After two long years of us reporting about the European Citizens’ Initiative’s (ECI) reform, we are happy to finally announce that the new regulation of the ECI has been approved! For the first time ever, the ECI will see concrete structural improvements and become a more user-friendly tool of participatory and direct democracy in Europe.
By Daniela Vancic.
Democracy International first called for the revision with the European Parliament five years ago and has actively campaigned for a strong ECI revision every step of the way. So, what is in the details of the new ECI? Which of our original demands made the cut and which were rejected?
User-friendliness and accessibility
The ease of use will see the most improvement in the new ECI. Upgrades include flexibility for organisers in choosing their own start date within a six-month window, so that organisers have more time to properly plan their campaign. Although our demand for an increase in the yearlong collection period was rejected, we gladly receive the effort to make the ECI more campaigner-friendly and flexible.
Signature collection forms will also be simplified and harmonised across Member States: where there previously were 13 different form versions, now there will only be two forms. It will be up to Member States to choose which of the two forms they require their citizens to use.
The possibility for organisers to partially register their ECI is also a welcome change. However, some caution is waranted, as the practice leaves room for abuse by the Commission. It should be made sure that feedback to campaigners is helpful and concrete so that they can move to a full registration quickly.
More assistance will also be available to campaigners in an effort to make the ECI more accessible. The ECI Forum, an online collaborative platform that was launched last year, offers expert advice for future and current campaigners. It also allows campaigners to search for partners and offers news and updates about the ECI more generally.
Another welcome effort to increasing youth participation in the ECI is the provision to allow Member States to set the minimum age for supporting an ECI at 16. However, it will be up to the Member State to decide whether to lower the age or not.
One setback is the banning of the individual Online Collection System, which acted as a campaigner-friendly alternative to the Commission’s centralised system. While Democracy International regrets to see the possibility of setting up an alternative system go, the Commission has promised to launch a new and free system in 2020. We recognise that this presents an opportunity to campaigners, digital experts, and the Commission to work together to come up with a great system. Democracy International and ECAS is hosting a workshop at ECI Day on April 2nd to kickstart the co-creation of an online collection system that is easy to use and campaigner-friendly.
The political impact of the tool remains the weakest point in the new regulation, and there is not much improvement at all from the original regulation. There will be no increased binding characteristic of the ECI, and the Commission in fact raised its own deadline to respond to successful ECIs to six months. This increased deadline does not necessarily have to mean a negative change if the Commission uses the extra time to seriously consider a legislative proposal to the successful ECI.
The legal scope of the ECI will also not see any expansion, and Democracy International continues to call for allowing ECIs on treaty change.
There needs to be more public awareness of the ECI so that there the tool is used more and, in turn, more public pressure to increase political will. Public awareness campaigns have already been underway since last year with the Commission’s Take The Initiative campaign. The ECI Forum also aims to raise awareness and build knowledge about the ECI.
One big success, although it is not in the regulation, is the increased role of the European Parliament for ECIs that reach one million signatures. Democracy International and The ECI Campaign successfully campaigned for the European Parliament to amend their Rules of Procedure to include plenary debates, and possibly a vote, on successful ECIs. Our #EPForgetUsNot campaign that lobbied for this, led to us and The ECI Campaign winning NGOs of the Year at the 2018 The Good Lobby awards.
From Democracy International’s original 11 demands found in our position paper of 2017, eight demands have seen either full or partial acceptance. We warmly welcome the efforts but have recognised the setbacks and challenges that still exist with the ECI, which have unfortunately not been identified in the new regulation. Overall, the new regulation of the ECI will be a step forward for participatory, direct and digital democracy in Europe, while still guaranteeing the potential to grow and improve. For this, active civil society’s role until the next review and revision period of the ECI and its working relationship with the EU institutions will remain vital.