December 3, 2010
On 30 November, the AFCO Committee voted on the regulation for the Citizens’ Initiative. Following the recommendations issued by the AFCO rapporteurs on the Citizens’ Initiative (MEPs Alain Lamassoure from EPP and Zita Gurmai from S & D), as well as the opinion by MEPs Gerald Häfner (Greens) and Diana Wallis (ALDE), rapporteurs for the PETI Committee, the Commission’s draft regulation was simplified. Notably, the major improvements were:
·The admissibility check of an initiative after 300,000 signatures was discarded in favour of an earlier admissibility check;
·A Citizens’ Committee of at least seven citizens from different Member States will be a requirement for registering an initiative;
·The minimum amount of countries from which signatures should come from was lowered to 7 instead of 9;
·A hearing with the European Parliament and the Commission will be organized for the initiators of successful initiatives.
The new specifications represent a great improvement from the first proposal from the European Commission, and surely testify the European Parliament’s commitment to closing a fair deal in the name of their citizens, who will soon be able to use the first-ever tool for Europe-wide participatory democracy.
On the negative side, other serious questions remain open to debate. In particular, the requirement of ID or passport numbers in some Member States (for whose abolition ECAS has been lobbying) remains in the hands of the Member States. Likewise, the timeframe for collecting the signatures has not been extended to 18 or 24 months, as the rapporteurs and CSOs wanted. Even among the amendments that did pass, suspicion can arise from the odd arrangement between the Commission and the Parliament for a public hearing that is with the European Parliament but with the required presence of the Commission – is it an attempt of the Commission to skip its responsibility while technically saving appearances?
However, ECAS is glad that there will be a hearing between the citizens and the EU having been among the first organization to promote this idea.
From ECAS perspective as a CSO that has been deeply engaged in the Citizens’ Initiative from the very beginning, it is hard to determine whether we can claim that yesterday’s vote was a victory for the future of citizens’ participation in Europe –or to what extent it is indeed a victory. When is a glass half full or half empty? One can greet the news coming from the European Parliament with great enthusiasm at first, but on second thought these are reasons for doubt.
What clearly emerges from the AFCO communication is that the Council and Commission still retain authority over the decisive points of the regulation, and that even if an important battle has been won yesterday, CSOs and the Parliament will need to fight for the best Citizens’ Initiative that can be achieved.
Last-minute negotiations are taking place between the Commission, the Council and the Parliament. On its side, ECAS will continue lobbying for a citizen-friendly initiative. We will keep advising the European Parliament to take its time instead of rushing into an agreement that can be disadvantageous for the European citizens. Furthermore, we support the petition launched by AVAAZ and ECI Campaign for a further simplification of the initiative which has managed to collect more than 175,000 signatures in less than one week (100,000 of which in less than 36 hours), demonstrating the widespread interest in building the European public sphere.
The Parliament is scheduled to vote on the Citizens’ Initiative in the plenary session of 15 December.
Elisabeth Lasky – ECASAuthor : ecas