One of the eurosceptics’ criticisms regarding the European Union is the lack of democratic legitimacy. However, during the European integration process some changes have been made in order to close the gap between the EU institutions and the citizens. The European Parliament has seen its powers strengthened, the legislative process of co-decision was extended and the European Citizens’ Initiative was established.
Since April 2012 the member states citizens have the possibility to invite the European Commission to propose legislation in the areas it has the power to do so. The European Citizens’ Initiative was established in the Treaty of Lisbon with the aim of promoting the participation of citizens in the agenda setting of policies.
So how is a European Citizens’ Initiative put forward? The first step is to make sure that the idea you want to propose to the Commission fits within the powers that the institution has. Then, you cannot launch the initiative by yourself. A committee formed by at least seven citizens of the EU old enough to vote in the European Parliament elections must be assembled. The Committee members must also live in seven different EU countries. It will be the responsibility of the committee to manage the procedures related with the European Citizens’ Initiative.
The initiative has to be registered on the Commission’s citizens’ initiative website. The registration of the initiative has to contain a title, a subject, an explanation of the objectives, the relevant provisions of the EU treaties and other information related with the proponents of the initiative. For the initiative to be officially registered the Commission has to check if it complies with the rules laid out and if it is not contrary to the EU treaties and its values.
After the examination of the initiative the proponents can start collecting statements of support online and/or on paper. The collection of signatures lasts until one year. For the Commission to consider the initiative, it has to be signed by 1 million EU citizens and by a minimum number in at least seven countries. The statements of support have to be certified by the competent national authority of each country where they were collected. Only after its certification can the initiative be submitted to the Commission.
The Commission has then three months in order to answer to the submitted initiative. The response is based on the examination of the initiative and on a meeting the institution has at this stage with the organizers, who are also heard at the European Parliament. The Commission may or may not propose new legislation regarding with the citizens’ initiative submitted.
Follow-up of the Commission to the initiatives
Since the inception of the European Citizens’ Initiative, 49 initiatives have been requested to be registered. Currently there are two initiatives collecting statements of support: “An end to front companies in order to secure a fairer Europe”; and “New Deal 4 Europe”. The collection of statements of support for five initiatives has already closed, but the organizers have not yet submitted them to the Commission. The reasons behind the non-submission are unknown. Nine initiatives were withdrawn by the organizers and 11 did not have enough support in order to be submitted to the Commission. Until now only two initiatives have been answered by the Commission.
The first European Citizens’ Initiative answered by the Commission was the “Right2Water”. The proponents of the initiative asked the Commission to guarantee that all EU citizens have the right to water and sanitation, the water supply and management are excluded from the internal market rules and liberalization, and that efforts would be made in order to achieve access to water and sanitation around the world.
In response to the initiative the Commission stated that the public authorities of the member states are the ones responsible for the decisions related with the function of the water services. Regarding the other topics of the initiative, the Commission ensured that it is to take action in order to, for example, launch an EU public consultation on the improvement of the Drinking Water Directive, examine the possibility of benchmarking the water quality, and support the universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation as a priority for the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
The other initiative answered by the Commission was “One of Us”. The aim of the initiative was for the EU to stop financing activities which involve the destruction of human embryos, mainly in the areas of research, development and public health. However, the Commission decided not to take action regarding this domain as the funding framework was considered “the appropriate one”. “Embryonic stem cells are unique and offer the potential for life-saving treatments”, the Commission said on a press release.
The number of refused requests for registration is high: 20 out of 49. The subjects of the refused initiatives range from a recommendation to sing the European Anthem in Esperanto, the creation of an unconditional basic income, to the holding of an EU referendum regarding the public confidence in European Government’s competence. The last refused request was the “STOP TTIP”.
The proponents of the “STOP TTIP” initiative wanted the Commission to make a recommendation to the Council to cancel the negotiation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and not to complete the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). The reason behind the refusal of the initiative was its aim not being in line with the Commission’s powers. In the response to the organizers, the Commission stated that “the preparatory Council decisions authorizing the opening of international negotiations or repealing such authorization do not fall within the scope of the Regulation”.
As the European citizens are trying to present initiatives which are not in the remits of the European Commission powers, it seems that they also may want to influence changes in the European Union as a whole and not only in the agenda setting of the Commission.
Edited By: Lisa Enocsson
Graph by: European Commission