“The European Citizens’ Initiative is a great opportunity for introducing more direct democracy in the EU. 16 initiatives are open for signature at this very moment, making it a very active time for democratic participation in the EU,” says Daniela Vancic, European Program Manager at Democracy International responsible for the European Citizens’ Initiative.
The high number of current open initiatives demonstrates that a decade after the instrument has been introduced, there is a boom of citizens who want to have a say on EU decision making. Environmental issues and animal rights are particularly popular topics on which citizens launch initiatives, but there are also a number of initiatives as a response to current crises such as No Profit Pandemic ECI (Right to Cure).
The first revision process of the regulation on the ECI began in 2017, with the updated rules entering into effect in 2020. The new regulation introduced more flexibility in launching an ECI, such as the ability of organizer’s to choose their own campaign start date. Member States also have the possibility to lower the age of signing an initiative to 16, which is the case already for several Member States, such as Austria, Estonia, and Malta who have a lower voting age for European Parliament elections.
Democracy International and its partner organizations such as Mehr Demokratie call for lowering the age to sign an ECI across all Member States in order to foster the youth participation dimension of the EU and allow youth to have a voice on EU issues.
"We demand that the support age be lowered to 16. Young people in particular will have to live with the consequences of EU policies for a long time to come and have a right to help influence them,” says Ralf-Uwe Beck, spokesperson of Mehr Demokratie.
The ECI sets the scene for how democracy in Europe should be developed. With the ECI being the only citizens’ instrument that warrants a direct response from the European Commission, the ECI is the starting point for introducing more direct democracy in the EU.
“Ten years after the instrument’s launch and among the deep discussions about the future of Europe, now is the time to take stock of the potential of the European Citizens’ Initiative further development. The instrument should become a real right of citizens’ initiative and be an entry point to introducing EU-wide referendums,” says Vancic.
Democracy International calls for a European Convention to amend the European treaties and introduce bottom-up direct democracy in the European Union, which is currently not foreseen. Given the approaching end to the yearlong Conference on the Future of Europe, the anniversary of the ECI offers the unique opportunity to review and reform democracy in the EU.
An European citizens’ initiative can be used to put an issue on the EU Commission’s agenda. To launch an ECI, seven people from seven different Member States must submit an initiative proposal with falls in line with EU values and competences. Within one year, one million signatures, online or on paper, must be collected from at least seven different Member States, with a fixed minimum quota per country. If the initiative succeeds, a hearing and debate, with possibility of a plenary vote, in the EU Parliament follows, and the initiators are invited for a meeting with the EU Commission to make their case. Within six months of submission of verified signatures, the Commission must provide a written reply to the initiative, deciding whether to adopt the proposal or not, with justification of its decision. The collection of signatures is to be centralized from 2023 with a free-of-cost collection system provided by the EU Commission. The European Citizens’ Initiative Forum has been introduced to provide initiatives with an online support center for organizations including learning materials, webinars, and offering tailor-made, fundraising, campaigning, and legal advice.
Website of the European Citizens’ Initiative
Website of the European Citizens’ Initiative Forum
More from Mehr Demokratie on the ECI
More from Democracy International on the ECI
Facts about the European Citizens’ Initiative
- The first registered ECI was the student-initiated "Fraternité 2020" in 2012, which aimed to expand European exchange programs such as Erasmus.
- The first successful ECI "Right2Water" of 2013 was taken up by the European Commisison with the EU Water Directive, but only six years later.
- The ECI that gathered one million signatures the fastest, in nearly half of the allotted time, was "Ban Glyphosate".
- On average, a successful ECI has a budget of around 215,000 euros.
- The successful ECI "Save the Bees" led, among other things, to a meeting with Pope Francis to talk about biodiversity.
- Even unsuccessful ECIs can influence EU legislation. The twice registered ECI "Single Communication Tariff Act" paved the way for the fact that since 2017, no more data roaming charges exist within the EU.