Documents considered by the Committee on 15 December 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

3 European Citizens' Initiative



COM(10) 119

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Draft Regulation on the citizens' initiative

Commission staff working document: Outcome of the public consultation on the Green Paper on a European citizens' initiative

Legal baseArticle 24 TFEU; co-decision; QMV
Document originated31 March 2010
Deposited in Parliament25 May 2010
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 9 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportHC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 3 (8 September 2010)
To be discussed in Council14 December 2010
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionFor debate in European Committee B (decision reported 8 September 2010)


3.1 Article 11(4) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) establishes a new right for EU citizens to petition the European Commission to prepare draft EU legislation for consideration by the European Parliament and Council. It provides:

    "Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European 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."

3.2 Article 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) further provides for the European Parliament and Council to adopt a Regulation setting out the procedures and conditions for citizens' initiatives.

3.3 In November 2009, the Commission published a consultative Green Paper seeking views on how to implement the citizens' initiative.[8] It received over 300 responses which the Commission says it took into account in producing a draft Regulation in March 2010. The draft Regulation set out the substantive and procedural conditions which a citizens' initiative would be required to meet in order to qualify for a formal examination by the Commission with a view to preparing draft legislation. In June, the General Affairs Council considered the Commission's proposal and made a number of changes which were intended to simplify the procedures, but the Government still considered that they were too bureaucratic and burdensome for Member States and citizens.

3.4 We thought that some of the provisions in the revised draft Regulation, for example on the verification of statements supporting a citizens' initiative, were ambiguous and required further clarification. We also said that the rules governing citizens' initiatives should be "as few and simple as is consistent with the prevention of the abuse of the process." We questioned the need to include a two-stage test of admissibility and asked whether it was necessary to require Member States to verify statements of support and what the risks would be if they did not. We also raised a more general question about the desirability of citizens' initiatives in parliamentary democracies and decided that the proposal merited a debate in European Committee B.[9]

The Minister's letter of 9 December 2010

3.5 The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) tells us that swift progress has been made under the Belgian Presidency and that the European Parliament and Council are close to reaching a First Reading deal on the draft Regulation. He encloses the latest version of the Presidency compromise text which he expects to be adopted formally by the Council before the end of the year.

3.6 The Minister describes "key improvements" to the original Commission proposal which "seek to ensure a workable petitioning system, whilst minimising the bureaucratic burden and cost of implementation."[10] These are:

  • confirmation that both the organisers and the signatories of a citizens' initiative must be of voting age (the European Parliament had proposed 16 as the minimum age for signatories) — the Minister says that this will make it easier for the UK to link verification requirements (see below) with the electoral register;
  • a citizens' initiative must be supported by the appropriate qualifying number of EU citizens from at least one fourth of Member States — this reflects a compromise between the Council's and European Parliament's preferences for one third or one fifth of Member States respectively;
  • the number of qualifying citizens for each Member State is specified in an Annex and is proportional to population size — the minimum number of signatories required for the UK would be 54,000;[11]
  • the two-stage test of admissibility has been dropped — in an effort to simplify procedures while also reducing the risk of bogus or trivial petitions, the organisers of a citizens' initiative are now required to form a "citizens' committee" comprising at least seven individuals resident in seven different Member States whose task it is to liaise with the Commission and to demonstrate that their proposed initiative meets the conditions for registration;
  • Member States are responsible for verifying statements of support for citizens' initiatives "on the basis of appropriate checks, in accordance with national law and practice, as appropriate" (Article 9(2)). Verification does not require the authentication of signatures. Recital 15 of the draft Regulation further specifies that "appropriate checks" can be based on "random sampling." The Minister says that random sampling "reduces, but does not completely remove, the implementation burden from Member States. However, I believe it provides a sufficient deterrent against the submission of fraudulent and multiple statements";[12]
  • verification by Member States is based on a standardised Statement of Support Form (Annex III, Part A) which, for the UK, requires the competent authorities to check that signatories are "permanent residents" in the UK — signatories resident in the UK must provide their name, address, date of birth and nationality but are not required to produce personal identification numbers (such as a passport number); and
  • the Commission will be required to review the Regulation within three years of its entry into force (two years earlier than in the original proposal).

3.7 The Minister says that, despite these changes, the Regulation would still place a considerable burden on Member States and highlights the following areas in which the Government would have welcomed further movement:

  • Member States are required to implement the Regulation within twelve months of its entry into force — the Government argued for more time so that "Member States that lacked existing centralised infrastructure to verify signatories" would be able to bring in implementing legislation to establish new verification systems;
  • Member States are required to certify systems for the online collection of signatures even it these use software developed for this purpose by the Commission; and
  • the potential to generate datasets containing over a million items of personal data across a number of Member States could "lead to a rise in complex cross-border data protection litigation or pressure for more harmonisation at the EU level."

3.8 The Minister concludes:

    "On balance, the UK has made considerable strides in meeting its negotiating objectives. The government has always supported the principle of the European Citizens Initiative. The Government's own plans outlined in the Coalition agreement[13] to introduce a national petitions system are testament to our belief in the need for greater democratic participation by citizens. However I remain convinced that the EU variant places an unnecessary burden on both Member States and citizens given the purpose and intent of the ECI. It is regrettable that there is insufficient support in Council to push for delay to iron out some of the remaining verification and data protection issues or to introduce a longer implementation period.

    "I am aware that the ECI remains subject to scrutiny. In light of the remaining concerns and the lack of support under QMV to improve the text further, I plan to abstain at Council on both substantive and Parliamentary scrutiny grounds.

    "Once the text is adopted, the Government will step up its preparations for implementation. Our initial thinking suggests that the electoral roll provides the most comprehensive database with which to meet the minimum verification requirements of the Regulation. The detail is still to be worked up by whichever Government department leads on the implementation phase."[14]


3.9 We stated in our earlier Report that citizens' initiatives raised important political questions about the evolving nature of representative parliamentary democracies which we thought could best be explored in a debate. Article 10 of the Treaty on European Union provides that "the functioning of the Union shall be founded on representative democracy", but the citizens' initiative gives EU citizens a direct and formal role in shaping the EU's legislative agenda. We note that the new recital one to the draft Regulation places the citizens' initiative on a par with the right traditionally enjoyed both by the Council and the European Parliament — the joint decision-makers for most EU legislation — to ask the Commission to submit a legislative proposal for consideration.

3.10 We also stated that, if there are to be citizens' initiatives, then the rules should be as few and simple as is consistent with the prevention of the abuse of the process. We welcome efforts to make the procedures more accessible by, for example, requiring the admissibility of a citizens' initiative to be determined at an early stage, before the collection of signatures. However, we think that ambiguities or difficulties remain in the following areas which we suggest are best addressed in the debate:

  • The grounds for, and consequences of, refusing to register a proposed citizens' initiative

The Commission may refuse to register an initiative which is manifestly outside the powers conferred on it by the Treaties, or which is manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious or manifestly contrary to the values of the European Union, as set out in Article 2 TEU. This would seem to leave much to the judgment of the Commission. The amended proposal therefore includes an obligation to inform the organisers of a proposed citizens' initiative of the grounds for refusal and of all possible judicial and extrajudicial remedies available to them. It would be useful to clarify what these remedies might be.

  • Verification of statements of support

The competent authority in each Member State involved in a citizens' initiative is required to verify statements of support in accordance with national law and practice and certify that the requisite number of statements/ signatures has been obtained. We would welcome further information from the Minister on how this will be implemented in the UK. Would, for example, a random check against the electoral register be sufficient to demonstrate that a signatory satisfied the permanent residency requirement in the standard Statement of Support Form? And what would constitute an appropriate number of checks to verify and certify the statements of support in the UK?

  • Data protection concerns

The Minister says the Government is not satisfied that the Commission has thought through all the risks that the collection of so many datasets may entail. In his opinion on the draft Regulation, the European Data Protection Supervisor stated that he was "generally satisfied with the way in which the issue of data protection is addressed in the proposed Regulation on the citizens' initiative" but also suggested some improvements, most of which have been included in the latest draft Regulation. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain the Government's concerns in greater detail.

  • Implementation

The Minister says that the Government pressed for a longer implementation period to enable it to set up new centralised infrastructure to verify signatories. We are not sure why such infrastructure is needed, as Article 9(2) says that national competent authorities are not required to authenticate signatures. More generally, there would appear to be some doubt as to which Government department will take the lead in implementing the Regulation. If so, we think it is highly regrettable for the UK to accept obligations without first having resolved how they are to be implemented in the UK and by whom. We hope the Minister will be able to provide us with more information during the debate, including which will be the competent UK authority responsible for coordinating the process of verifying statements of support and issuing the requisite certification.

3.11 Finally, the Minister draws a parallel between the European Citizens' Initiative and the commitment in the Coalition programme for government to ensuring that any petition that secures 100,000 signatures "will be eligible for formal debate in Parliament. The petition with the most signatures will enable members of the public to table a bill eligible to be voted on in Parliament."[15] We would welcome further information from the Minister on whether the procedures likely to be introduced to fulfil this commitment will be similar to those proposed for the European Citizens' Initiative, especially as regards the nature of the checks to verify the authenticity of signatures or petitions.

8   See (31169) 16195/09: HC 5-iii (2009-10), chapter 16 (9 December 2009). Back

9   See HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 3 (8 September 2010). Back

10   See paragraph 2 of the Minister's letter.  Back

11   The threshold of qualifying signatories is determined by multiplying the number of MEPs for each Member State by 750. Back

12   See paragraph 2 point (v) of the Minister's letter. Back

13   "We will ensure that any petition that secures 100,000 signatures will be eligible for formal debate in Parliament. The petition with the most signatures will enable members of the public to table a bill eligible to be voted on in Parliament." The Coalition: our programme for government p27 Back

14   See pages 3 and 4 of the Minister's letter. Back

15   See page 27 of the Coalition programme for government. Back

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