15 The European Citizens' Initiative
|Committee's decision||Cleared from scrutiny
|Document details||Commission Report on the application of Regulation (EU) No. 211/2011 on the citizens' initiative
|Legal base|| |
|Document Numbers||(36780), 7737/15, COM(15) 145
Summary and Committee's conclusions
15.1 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.
15.2 The report published by the Commission provides
its first assessment of the application of the 2011 Regulation
since becoming fully operational. It 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" and proposes no further changes to the
2011 Regulation.[ 97]
15.3 The Explanatory Memorandum provided by the Minister
for Constitutional Reform (John Penrose) was disappointingly brief,
noting only that the Government was open to exploring measures
to reform the 2011 Regulation but offering no view 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. Our First Report, agreed on 21 July, invited
the Minister to clarify the Government's position on the challenges
identified in the Commission report, as well as possible solutions
to improve the operation of European Citizens' Initiatives, and
requested an assessment of the contribution that such Initiatives
have made to strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU.
15.4 We are grateful for the Minister's response
which addresses the questions we raised in our First Report. We
note the Minister's reluctance, at this stage, to comment on the
contribution that European Citizens' Initiatives have made towards
strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU, but welcome
his openness to considering reform proposals to improve their
operation. We are content to clear the Commission report from
scrutiny, but ask the Minister to inform us promptly of any specific
reform measures the Government wishes to put forward, as well
as any practical or legislative changes which are proposed by
details of the document:
Commission Report on
the application of Regulation (EU) No. 211/2011 on the citizens'
initiative: (36780), 7737/15, COM(15) 145.
15.5 Our First Report, agreed on 21 July, explains
the process for launching European Citizens' Initiatives, lists
those which have been successfully registered by the Commission
and those it has rejected since the Regulation took effect in
April 2012, and summarises the main findings of the Commission
15.6 We concluded that there were evident problems
with the operation of the European Citizens' Initiative. We noted
that a significant proportion of proposed Initiatives were 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.
Of the 31 European Citizens' Initiatives registered since April
2012, only three had obtained more than one million signatures
and met all the requirements of the 2011 Regulation. Since the
launch of European Citizens' Initiatives, there had been a marked
decline in the number registered with the Commission each year,
suggesting that citizens appeared to be losing faith in their
power to influence and inform EU decision making.
15.7 The Commission report highlighted "challenges"
with the operation of European Citizens' Initiatives and alluded
to findings and recommendations made in a detailed study commissioned
by the European Parliament, as well as guidelines proposed by
the European Ombudsman following an own-initiative inquiry. We
asked the Minister for the Government's view on the following
recommendations which identify a need to:
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;
robust, consistent and comprehensible reasons for refusing to
register a proposed European Citizens' Initiative we drew
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
free translation services for the organisers of European Citizens'
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;
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
full transparency of funding for European Citizens' Initiatives.
15.8 We also asked the Minister whether he
agreed 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".[ 99]
15.9 We invited the Minister to comment on the contribution
made by European Citizens' Initiatives to strengthening the democratic
legitimacy of the EU. We asked what conclusions he drew 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,
we also asked whether the Government would 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.
15.10 Finally, given the possibility that some UK
nationals resident in another Member State may be unable to participate
in a European Citizens' Initiative, we asked whether the Government
would consider including this category within its own procedures
for verification of statements of support.
The Minister's letter of 23 September 2015
15.11 The Minister describes the contribution made
by UK officials to the Commission's review of European Citizens'
Initiatives ("ECIs"), through their participation in
review meetings in Brussels involving the Commission and other
Member States. He continues:
"Member States and other EU institutions
are also reviewing the Regulation and the outcome of the review
currently being undertaken by the European Parliament, which is
on ECI policy rather [than] its implementation, may have an impact
on some of the areas you raise [
]. The Cabinet Office and
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are contributing to this process.
Once it is more advanced we expect the European Parliament's
own report to be adopted in October/November we will be
in a better position to consider wider proposals."
15.12 The Minister considers that European Citizens'
Initiatives are "a (small) step in the right direction"
towards making European institutions "which often seem remote
or unresponsive, more accountable to British citizens". He
recognises that lobby groups have made greatest use of European
Citizens' Initiatives but adds:
"That isn't, of itself, automatically a
bad thing; there is a role for civil society and pressure groups
to engage in this way and it is right that they are able to do
so. But they shouldn't be the only ones to use the ECI, and other
groups of concerned citizens should have access too."
15.13 The Minister describes some of the "inherent
limitations" which may explain the difficulties encountered
in making effective use of European Citizens' Initiatives:
"For example, we do not have a pan-European
demos and it may be that strongly held views in one Member State
may not exist in another. And while new technologies can make
it easier to bring together people with the same views across
the entire continent, we cannot ignore the practical, demographic,
cultural and other differences between Member States. The range
of issues which will gain pan-European support may end up being
limited. We will monitor how the current and future ECIs progress."
15.14 The Minister explains that the UK is continuing
to engage with EU partners to promote reform and improve the operation
of European Citizens' Initiatives, particularly on practical issues:
"These include working out how British citizens
resident abroad can take part in an ECI; and how to create a user
friendly digital 'hub' to support potential ECIs. We are continuing
to consider how the verification process could be simpler and
more efficient yet remain cost effective. And, more fundamentally,
we are concerned that the Commission's progress with the ECIs
that have reached the one million threshold seems rather slow.
"Ultimately, many of these improvements
] will need to come from the Commission and, until they
are resolved, citizens of Member States may feel that the ECI
is not an effective way to achieve change. The absence of an effective
tool only reinforces the importance of national Governments lobbying
and negotiating for changes at EU level."
15.15 The Minister draws a parallel (and contrast)
with the House of Commons Petitions Select Committee which scrutinises
and champions issues of importance to the public, adding:
"It means that unlike with an ECI
British citizens are able to initiate a petition on any
issue which the Houses of Parliament and Government are responsible
for, including relations with the European Union and its internal
workings. I applaud this as an effective, practical way to support
greater democratic engagement."
15.16 The Minister expresses the Government's support,
in principle, for the majority of recommendations made in the
report commissioned by the European Parliament on European Citizens'
Initiatives, but identifies areas in which further information
or clarification will be needed:
"For example, in relation to translation
services we would want to know whether there is a demand. We
expect the Commission would want to consider the cost implications
and weigh up the costs and benefits before making a financial
commitment. And [
] we are exploring with the Commission
options for UK nationals resident in other Member States to sign
"The Government considers it inevitable
that any initiative may come with costs and additional processes.
However, care should be taken to seek value for money and ensure
processes are proportionate and not bureaucratic."
15.17 The Minister notes the year-on-year reduction
in the number of ECIs since their launch in 2012, as well as the
number of legal proceedings brought so far (six to date) to challenge
the Commission's refusal to register proposed ECIs, but says it
is not yet clear what conclusions can be drawn about the impact
of ECIs in strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU.
15.18 Finally, responding to our question about the
complexity of the legal reasons given by the Commission to reject
a proposed European Citizens' Initiative entitled "STOP TTIP",
and the need to clarify whether an ECI can be used to stop or
prevent the Commission exercising its powers under the EU Treaties,
the Minister comments:
"It may be possible for the Regulation to
make clear that EU citizens may ask the Commission not to act,
or to prevent it doing something within its existing powers. However,
the Government would want to work in partnership with other Member
States to test the appetite for this reform."
Previous Committee Reports
First Report HC 342-i (2015-16), chapter 9 (21 July
97 See p.15 of the Commission report. Back
98 Commission reply refusing registration. Back
99 See the Ombudsman's Decision, para 33. Back