its powers and is in an area where legislation is possible. The Commission would have four months to examine the initiative itself. It would then have to decide whether to make a legislative proposal, to follow up the issue for example with a study, or not to take any further action.
In case of the green light, i.e. a positive answer by the Commission, the initiative organiser has one year to collect the necessary signatures.
It is important that this new feature of the democratic process should be credible, should fully assure data protection and should not be open to abuse or fraud. To avoid fraud, the citizens have to provide their home address, date of birth, nationality and personal identity number (national ID card, passport or social security number. This point might become an obstacle when collecting signatures because only few would agree giving such detailed personal data.
The organisers must also provide the information about funding. Transparency is the key word of this new democratic instrument. But as citizen’s rights and data protection are constantly very important issues, there are ongoing disputes and discussions about how detailed personal data the citizens should provide.
The Commission hopes that the Council and Parliament will reach final agreement on the ECI before the end of this year, to allow the first initiatives to be brought forward in 2011.
For more information on ECI, please read: