EU Citizens Initiative – All you wanted to know (and much more beside)

From the

Yesterday, the European Council adopted a regulation that will allow the ‘European Citizens Initiative’ to go ahead from early 2012.
A key part of the Lisbon Treaty, the initiative allows a group of  citizen to bring legislative proposals to the European Commission, providing they can gain the support of a million other Europeans.
The documentation is suitably dense but in summary, I understand it as follows;
The initiative allows any group of citizens the opportunity to directly approach the European Commission with a proposal for a legal act of the Union. To do this you need to get a million (verifiable) signatures within 12 months from at least 7 member states (and achieve thresholds in each of these countries). Then the initiative will then get considered by the Commission who may or may not act on it and provide you an opportunity for a Public Hearing at the European Parliament.
I have my doubts about the impact that this will have. It’s a nice idea but the opportunities that it really affords to influence or change EU law if you can collect 1 million signatures seem weak. I’ll leave it to readers of the blog to suggest if they think it’s an effective campaigning method or not.
A more detailed summary of the Regulation is below, although the Commission has committed to bring out more comprehensive and user-friendly guide on the citizens’ initiative shortly;

  • The initiative in theory affords citizens the same rights as members of the European Parliament and Council to submit proposals for legal acts of the Union.
  • Organisers need to get signatures (known as statements of support) from citizens in at least one-quarter of Member States – so 7 at present.
  • Plus achieve a minimum number from each of these states, which is equal to 750 signatures per MEP from the member state.
    • So you only need to get 4,500 Estonians to agree with you (by virtue of having 6 MEPs) but you’ll need 74,250 Germans to agree with you (because the country has 99 MEPs).
  • It needs to be organised by a ‘Citizens Committee’ comprised of individuals from at least 7 member states.
  • Text needs to be submitted in advance (in any official language) for approval by the Commission who will give this within 2 months.
  • The Commission will also run a website that will hold a register of all valid initiatives.
  • The Commission can reject it if they feel that the initiative does not propose a ‘legal act of the Union‘, is ‘manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious‘, or ‘is contrary to the values of the Union‘.
  • Citizens of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Netherlands, Slovakia, Finland and UK won’t need to provide a valid ID number as part of signing. Citizens of other states will.
  • The organisers of the initiative need to be transparent about any sources of funding they are receiving to promote the petition.
  • Statements of support (names on the petition) need to be collected within 12 months of the initiative being approved by the Commission.
  • Names can be collected on-line and the Commission will provide open-source software to facilitate this.
  • When the target has been reached, the names will need to be submitted to the relevant authority within the a Member State for the purpose of verification. This has to be completed within 3 months and comes at no cost to the organisers.
  • The initiative should then be submitted to the Commission accompanied by the relevant paperwork.
  • The amount spent in support of the initiative needs to be declared to the Commission when it is submitted, and must not be any more than the limits set down for political parties.
  • The Commission will receive the initiative, meeting with representatives of the initiative at a ‘appropriate level’ and will set out its political and legal conclusions within 3 months, including the action it will/won’t take.
  • After this has happened the organisers of the petition will have the opportunity to present the initiative to a public meeting, organised by the European Parliament, where a representative of the Commission will attend.
  • The idea will be reviewed every 3 years.
  • The rest of the document covers the way that the regulation will be implemented in Member States, some issues around data protection and also about delegation of powers.

So when might we see the first successful initiatives?
A year has been allowed for the Commission and Member States to prepare for it implementation so the first initiatives won’t be able to be submitted until March 2012 (and could take 2 months for approval, so May 2012). Then assuming it takes at least (and I reckon it’ll be much longer) 6 months to collect the required signatures (November 2012), another 3 months for Member States to verify the information (February 2013), then another 3 for the Commission to consider the initiative (May 2013), we could see the first Public Hearings happening in early Summer 2013.