Documents considered by the Committee on 9 May 2018 Contents

3The European Citizens’ Initiative

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Committee on Exiting the European Union

Document details

Proposed Regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative

Legal base

Article 24 TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV

Department

Cabinet Office

Document Number

(39040), 12307/17 + ADDs 1–2, COM(17) 482

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

3.1The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. It is intended to give EU citizens a direct say in shaping the laws that govern them by inviting the Commission to propose new measures in areas where it has powers to act under the EU Treaties. A 2011 Regulation sets out the procedures and conditions for implementing the ECI. These seek to ensure that an ECI is representative of opinion across the EU. 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 54,000.4

3.2Following a process of review and consultation, the Commission has concluded that the ECI has not met its full potential and, unless made more accessible for EU citizens and less burdensome for organisers, could eventually become obsolete.5 It has proposed a new Regulation to remove “bottlenecks” in the operation of the ECI and clarify the rules and conditions governing its use.6 Most of the changes are designed to streamline the ECI process. The most eye-catching is giving young people aged 16 the right to support an ECI, even if they have not reached voting age in their home Member State. The Regulation is expected to apply from 1 January 2020, although some preparatory provisions would take effect earlier.

3.3The Government largely supports the changes proposed by the Commission and intends to “engage openly and cooperatively with our EU partners” while still a member of the EU and “consider all our obligations and take decisions in relation to the timing and implementation of these proposals as required during the exit negotiations period”.7 The Government has made clear that extending the right to participate in an ECI to 16-year olds would not affect the franchise for elections in the UK.

3.4When we first considered the proposed Regulation last December, we sought further information on:

3.5In her response, the Minister for the Constitution (Chloe Smith) tells us that she expects the proposed Regulation to be adopted before the UK leaves the EU but that it is only likely to apply from 1 January 2020. She alludes to the draft Withdrawal Agreement which sets out the terms on which the UK will leave the EU and makes provision for a transition or implementation period ending on 31 December 2020. She says that the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill (“WAIB”) will give effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law and explains that “during the implementation period, the UK will continue to align with EU rules and regulations”, adding:

“This means that, should the Regulation come into force during this period, it will be applied in the UK by the WAIB.”

3.6The Minister confirms that UK nationals will “no longer be EU citizens from 30 March 2019” but says the Government will “continue to listen to proposals from the EU on associated citizenship for UK nationals—although, to date, this has not been formally proposed to the UK in negotiations”. She doubts whether it will be necessary to use the correcting powers in clause 7 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to make clear that UK nationals would no longer be entitled to take part in European Citizens’ Initiatives after Brexit as “the legislation in question only refers to EU citizens”.

3.7The Minister says that the Government will continue to engage with the ECI process “until such time as the UK is no longer an EU Member State”. As the draft Withdrawal Agreement “does not address the practicalities of separation from the ECI” during the transition/implementation period, further discussions will be needed within Government and with the European Commission to clarify “transitional arrangements regarding UK nationals’ participation in an ECI”.

3.8Since we first considered the proposed Regulation, EU and UK negotiators have provisionally agreed the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, including a transition or implementation period ending on 31 December 2020. Under the terms of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the 2011 Regulation on European Citizens’ Initiatives and any successor agreed before the UK leaves the EU or during the transition/implementation period will not apply to the UK.8 The Minister, however, tells us that the Regulations will apply in the UK during the implementation period “under general provisions in the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill”. We ask her to explain this apparent contradiction. We also ask her to explain:

3.9The Minister “confirms that UK nationals will no longer be EU citizens from 30 March 2019”. This does not reflect our understanding of the draft Withdrawal Agreement which provides that “Union law shall be applicable to and in the United Kingdom during the transition period” unless it is expressly stated not to apply and that any reference to Member States in EU law “shall be understood as including the United Kingdom”.9 We ask the Minister to clarify the status of UK nationals during the transition/implementation period and the extent to which they will be entitled to exercise rights associated with EU citizenship.

3.10The Minister says that the Government will “continue to listen to proposals from the EU on associated citizenship for UK nationals” although no formal proposals have been put forward as part of the exit negotiations. We would welcome further information on the concept of associated citizenship being mooted within the EU and the Government’s position on its feasibility.

3.11Pending further information, the proposed Regulation remains under scrutiny. We ask the Minister to provide a further update before a general approach, political agreement or negotiating mandate is agreed within the Council or COREPER. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Committee on Exiting the European Union.

Full details of the documents

Proposed Regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative: (39040), 12307/17 + ADDs 1–2, COM(17) 482.

Background

3.12Our earlier Report listed at the end this chapter provides a more detailed overview of the changes proposed by the Commission and the Government’s position.

The Minister’s letter of 25 April 2018

3.13The Minister apologises for the “considerable delay” in responding to our earlier Report agreed in early December.

Progress of negotiations

3.14She expects the Council and European Parliament to conclude negotiations on the proposed Regulation in 2018, before the UK leaves the EU, but adds that “it is likely to be applicable only from 1 January 2020 […] once we have ceased to be a Member State”.

Retained EU law under the EU (Withdrawal) Bill

3.15We noted in our earlier Report that the proposed Regulation envisages the staggered implementation of its provisions, with some taking effect shortly after formal adoption by the Council and European Parliament but most—including the repeal of the 2011 Regulation—only taking effect from 1 January 2020, after the date on which the UK expects to leave the EU. 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”.10 We asked whether the proposed Regulation (if adopted before exit day) would 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 some of its provisions would only take effect after exit day.

3.16The Minister alludes in her reply to “the implementation period” which forms part of the draft Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the EU and the UK and which will require the UK to “continue to align with EU rules and regulations” until the end of 2020. She continues:

“The Withdrawal Agreement & Implementation Bill (WAIB) will give effect to the Withdrawal Agreement in domestic law, including the implementation period. This means that, should the Regulation come into force during this period, it will be applied in the UK by the WAIB. This will happen under general provisions in WAIB that provide for the role of Union law in the UK during the implementation period.”

Status of UK nationals and participation in EU citizens’ initiatives

3.17We noted that the European Citizens’ Initiative is only available to EU citizens—that is, the nationals of EU Member States—and asked:

3.18The Minister confirms that “UK nationals will no longer be EU citizens from 30 March 2019” and adds:

“We will continue to listen to proposals from the EU on associated citizenship for UK nationals—although, to date, this has not been formally proposed to the UK in negotiations. EU treaty provisions make it clear that only citizens of EU Member States are able to hold EU citizenship. Therefore, when the UK ceases to be a member of the European Union, British nationals will no longer hold EU citizenship, unless they hold dual nationality with another EU Member State.”

3.19Given this, the Minister does not consider that it would be necessary to use the correcting powers contained in clause 7 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to make clear that UK nationals would no longer be entitled to take part in the European Citizens’ Initiatives, “as the legislation in question only refers to EU citizens”.

Involvement of UK nationals in ECIs initiated before exit day

3.20We asked the Government how Brexit would affect the involvement of UK nationals in ECIs (either as organisers or as signatories) which were initiated before Brexit day and whether it would 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.

3.21The Minister replies:

“Until such time as the UK is no longer an EU Member State we will continue to liaise with any petition organisers and validate any signatories by UK nationals for successful ECI petitions. The Withdrawal Agreement Implementation Period text does not address the practicalities of separation from the ECI. Cabinet Office will continue to work with Department for Exiting the European Union to consider the impact of Brexit on the operation of the ECI during the implementation period before discussing further with the Commission. This includes the transitional arrangements regarding UK nationals’ participation in an ECI.”

Previous Committee Reports

Fourth Report HC 301–iv (2017–19), chapter 2 (6 December 2017).


4 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). Under the changes proposed by the Commission, the minimum number of signatories in the UK would increase to 54,750.

5 See p.8 of the Commission Staff Working Document—ADD 2.

6 See p.3 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Regulation.

7 See the Explanatory Memorandum of14 November 2017 submitted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office (Chris Skidmore).

8 See Articles 121 and 122 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

9 See Article 122 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

10 See clause (1) of the Bill.




Published: 15 May 2018