On the initiative of MEP Gerald Häfner, the EP plenary discussed how the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) can be improved and made more citizen friendly based on the lessons learnt during the first year of practice. Since April 1, 2012, citizens throughout Europe have the right to make proposals for EU legislation. However, the two dozen ECIs launched so far experienced a massive amount of technical and administrative hurdles.
Häfner, spokesperson of the Greens in the EP for constitutional affairs, explained about the background Parliament's request to the Commission for today's exchange of views: "Since twelve months, citizens have the right to get actively involved in EU policy making. We've seen many initiatives launched; signatures are being collected all across Europe. Nevertheless, we're not really in the mood for celebrating. The promise of a significantly higher level of citizens' participation has not yet been fulfilled."
Not a single initiative managed to cross the mark of one million signatures from a quarter of Member States so far. For several months, the online collection tool didn't work and even now it only does so through an incomplete and temporary solution. Millions of European citizens are denied their right to support an initiative, either because they don't have one of the identification documents that is accepted on the online form or because they reside outside of their home country. Some Member State administrations are more busy erecting barriers than bringing them down. Technical requirements are too complicated; the implementation of the ECI is highly bureaucratic. And what's worst: Most Europeans are not yet aware of their new right of participation.
As one of the protagonists in introducing the ECI to EU law, Häfner gets very emotional about this deplorable situation: "I cannot accept that. We, as Parliament intended to create a simple and effective instrument of participation, not an obstacle course for increasingly frustrated organisations. Therefore, with the support of 75 colleagues from all groups, I demanded that this issue is put on the agenda and discussed in the presence of the Commission, in order to see, what we can do about the manifold problems. The debate has displayed a widespread dissatisfaction within the EP with the situation. I'm happy therefore that Commissioner Malström has signalled the Commission's readiness to keep working intensively towards solutions."
"I called upon the leaders of the EU institutions" Häfner continued "to use the European Year of Citizens to turn, in a common, high-visibility appearance to Europe's citizens and explain them that the European Citizens' Initiative is an excellent opportunity to determine the EU's political agenda - and to declare that they will undertake all efforts needed to take on board and to implement citizens' proposals."
EU Institutions step up to their responsibility for the success of the ECI. That includes more staff, better financing of the infrastructure and more support to the initiatives. Parliament has made the first step. Now it's up to Commission, Council, and the administrations of the Member States to eventually make the ECI a success story of European democracy.