Documents considered by the Committee on 10 October 2018 Contents

9The European Citizens’ Initiative

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Committee on Exiting the European Union

Document details

Proposal for a 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

9.1The 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 European 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 54,000.56

9.2Following 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.57 It has proposed a new Regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative which seeks to remove “bottlenecks” in the operation of the ECI and clarify the rules and conditions governing its use.58 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, during the post-exit transition/implementation period envisaged in the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement when most EU law will continue to apply to the UK, with some preparatory provisions taking effect earlier.

9.3The Government largely supports the changes proposed by the Commission and 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.59

9.4Whilst we, too, have no concerns with the substance of the proposed Regulation, we have pressed the Government to clarify how it (and the earlier 2011 Regulation) would be dealt with under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, as well as how the UK’s exit from the EU would affect the participation of UK citizens (either as organisers or signatories) in ECIs initiated before exit day.

9.5In April, the Minister for the Constitution (Chloe Smith) told us that:

9.6In our Report agreed on 9 May, we noted that the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement appeared to contradict the Minister’s view that the 2011 Regulation on European Citizens’ Initiatives and its proposed successor would apply to the UK during the transition/implementation period (for reasons we explain in the background section of this chapter).61 We asked the Minister to explain this apparent contradiction.

9.7In her response of 6 June, the Minister told us that the relevant provisions of the draft Withdrawal Agreement (Articles 121 and 122) meant that “the 2011 Regulation […] and any successor agreed before the UK leaves the EU or during the implementation period [would] not apply to UK nationals during the implementation period”, but the UK would “continue to implement and recognise” this legislation “insofar as it applies to the rights of EU nationals in the UK”. Officials at the Cabinet Office subsequently informed us that the Council was expected to agree a general approach on the proposed Regulation before the end of the Bulgarian Presidency in June.

9.8In our Report agreed on 27 June 2018, we asked the Minister to report back to us on the outcome of the Council meeting, highlighting any significant changes to the Commission’s original proposal and explaining the position taken by the Government. We also requested details of the European Parliament’s position and the prospects for reaching agreement on a compromise text before the UK leaves the EU.

9.9We reiterated our concern that the status in domestic law of the 2011 Regulation and its proposed successor post-exit remained unclear, adding that the distinction which the Minister drew between the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals during a post-exit transition/implementation period did not appear to be supported by Article 122 of the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement which states simply that EU measures based on Article 24(1) TFEU “shall not be applicable to and in the United Kingdom during the transition period”. We asked her to reconcile her position on the “staggered applicability” of the proposed Regulation with the current wording of the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement. We also asked whether the Agreement would need to include specific provisions on transitional arrangements for European Citizens’ Initiatives.

9.10In her letter of 3 September 2018, the Minister confirms that the Council agreed a general approach in June and that the UK abstained as the proposed Regulation remains under scrutiny. The Council has reinstated the existing requirement for EU citizens to be of normal voting age (18 years in all Member States except Austria where it is 16) to support a European Citizens’ Initiative. By contrast, the European Parliament favours the lowering of the age threshold to 16. It also supports the Commission’s proposal (rejected by the Council) to allow the organisers of a European Citizens’ Initiative to set up their own individual online collection system rather than use a central online collection system operated by the Commission and calls for contact points established in each Member State to take on a more proactive role in promoting European Citizens’ Initiatives.

9.11The Minister says it is unclear whether the Council and European Parliament will conclude trilogue negotiations on the proposed Regulation before the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019. She notes that “previous correspondence has become unnecessarily complicated, giving rise to confusion about the applicability of the ECI during the implementation period following the UK’s withdrawal from the UK”. She continues:

“In fact, the position is very clear: under the terms of the draft Withdrawal Agreement published in March this year, the ECI will cease to apply from the date of withdrawal. As you know, Article 122(1)(b) of the Withdrawal Agreement refers to Article 11(4) TEU as not applying to and in the United Kingdom during the implementation period. Article 11(4) TEU is the provision which enables citizens of the EU to take the initiative and submit proposals to the European Commission. Under Article 11(4), such an initiative may only be submitted if it is supported by a minimum of one million EU citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States. The effect of Article 122(1)(b) is therefore that the ECI Regulation, including any successor Regulation agreed through ongoing negotiations, will not apply to UK citizens, or to EU citizens in the UK, during the implementation period. In addition, the United Kingdom would not be counted as a Member State for the purposes of meeting the threshold of ‘a significant number of Member States’.”

9.12The Minister draws our attention to a Technical Notice published in April 2018 in which the Commission sets out its view on the impact of Brexit on the implementation of the European Citizens’ Initiative in the UK. In brief, following the UK’s exit from the EU on 29 March 2019:

Our Conclusions

9.13As the Minister now confirms our understanding that the 2011 Regulation establishing the conditions and procedures for implementing the European Citizens’ Initiative, and any successor Regulation, will not apply “to and in the UK” during a post-exit transition/implementation period under the terms of the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement, we are content to clear the proposal from scrutiny.62 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

9.14Our earlier Reports listed at the end this chapter provide a more detailed overview of the proposed Regulation and the Government’s position.

9.15Under Articles 121 and 122 of the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement, EU law will continue to apply during a transition/implementation period ending on 31 December 2020, subject to a number of exceptions. One of these exceptions concerns EU measures based on Article 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).63 The 2011 Regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative and its proposed successor are both based on Article 24 TFEU. This Treaty Article authorises the EU Council and European Parliament to establish the procedures and conditions for citizens’ initiatives. Article 122(1) of the draft Withdrawal Agreement provides that measures based on Article 24(1) TFEU “shall not be applicable to and in the United Kingdom during the transition period”.

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-third Report HC 301–xxxii (2017–19), chapter 1 (27 June 2018), Twenty-seventh Report HC 301–xxvi (2017–19), chapter 3 (9 May 2018) and Fourth Report HC 301–iv (2017–19), chapter 2 (6 December 2017).


56 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.

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

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

59 See the Explanatory Memorandum of 14 November 2017 submitted by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Cabinet Office (Chris Skidmore).

60 See the Minister’s letter of 25 April to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee.

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

62 See Articles 121 and 122 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement. These provisions are in green, meaning that they have been provisionally agreed by EU and UK negotiators.

63 Strictly-speaking, Article 122(1)(b) of the draft Withdrawal Agreement refers to the first paragraph of Article 24 TFEU.




Published: 16 October 2018