Legally and politically important
Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Committee on Exiting the European Union
Proposed Regulation on the European citizens’ initiative
Article 24 TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV
(39040), 12307/17 + ADDs 1–2, COM(17) 482
2.1The aim of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is to give EU citizens a direct say in shaping the laws that govern them. Introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, the ECI empowers EU citizens of voting age and acting together—there must be at least one million drawn from no fewer than seven Member States—to invite the Commission to use its right of initiative in any policy areas where it has powers to act under the EU Treaties. The Commission may propose new laws or other non-binding policy measures. The procedures and conditions for implementing the ECI are set out in a 2011 Regulation which took effect in April 2012. Since then, around eight million statements of support have been collected for various causes but only three of the 47 ECIs that have been registered have reached the final stage of the procedure where they are formally examined by the Commission to determine whether and how to act.
2.2Following a process of review and consultation, the Commission has concluded that the ECI has not met its full potential. It is not well-known amongst the public, around a third of initiatives do not meet the criteria for registration—the first step towards collecting statements of support—and the procedures are complex and burdensome for organisers. Without changes, the Commission considers that the ECI could eventually become obsolete. It is therefore proposing a new Regulation to replace the 2011 Regulation, remove “bottlenecks” in the operation of the ECI and clarify the rules and conditions governing its use. The Commission’s aim is to foster debate and participation in the democratic life of the EU by making the ECI more accessible for EU citizens and easier to use for organisers of ECIs and their supporters. Young people aged 16 and above would be entitled to support an ECI, even if they have not reached voting age in their home Member State. The proposed Regulation is expected to take effect in January 2020, although some preparatory provisions will be implemented earlier.
2.3The Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office (Chris Skidmore) considers that the changes proposed by the Commission are “likely to improve the operation of the ECI in practice” and make it easier for EU citizens to “participate in EU democratic processes”. Lowering the age at which EU citizens are able to support an ECI to 16 “is not a priority issue for the Government” as it will not affect the franchise for elections in the UK. The Government intends to “engage openly and cooperatively with our EU partners” on the Commission’s proposed changes “while it [the UK] is obliged to do so as a Member State”. In the longer term, he indicates that the Government will “consider all our obligations and take decisions in relation to the timing and implementation of these proposals as required during the exit negotiations period”, adding that relevant factors include:
“[…] whether any changes to the current domestic implementation of the ECI are required, also in line with the implementation process and process for exiting the European Union.”
2.4The Minister raises no concerns about the substance of the changes proposed by the Commission. He makes clear that while the UK remains a full member of the European Union, the Government will “continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation”. We ask the Minister how rapidly he expects negotiations to progress and whether the proposed Regulation is likely to be agreed before the UK leaves the EU.
2.5We would welcome further analysis of the “timing and implementation” issues alluded to by the Minister. We note that the proposed Regulation envisages the staggered implementation of its provisions. Some will take effect shortly after the proposal has been formally adopted by the Council and European Parliament; most—including the repeal of the 2011 Regulation—will only take effect from 1 January 2020, after the date on which the UK expects to leave the EU. Depending on the pace of negotiations, it is possible that both the 2011 Regulation and its successor Regulation will apply to and bind the UK on Brexit day. Under the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, directly applicable EU Regulations which are “operative immediately before exit day” will form part of domestic UK law “on and after exit day”. It seems clear that the 2011 Regulation will therefore form part of domestic law “on and after exit day”. We ask the Minister whether the proposed successor Regulation (if adopted before exit day) would also be regarded as “operative” for the purposes of the Bill and form part of the body of retained EU law which would apply in the UK post-Brexit, even though it contains provisions which may only take effect after exit day.
2.6The European Citizens’ Initiative is only available to EU citizens—that is, the nationals of EU Member States. We ask the Minister:
2.7We also ask the Minister to explain how Brexit would affect the involvement of UK nationals in ECIs (either as organisers or as signatories) which were initiated before Brexit day. Does the Government intend to seek transitional arrangements to ensure that their participation would count towards meeting the requirements for registering an ECI and securing sufficient statements of support for formal examination by the Commission?
2.8Pending further information, the proposed Regulation remains under scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Committee on Exiting the European Union.
2.9Many of the rules and procedures contained in the 2011 Regulation would remain unchanged. So, for example, the organisers of an ECI must be of voting age and resident in at least seven different Member States to ensure that the ECI is representative of opinion across the EU. The ECI must not be “manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious” or “manifestly contrary” to EU values, and it must cover areas in which the Commission is empowered to act under the EU Treaties. To reach the stage of formal examination by the Commission, the ECI must attract the support of at least one million EU citizens and achieve a minimum number of signatories in at least a quarter of all Member States—the qualifying threshold for signatories in the UK is currently 54,000 (this would increase to 54,750 under the proposed Regulation).
2.10Following extensive consultation with stakeholders, the Commission identifies a need for changes in the following areas:
2.11The proposed Regulation would reduce the burden on organisers of an ECI by:
2.12The Commission-run, central online collection system would be optional—organisers of an ECI would be free to set up their own individual online collection systems but these must comply with common technical security features and (as now) be certified by the Member State(s) in which the data are held once the proposed ECI has been registered.
2.13The Commission recognises stakeholders’ concern that a significant (but declining) proportion of proposed ECIs do not meet the criteria for registration or fail to achieve sufficient statements of support (at least one million within a year of the ECI being registered). To meet this concern, the proposed Regulation would:
2.14At the end of the process, the organisers of ECIs which have secured sufficient statements of support are entitled to a public hearing held in the European Parliament. The proposed Regulation seeks to ensure that there is “a balanced representation of relevant public and private interests” to counteract concerns that the hearing provides a platform for the organisers rather than promoting “dialogue and participation and exchange of views” amongst interested stakeholders. The proposal also extends (from three to five months) the time available to the Commission to publish its “legal and political conclusions” on the ECI and “the action it intends to take, if any, and its reasons for taking or not taking action”.
2.15The proposed Regulation includes stronger provisions on transparency—information on the sources of support and donations exceeding €500 (£459) per sponsor must be published in the register of ECIs and regularly updated—and on the protection of personal data to ensure that the collection of statements of support complies with updated EU data protection laws.
2.16The Minister sets out the Government’s approach to EU legislative proposals following the outcome of the referendum on UK membership of the EU:
“On 23 June 2016, the EU referendum took place and the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The Government respected the result and triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union on 29th March 2017 to begin the process of exit. Until exit negotiations are concluded, the UK remains a full member of the European Union and all the rights and obligations of EU membership remain in force. During this period the Government will also continue to negotiate, implement and apply EU legislation.”
2.17He notes that the changes proposed to the operation of the ECI are “consistent with other Commission initiatives, reflecting the political guidelines of the Juncker Commission, aiming at enhancing citizens’ involvement and participation in EU policy-making”. On the substance of the changes proposed, the Minister observes:
“The UK Government shares the Commission’s priority of increasing the democratic legitimacy in the EU through enhanced citizens’ involvement and participation (Priority no 10—A Union of Democratic Change). It also supports proposals that are intended to make it easier for EU citizens to participate in EU democratic processes and for competent authorities to administer the ECI. We believe that the Commission’s proposal is likely to improve the operation of the ECI in practice. The proposal may also ease requirements on Member States, notably through the creation of a Commission-run data collection system.
“The lowering of the age at which someone may sign an initiative—from 18 to 16—is not a priority issue for the Government. This is because this proposal will in no way affect the rights of citizens to vote in elections in line with existing law on the franchise.
“The Regulation places a small number of obligations on Member States, notably the requirement to certify statements of support for initiatives. In the UK, this is not an onerous process. The Cabinet Office has recently streamlined its processes for certification and the requirement to do this in three months of receipt of statements of support is acceptable. (This requirement is unchanged from the existing Regulation).”
2.18Turning to the conduct of negotiations, the Minister comments:
“The UK Government will continue to engage openly and cooperatively with our EU partners on the proposed reforms to the EU Regulation on the ECI whilst it is obliged to do so as a Member State.
“Importantly, the UK Government will consider all our obligations and take decisions in relation to the timing and implementation of these proposals as required during the exit negotiations period. These include consideration of whether any changes to the current domestic implementation of the ECI are required, also in line with the implementation process and process for exiting the European Union.”
2.19He estimates the cost of implementing the proposed ECI Regulation domestically as “essentially zero”.
2 See on the citizens’ initiative.
3 The Commission has taken follow-up action on two of the successful ECIs—“Right to Water” and “Stop vivisection”. See the Commission Staff Working Document (ADD 2) for further details.
4 See p.8 of the Commission Staff Working Document—ADD 2.
5 See p.3 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Regulation.
6 See clause (1) of the .
7 The threshold for signatories corresponds to the number of MEPs elected in each Member State, multiplied by 750 (roughly approximating to the total number of MEPs—751—in the European Parliament).
8 See Article 14 of the proposed Regulation and p.40 of the Commission’s Staff Working Document (ADD 2).
9 See Article 15 of the proposed Regulation.
10 €1 = £0.91973 or £1 = €1.08728 as at 1 September 2017.
11 The General Data Protection Regulation will take effect in May 2018, ahead of the proposed changes to the ECI process—most are expected to take effect in January 2020.
11 December 2017