On 10 December the European Citizen Action Service, together with the European Economic and Social Committe (EESC), organised a Conference at the EESC’ premises on the reform the Legal Framework for the European Citizens’s Initiative (ECI).
During the Conference the findings and recommendations of a study recently undertaken by ECAS and the Law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer on the legal basis of the refused ECIs were presented and discussed. This Study, entitled “The European Citizens’ Initiative Registration: Falling at the First Hurdle?” provides a detailed legal analysis on the grounds on which the European Commission decided whether to register or reject the proposed ECIs submitted before 1st of July 2014.
The overall conclusions of the Study are that the legal admissibility requirements are applied in a too narrow fashion by the Commission, that the decision to refuse registration has been arbitrary and that the reasons given for a rejection have been incomplete. Based on these findings, the Study puts forward 6 concrete recommendations, which mainly make a case for a clearer definition of the nature and scope of an ECI, and for a more transparent and consistent procedure as regards the application of the legal admissibility criteria to register an ECI.
Following the presentation of the findings of the Study two panel discussion were organised, gathering representatives from the Secretariat-General of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the newly created ECI Ad hoc Group at the EESC, as well as representatives of two ECIs: Stop TTIP and New Deal 4 Europe.
The overall message was that although the ECI still faces several shortcomings, it is a powerful democratic tool in the hands of EU citizens that needs to be improved and encouraged. A controversial point raised during the conference which are likely to feature strongly in the debate on the ECI reform was the Commission’s assertion that ECIs cannot be used to propose Treaty amendments or changes in international agreements such as the TTIP.
Other interesting remarks were the objections expressed by some participants to the management of ECIs entrusted to the Commission, whereas the European Parliament would arguably be a more suitable institution to do so as a direct representative of EU citizens. Other important remarks had to do with the legal and technical obstacles related to the launch and presentation of an ECI, which prevent normal citizens with no legal backgroud and/or low IT skills from successfully submitting an initiative of the kind. There was a general agreement on the fact that this ultimately limits the effectiveness and practical implementation of this democratic tool and triggers frustration and disengagement of citizens towards the EU.
- The European Citizens’ Initiative Registration: Falling at the First Hurdle?, Onno Brouwer
- STOP TTIP ECI, Michel Cermak