dr. Agne Limante
Post-Graduate Diploma candidate in EU Law, King’s College London; PhD in EU law, Vilnius University
On 1 April 2012 the Regulation on the European Citizens’ Initiative[i] came into force. It establishes the procedures and conditions required for a citizens’ initiative – the new tool created by the Lisbon Treaty granting EU citizens the right to ask for changes to European law (Article 11 TEU[ii] and Article 24 TFEU[iii])[iv].
Considering that that date chosen for coming into force coincided with April Fool’s day, euractive.com was fast to make a joke announcing that Belgians should submit a Citizens’ Initiative to make ‘frites’ their own, seeking to register them as a traditional specialty protected under EU law. Well, it was quite a fun and user-friendly way to introduce a tool enabling the people to influence the political agenda of the EU for the first time in history.
The European citizens’ initiative grants a right to one million EU citizens from at least seven EU countries[v] to call on the European Commission to propose legislation on matters where the EU has competence to legislate. Proposed initiatives must be registered by the organizing “citizens’ committee” on an online register and Commission has two months to approve them (the registration can be refused if the initiative is manifestly against the fundamental values of the EU or manifestly outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to propose the requested legal act). After such registration, the “citizens’ committee” can start collecting signatures – they have one year after the Commission has confirmed the registration of the proposal to do so. Any EU citizen can sign an initiative (so long as they are old enough to vote in European Parliament elections) and must complete a specific statement of support either online or on paper.
Once the signatures have been collected and verified by the Member States (they have three months to do that), the citizens’ initiative has to be submitted to the Commission. The Commission will have three months to examine it. The organisers will be received at the Commission and will have the opportunity to present their initiative at a public hearing of the European Parliament. The Commission would then adopt a formal response and, in case of a positive decision to put forward a legislative proposal in response to the citizens’ initiative, the standard legislative procedure would start. The Commission proposal would be submitted to the European Parliament and the Council (in some cases only the Council), which will need to adopt it for it to become law.
It is interesting to note that in 2011 the UK government introduced e-petitions, a similar tool for UK citizens – here 100,000 signatures are needed for a question to be addressed in the House of Commons. It seems that such initiatives are becoming a new trend in government – citizens relations and a new way to increase contact between them.
[i] Regulation (EU) No. 211/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council 16 February 2011 on the citizens’ initiative.
[ii] Treaty of the European Union 1993
[iii] Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union 1958
[v] The minimum number of signatures that must be collected in each country range from 74,250 in Germany to 4500 in several small Member States. The figure is calculated by multiplying the number of MEPs in that country by a factor of 750.