3 European Citizens' Initiative|
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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 base||Article 24 TFEU; co-decision; QMV
|Document originated||31 March 2010
|Deposited in Parliament||25 May 2010
|Department||Foreign and Commonwealth Office
|Basis of consideration||Minister's letter of 9 December 2010
|Previous Committee Report||HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 3 (8 September 2010)
|To be discussed in Council||14 December 2010
|Committee's assessment||Politically important
|Committee's decision||For 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
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.
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."
- 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;
- 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";
- 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
- 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
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
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
"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."
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?
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.
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
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
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
See HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 3 (8 September 2010). Back
See paragraph 2 of the Minister's letter. Back
The threshold of qualifying signatories is determined by multiplying
the number of MEPs for each Member State by 750. Back
See paragraph 2 point (v) of the Minister's letter. Back
"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
See pages 3 and 4 of the Minister's letter. Back
See page 27 of the Coalition programme for government. Back