Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents

9 The European Citizens' Initiative

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested
Document detailsCommission Report on the application of Regulation (EU) No. 211/2011 on the citizens' initiative
Legal base

Document numbers

Cabinet Office

(36780), 7737/15, COM(15) 145

Summary and Committee's conclusions

9.1 The European Citizens' Initiative was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty to encourage greater democratic involvement of EU citizens in the legislative activities of the EU. It allows one million EU citizens from at least one quarter of the Member States to call on the Commission to propose legislation on any matter for which it has the power to act. The right to propose a European Citizens' Initiative is enshrined in the EU Treaties. The rules and procedures for doing so are set out in a Regulation adopted in 2011 ("the 2011 Regulation"). To qualify as a European Citizens' Initiative, the initiative must be formally registered with the Commission. Since 1 April 2012, when the 2011 Regulation took effect, the Commission has registered 31 European Citizens' Initiatives and rejected a further 20 on the grounds that they failed to meet the criteria for registration.

9.2 The report published by the Commission provides its first assessment of the application of the 2011 Regulation. The Commission notes that the European Citizens' Initiative is now fully operational across the EU, identifies a number of challenges, accepts that there is scope for improvement, but concludes that it is "still too early to assess the long-term impacts of the European Citizens' Initiative on the EU institutional and legislative process".[ 104]

9.3 The Minister for Constitutional Reform (John Penrose) notes that the Commission report does not propose any changes to the 2011 Regulation and concludes that there are no legal, financial or policy implications for the UK.

9.4 It seems clear that there are problems with the operation of the European Citizens' Initiative. A significant proportion of proposed Initiatives are not registered by the Commission, suggesting a mismatch between citizens' perceptions of the purpose of European Citizens' Initiatives and their scope as set out in the EU Treaties and the 2011 Regulation. Only three of the 31 European Citizens' Initiatives registered with the Commission since April 2012 have obtained more than one million signatures and met all the requirements of the 2011 Regulation. Citizens appear to be losing faith in the power of European Citizens' Initiatives to influence and inform EU decision making. Since their launch, there has been a marked decline in the number registered with the Commission each year.

9.5 The Commission report highlights "challenges" and says that it has "noted with interest" the findings and recommendations made in a detailed study on European Citizens' Initiatives commissioned by the European Parliament, as well as the guidelines proposed by the European Ombudsman following an own-initiative inquiry on the operation of European Citizens' Initiatives. Few of the changes proposed in the study and inquiry to improve the operation of the European Citizens' Initiative and to make it less costly and burdensome for participants are reflected in the Commission report. We highlight, in particular, recommendations to:

·  clarify the scope and purpose of European Citizens' Initiatives to establish whether they are primarily an "agenda setting" tool, a tool for implementing specific legislation within the EU's existing competences, or a means of proposing wider changes to the EU Treaties;

·  provide robust, consistent and comprehensible reasons for refusing to register a proposed European Citizens' Initiative — we draw attention to the complex legal reasons given by the Commission for rejecting a proposed Initiative entitled "STOP TTIP", currently the subject of a legal challenge before the General Court;[ 105]

·  provide free translation services for the organisers of European Citizens' Initiatives;

·  simplify and standardise the statement of support forms and ensure that all EU citizens, including those resident in another Member State, are able to sign European Citizens' Initiatives;

·  ensure that procedures are inclusive and transparent and that public hearings at the European Parliament involve a broad range of stakeholders as well as both parts of the EU legislature (Council and European Parliament); and

·  ensure full transparency of funding for European Citizens' Initiatives.

9.6 It is disappointing that the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum does not address any of the challenges identified in the Commission report or offer any view either on the value of the European Citizens' Initiative as a tool for greater democratic involvement of EU citizens in the activities of the EU, or on the practical obstacles which may be impeding participation and how to overcome them. We ask the Minister for the Government's view on the recommendations we have highlighted above and, more broadly, whether he agrees with the European Ombudsman that some provisions of the 2011 Regulation "clearly have placed administrative and bureaucratic hurdles in the way of citizens, every one of whom has, according to the Treaty, the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union".[ 106]

9.7 We also ask the Minister whether he considers that European Citizens' Initiatives have made a contribution to strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU. What conclusions does he draw from the reduction in the number of European Citizens' Initiatives since their high-water mark in 2012, and from the number of legal proceedings brought so far (six to date) to challenge the Commission's refusal to register proposed Initiatives? In light of the Commission's refusal to register the proposed "STOP TTIP" Initiative, would the Government support an amendment to the 2011 Regulation to make clear that EU citizens may ask the Commission not to act, or to prevent it doing something within its existing powers?

9.8 Finally, given the possibility that some UK nationals resident in another Member State may be unable to participate in a European Citizens' Initiative, we ask whether the Government will consider including this category within its own procedures for verification of statements of support.

9.9 Pending the Minister's reply, the Commission report remains under scrutiny.

Full details of the documents: Commission Report on the application of Regulation (EU) No. 211/2011 on the citizens' initiative: (36780), 7737/15, COM(15) 145.


9.10 Before being launched across the EU, a European Citizens' Initiative ("ECI") must first be registered on a central website managed by the Commission. The website also lists initiatives which have been proposed but which the Commission considers do not quality for registration.[ 107] An online Guide describes how to launch and sign up to a European Citizens' Initiative.[ 108] The main steps are:

·  the formation of a "citizens' committee" composed of at least seven EU citizens of voting age living in at least seven different Member States — these are the ECI organisers;

·  registration of the proposed ECI, following an initial check by the Commission that the registration criteria have been met;

·  the collection of paper and/or online statements of support by the organisers, to be concluded within one year of the date of registration — if collected electronically, the online collection system must be "certified" by the Member State in which the data are to be stored to ensure that it is secure and that the technical requirements of the 2011 Regulation are met;

·  verification and certification of the statements of support by the competent national authorities;

·  formal submission of the ECI to the Commission, provided it has the support of at least one million eligible signatories from at least seven Member States, and that it meets the minimum numerical threshold[ 109] specified for each Member State in the 2011 Regulation (for example, 74,250 signatories in Germany, 54,000 in France, Italy and the UK, 3,750 in Malta); and

·  examination of the Initiative by the Commission and publication of a Communication setting out what action (if any) it proposes to take, following a meeting with the organisers and a public hearing at the European Parliament.

9.11 European Citizens' Initiatives cover a wide range of policy areas. A Table setting out those that have been registered since 1 April 2012 and their current status (Annex 1), as well as a list of those refused registration by the Commission (Annex 2), can be found at the end of this chapter.

The Commission Report

9.12 The Commission describes European Citizens' Initiatives as "one of the major innovations introduced by the Lisbon Treaty". It says that they have:

·  facilitated pan-European debates and enabled like-minded people to forge links across the EU;

·  provided a means for citizens to connect directly with EU institutions and become more closely involved in agenda-setting at EU level; and

·  contributed towards the aim of further strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU.[ 110]

9.13 The report first considers the state of play, focussing on the number of requests for an initiative to be registered as a European Citizens' Initiative. It then reviews the implementation of the procedures set out in the 2011 Regulation, highlights a number of "challenges" and areas for improvement, and makes some concluding observations about the impact of the European Citizens' Initiative.


9.14 The Commission notes that an estimated six million statements of support have already been collected for European Citizens' Initiatives since April 2012. A more detailed breakdown reveals that:

·  the Commission has received 51 requests to register a proposed European Citizens' Initiative;

·  31 ECIs were registered, broken down by year — 16 in 2012, nine in 2013, five in 2014 and one so far in 2015; and

·  20 proposed ECIs were not registered by the Commission on the grounds that they failed to meet the registration criteria.

9.15 Of the 31 registered European Citizens' Initiatives, only three have so far met the threshold required for formal consideration by the Commission with a view to further action at EU level. 12 failed to meet the threshold, three were closed by the organisers, 10 were withdrawn during the 12-month period for collecting signatures, and three remain open and are in the process of collecting signatures. The organisers of six Initiatives which were refused registration by the Commission are bringing legal proceedings before the General Court (the EU's court of first instance); a further case has been brought by the organisers of the "One of Us" Initiative — although this Initiative met the requirements for registration and formal consideration by the Commission, the legal action brought by the organisers seeks to challenge the reasons given by Commission for taking no further action to implement it. All of these cases are pending.



9.16 The report deals briefly with each stage of the process for organising and participating in a European Citizens' Initiative. The requirements for registration of an ECI are set out in Article 4 of the 2011 Regulation. Apart from meeting a number of procedural conditions, this Article requires the Commission to refuse registration if a proposed ECI is:

·  "manifestly outside the framework of the Commission's powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union for the purpose of implementing the Treaties";

·  "manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious"; or

·  "manifestly contrary to the values of the Union as set out in Article 2 TEU".[ 111]

9.17 The Commission indicates that all 20 of the proposed ECIs which it refused to register foundered on the grounds that they manifestly exceeded the Commission's powers to act under the EU Treaties.


9.18 The Commission notes that implementation of the requirement for verification and certification of signatories varies between Member States and can, in some circumstances, prevent or deter citizens from being able to support a European Citizens' Initiative. For example: UK authorities verify statements of support made by EU citizens resident in the UK, but not by UK citizens resident elsewhere in the EU or outside the EU; some Member States require signatories to provide a substantial amount of personal data which may have a deterrent effect. The Commission suggests that there is scope to simplify requirements to ensure that EU citizens of voting age are able, in practice, to support a European Citizens' Initiative. It also provides information on the number of translations of European Citizens' Initiatives, once registered, to make them more accessible to all EU citizens, noting that on average, ECIs have been translated into 11 languages (with four translated into all the official languages of the EU).

9.19 The report describes the requirements for certification of online data collection systems by a competent Member State authority before the organisers of a European Citizens' Initiative are allowed to collect online statements of support. It notes that Member States are reluctant to certify systems prior to registration by the Commission, in case registration is refused. Certification after registration, however, reduces the time available for the collection of online signatures. The Commission has produced open source Online Collection Software and offered to host organisers' online collection systems on its own servers, free of charge, in order to overcome obstacles encountered when the first European Citizens' Initiatives were launched.


9.20 All of the designated competent authorities of Member States have been involved in verifying the statements of support for one or more of the three European Citizens' Initiatives which reached the threshold for examination by the Commission — "Right2Water", "One of us" and "Stop vivisection". Overall, 90% of the statements of support for these Initiatives were found to be valid. The Commission has found no significant discrepancies between the results obtained by means of random sampling or by individual verification of each statement of support.


9.21 The first Initiative examined by the Commission, "Right2Water", called for "legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation as recognised by the United Nations and promoting the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all". The second, "One of us", sought an end to EU financing of "activities which pre-suppose the destruction of human embryos, in particular in the areas of research, development aid and public health".[ 112] In both cases, the organisers of each ECI were invited to a meeting with the Commission and to a public hearing at the European Parliament.

9.22 The Commission published a positive response to the "Right2Water" Initiative, setting out the actions it proposed to take to support access to safe drinking water and sanitation within Europe and at a global level.[ 113] By contrast, it considered that the issues raised in the "One of us" Initiative were adequately addressed by the EU's existing legislative framework and proposed no further action.[ 114] The Commission's response to the third ECI, "Stop vivisection", was published after the Commission report (on 15 June).[ 115]

9.23 "One of us" attracted the most signatories (more than 1.7 million), followed by "Right2Water" (around 1.66 million) and "Stop vivisection" (nearly 1.2 million). None of these Initiatives attracted sufficient support to meet the minimum threshold of 54,000 signatories required for the UK. In each case, the organisers have focussed their efforts on a lead Member State (Germany for "Right2Water" and Italy for "One of us" and "Stop vivisection") to reach their target of one million signatures, whilst also ensuring that the minimum threshold for the number of signatories has been met in at least seven Member States. The Commission notes that campaigning with equal intensity in all Member States presents a particular challenge for the organisers of European Citizens' Initiatives.


9.24 All sources of funding for a European Citizens' Initiative which exceed ?500 per year and per sponsor must be disclosed. Of the 31 Initiatives successfully registered with the Commission, 14 received no funding, nine received less than €10,000 and eight — including the three Initiatives which reached the final stage of examination by the Commission — exceeded €10,000.[ 116]


9.25 The Commission has established a contact point in its Europe Direct Contact Centre to provide information and assistance relating to European Citizens' Initiatives.


9.26 The Commission notes that the necessary procedures and mechanisms are now in place to make European Citizens' Initiatives operational across the EU, but recognises that "there is still room to improve" and highlights the following challenges:

·  difficulties reported by organisers in operating as an informal citizens' committee, without legal personality, and risks linked to the management of funds and personal data;

·  problems encountered in seeking to register a European Citizens' Initiative, with a large proportion being refused on the grounds that they are manifestly outside the scope of the Commission's competences;

·  divergent practices concerning the conditions to be fulfilled and personal data to be provided by signatories in different Member States which make European Citizens' Initiatives less accessible for some EU citizens;

·  the complexities involved in establishing an online collection system, which may reduce the time available for the collection of signatures, as well as difficulties in obtaining certification and in using the software made available by the Commission;

·  the absence of a specific time limit for submitting a successful ECI to the Commission for examination after the 12-month period allowed for collecting signatures;

·  verification of the accuracy of translations provided by the organisers of an ECI can be cumbersome;

·  limited opportunities for stakeholders representing a range of views to participate in the public hearings held at the European Parliament; and

·  insufficient dialogue and interaction between the organisers and the Commission throughout the process, including after the Commission has adopted a Communication indicating what action (if any) it proposes to take.


9.27 At the outset of the report, the Commission makes clear that it "attaches utmost importance to the European Citizens' Initiative and is fully committed to making this instrument work, so that it can fully achieve its potential".[ 117] It concludes that it is "still too early to assess the long-term impacts of the European Citizens' Initiative on the EU institutional and legislative process" but undertakes to continue "monitoring and discussing" with a view to identifying ways of improving the instrument.[ 118]

9.28 The Commission notes "with interest" the findings of a European Parliament study published in 2014, European Citizens' Initiative — First lessons of implementation[ 119], as well as the conclusions of an inquiry by the European Ombudsman[ 120] and feedback from events held by the European Economic and Social Committee. It says that it has commissioned a study to consider whether online collection processes can be simplified, and adds that it will continue to host organisers' online collection systems on its own servers, free of charge, for "as long as needed". The Commission expects to "engage in more in-depth discussions" with the Council and the European Parliament, but proposes no changes to the 2011 Regulation.

The Minister's Explanatory Memorandum of 24 June 2015

9.29 In a brief Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister says that the Commission report has no legal, financial or policy implications for the UK "because it does not propose implementing any reforms to remedy the issues it cites, not does it ask for input/feedback from Member States". He continues:

    "It is the UK Government's policy to engage openly and cooperatively with our EU partners to improve the Regulation. The UK Government supports the exploration of any measure to reform the Regulation that either makes it easier for citizens to engage with it or for competent authorities to administer it. Each proposal for reform will be considered on its own merit."

Previous Committee Reports

None, but the following Reports setting out the Commission's response to the "Right2Water" and "One of us" Initiatives are relevant: Forty-seventh Report HC 83-xlii (2013-14), chapter 20 (30 April 2014) and Fifth Report HC 219-v (2014-15), chapter 9 (2 July 2014).

Annex 1: Table of proposed European Citizens' Initiatives
Title and subject matter
Current status
"Fraternité 2020 — Mobility, Progress, Europe" - EU citizenship and mobility May 2012 Closed November 2013, insufficient support
"EU Directive on Dairy Cow Welfare" - animal welfare May 2012 Withdrawn July 2012
"Let me vote" - EU citizenship and mobility May 2012 Withdrawn January 2013
"One of us" - right to life May 2012Closed. One million threshold met. Commission proposed no further action.
"Water and sanitation are a human right! Water is a public good, not a commodity!" May 2012 Closed. One million threshold met. Commission agreed to take further follow-up action.
"Single Communication Tariff Act" May 2012Withdrawn December 2012
"Stop vivisection" - animal experiments June 2012 Closed. One million threshold met. Commission response published on 15 June — some limited follow-up action proposed.
"High Quality European Education for All" July 2012 Closed November 2013, insufficient support.
"Pour une gestion responsable des déchets, contre les incinérateurs" - waste management July 2012 Closed November 2013, insufficient support
"Provision of a central public online collection platform for European Citizens' Initiatives August 2012 Closed November 2013, insufficient support
"Suspension of the EU Climate and Energy Package" - climate change August 2012 Closed November 2013, insufficient support
"European Initiative for Media Pluralism" October 2012 Withdrawn August 2013
"End Ecocide in Europe: A Citizens' Initiative to give the Earth Rights" October 2012 Withdrawn January 2013
"Kündiging Personenfreizügigkeit Schweiz" - termination of the EU/Switzerland Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons November 2012 Withdrawn February 2013
"30km/h — making the streets liveable!" - road safety November 2012 Closed November 2013, insufficient support
"Single Communication Tariff Act" - mobile roaming charges December 2012 Closed December 2013, insufficient support

"Let me vote" - EU citizenship and mobility January 2013 Closed January 2015, insufficient support
"End Ecocide in Europe" - environmental protection January 2013 Closed January 2014, insufficient support

"Unconditional Basic Income — Exploring a pathway towards emancipatory welfare conditions in the EU" January 2013 Closed January 2014, insufficient support
"Teach for Youth — Upgrade to Erasmus 2.0" - education and mobility June 2013Withdrawn June 2014, insufficient support.
"ACT 4 Growth" - female entrepreneurship June 2013 Closed June 2014, not submitted to the Commission
"Do not count education spending as part of the deficit!" August 2013 Closed August 2014, insufficient support
"European Initiative for Media Pluralism" August 2013 Closed August 2014, not submitted to the Commission
"Weed like to talk" - legalisation of cannabis November 2013 Closed November 2014, not submitted to the Commission
"European Free Vaping Initiative" - electronic cigarettes November 2013 Closed November 2014, insufficient support
"Turn me Off!" - energy efficiency February 2014 Withdrawn April 2014
"New deal 4 Europe" — public investment and jobs March 2014Withdrawn January 2015
"MOVEUROPE" — European identity and mobility March 2014 Withdrawn June 2014
"An end to front companies in order to secure a fairer Europe" — transparency in company law October 2014Open for signature until October 2015
"For a socially fair Europe!" — poverty and social exclusion December 2014Open for signature until December 2015
"On the Wire" — privacy February 2015Open for signature until February 2016

Annex 2: List of proposed European Citizens' Initiatives which have been refused registration

·  The European anthem ("Recommend singing the European Anthem in Esperanto", 2012);

·  Guarantees of European citizenship following the secession of a part or region of an existing EU Member State ("Fortalecimiento de la participación ciudadana en la toma de decisiones sobre la soberanía colectiva", 2012);

·  Unconditional basic income (2012);

·  Nuclear power ("My voice against nuclear power", 2012);

·  Creation of a European investment bank ("Création d'une Banque publique européenne axée sur le développement social, écologique et solidaire", 2012)

·  Debt and the financial crisis ("One million signatures for 'A Europe of Solidarity'", 2012);

·  Protection of children and of animals ("Abolición en Europa de la tauromaquia y la utilización de toros en fiestas de crueldad y tortura por diversión", 2012); ("Our concern for insufficient help to pet and stray animals in the European Union", 2013), ("Stop cruelty for animals", 2013) and ("Ethics for animals and kids", 2014);

·  EU institutions ("To hold an immediate EU referendum on public confidence in the competence of European Government", 2013); ("A new EU legal norm, self-abolition of the European Parliament", 2014); and ("The supreme legislative and executive power in the EU must be the EU referendum as an expression of direct democracy", 2014);

·  Lifelong social care ("Right to lifelong care: Leading a life of dignity and independence is a fundamental right", 2013);

·  Cultural and linguistic diversity in Europe ("Minority SafePack — one million signatures for diversity in Europe", 2013);

·  Regional policy ("Cohesion policy for the equality of the regions and sustainability of regional cultures", 2013);

·  Prostitution ("Ensemble pour une Europe sans prostitution legalisée", 2013);

·  Self-determination ("Enforcing self-determination as a human right in the EU", 2013);

·  The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ("Stop TTIP", 2014);

·  Action against poverty ("Vite l'Europe sociale! Pour un nouveau critère européen contre la pauvreté", 2014).

104   See p.15 of the Commission report.  Back

105   Commission reply refusing registration. Back

106   See the Ombudsman's Decision, para 33. Back

107   See the Commission website. Back

108   Guide to the European Citizens' Initiative. Back

109   The requirement for a minimum number of signatories per Member State is intended to ensure that a European Citizens' Initiative is genuinely representative.  Back

110   See p.2 of the Commission report.  Back

111   The values set out in Article 2 TEU are "respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail".  Back

112   See p.10 of the Commission report.  Back

113   The details of the Commission's response are set in a Communication.  Back

114   See the Commission Communication.  Back

115   See the Commission Communication on the ECI "Stop vivisection".  Back

116   ?140,000 for "Right2Water", ?159,219 for "One of us" and ?23,651 for "Stop vivisection".  Back

117   See p.2 of the Commission report.  Back

118   See p.15 of the Commission report.  Back

119   EP study. Back

120   Ombudsman inquiry.  Back

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