The European Citizens' Initiative is one of the innovations introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. It provides that
"not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties"
The ECI is the very first step towards a more participatory model of democracy in Europe and will for the first time give people the possibility to raise issues and to bring them on the agenda of their political institutions. Thus it will help to create European-wide initiatives, discourses and consciousness and will bring us closer towards real European democracy and citizenship.
Exact procedures and conditions required for such a Citizens' initiative are to be determined in a Regulation to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on a proposal from the European Commission.
The first step for us is now to elaborate our position on the general framework. (Only once this framework is in place, we can reflect upon promoting or supporting initiatives on certain concrete issues!!!)
During our discussions we have to keep in mind 4 important elements:
Verification of the signatures should be dealt with by the responsible authorities of the Member States. A verification of every single signature must not be necessary. Random examination is sufficient to proof whether a sufficient amount of signatures has been reached.
Personal identification numbers are not necessary for verifying signatures. They would prevent many people who care about the protection of their personal data from signing an initiative. Moreover, according to the European Data Protection Supervisor they have no added value for the verification of signatures. Name, address, and nationality are sufficient for identifying a person.
The Commission suggests a time limit of 12 months for collecting the signatures supporting an ECI.
Green position: The time limit should be two years (or 24 months). Our experience is that transnational initiatives need enough time for communication, meetings, travelling, translation and creating enough support in a significant number of states - especially if they are not initiated by big and established NGOs. Therefore one year is not enough. The deadline does not mean that citizen initiatives could not be handed in earlier if they have already gained the necessary support. In reality it means that after this date signatures that have been given by citizens become invalid. There is no need for this and it would cause a lot of unnecessary frustration to set this deadline earlier than after 2 years.
Green position: Initiatives should be registered. For this purpose the Commission should provide a specific website. This website should also put at disposal an extensive explanation of formal and legal requirements for the success of an initiative.
The initiative has to name at least 7 persons out of a minimum of 3 MS that can speak and decide for the initiative. Such a committee of organisers has two advantages. On the one hand, it requires initiators to put some effort into an initiative already before it can be registered. In this way, it helps to avoid immature and unreasoned initiatives. On the other hand, the committee members can serve as direct reference persons for the Commission - for instance concerning questions of admissibility, hearings and other issues.
For the sake of transparency and democratic accountability, organisers of initiatives should, in addition to the basic information on address and persons responsible,be required to provide basic information in relation to the organisations that support an initiative and how the initiative is or will be funded. Disclosure should relate to the initiative's total income and expenditure, and also to any large donations.
In the draft regulation of the Commission the admissibility check is designed as a two-step process. The first step relates to the registration of a proposed citizens' initiative by the Commission. The Commission intends to use the registration also as a filtering mechanism for not admitting "abusive" ECIs or ECIs "which are manifestly against the values of the Union". A second admissibility check is intended at a latter stage of the process, namely after ECI organisers have collected 300.000 signatures. The aim of this check is to examine the legal basis of an ECI and to admit only those initiatives that fall within the framework of power of the Commission to make a proposal.
Green position: There indeed should be a mechanism for excluding citizens' initiatives, which violate fundamental rights respected by the EU. However, rejecting an ECI on the basis of generalised arguments like "abusive" or "against the values of the Union" is far too unspecified and contradicts the principle of legal certainty (Bestimmtheitsgrundsatz). The Commission should instead decide on the basis of clear legal examination. An ECI should be rejected if it is in breach of Art. 6 TEU, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and the European Convention of the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
Moreover, the whole check of admissibility should be done at the very beginning and not after the creation of strong expectations and many months of signatures having been collected. Checking the legal admissibility of an initiative only after 300.000 signatures is far too late, will cause massive frustrations and can have a detrimental effect on the legitimacy of such decisions and the responsible institution. So registration and the examination of legal admissibility must be done before the collection of signatures is started. The Commission must thoroughly explain its decision to the organisers of an ECI - and the organizers must have the right to challenge it before the Court of Justice.
In contrast to all the detailed rules and provisions that ECI-organisers have to obey, the Commission is pretty short on its own obligations in dealing with a successful ECI. In Art. 11 of the draft regulation it only stipulates that it will "examine the citizens' initiative and, within 4 months, set out in a communication its conclusions on the initiative, the action it intends to take, if any, and its reasons for doing so".
This is the most important point in making the ECI an efficient instrument for agenda-setting by the citizens and not only a toothless tiger. There must be clear regulations and legal provisions on what has to happen after an ECI was successful. Our proposal: If the ECI is formally and legally admissible, the Commission is obliged to discuss the content of its proposal and possible ways to take action on it adequately. The Commission informs the EP and the Council of Ministers on how it intends to respond to a successful initiative. Parliament and Council can adopt an opinion on the issue.
Moreover, the initiators of an ECI have the right to be heard by the Commission in a public hearing, where they can publically explain and discuss their proposal and reasons - and they must have the right to proper and transparent information on its deliberations and their result.
Did the Commission come to the conclusion not to take action on the initiative, the European Parliament (in most of the cases the committee on petitions) can take up the issue and invite the Commission to explain its reasons in a public hearing where also the initiators and - if he wishes - the European Ombudsman can explain their view on this decision.
If the Commission comes to the conclusion that it will take legal action, it has to explain in what direction it would consider to propose a legal initiative and how the initiators and stakeholders will be involved. The Commission has to table its proposal within one year following its decision on the ECI.
The EP (or its committees) is free to put the issue on its agenda and to also hold a hearing at any given time.
If the Commission breaches this rules of procedure, organisers can appeal to the European Ombudsman and ultimately to the ECJ.
Green position: Every initiative has to be registered on the specific website of the Commission, which is public. This could ensure that duplication would be avoided. Further legal restrictions are not needed. In order to reach the very high quorum initiatives themselves have to be interest in not splitting their force in different initiatives on the same issue.
11. Treaty amendments
The precise wording of Art. 11 (4) "... a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties" leaves room for interpretation of whether treaty amendments fall under the scope of the Citizens' Initiative. However, it has never been the intention of the promoters of Art. 11 (4) to restrict the ECI purely to secondary legislation. EU treaties are very detailed and complex. In contrast to national constitutions, they include numerous specific policies, tools, and instruments that, in the Member States, would be part of lower legislation. Greens do favour a more generous interpretation in order to allow citizens playing an active role in some of the most important political issues and to genuinely enhance the citizens' initiative as an instrument to "reinforce citizens' and organised civil societies involvement in the shaping of EU policies".[] On the other hand, ECI's that propose Treaty amendments can become by no means a loophole for infringements of the Charter on Fundamental Rights or the ECHR. At the end it will however be up to the European Court of Justice to decide on concrete cases how far it stretches the concept of implementing the Treaties in its verdicts.
In respect to the very difficulty for not already European-wide organised initiatives of the civil society with elaborating and launching an initiative in many different languages and member states and in order to avoid that only organised civil society, big, powerful and financial sound NGOs can this instrument, we have to reflect upon ways to support initiators of initiatives. This contains not only the need for help with translations or legal advice. Since it is often difficult to ascertain the precise scope of EU powers, it will also be essential for organisers of initiatives to be able to consult relevant experts, so that potential problems can be resolved at an early stage. Ultimately, such a provision would also ease the burden on the institutions by lessening the likelihood of later disagreements and possible legal appeals.
Thus, initiatives must have the right to receive professional help especially for translation purposes and for advice on the legal design and the admissibility of an initiative.
Since it would make no sense to oblige the Commission to directly supporting the initiative in this phase of the process (because then the same institution that helped with advice and formulations will later on be the one to decide on the proposal which makes it on both ends of the process less free) an independent solution is needed. Therefore we propose to establish an independent body for help and advice with citizens' initiatives. This could lead to a very useful focal point for citizens' engagement and citizens' participation. It could be led by an authorized EU- appointee for citizens' participation that will be funded by the European Union, elected by the EP and controlled by a board with representatives not only of the council, the commission and the parliament but, in majority, of the civil society.
 Article 11 (4), of the Treaty on European Union.
European Commission: Green Paper on a European Citizens' Initiative, COM (2009) 622 final, p. 3.