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How to Turn the official ECI Review into a Meaningful Legislative Reform

The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the world’s first instrument in transnational participatory democracy, is currently under review by the EU institutions. In view of the many remaining deficiencies in the application of the ECI and the low use of this instrument, Citizens Take Over Europe demands a deep reform of this democratic innovation so as to properly empower EU citizens. In order to ensure this, the official review of the ECI must lead to a legislative reform of the instrument. The European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs has published a first Draft Report on implementation of the Regulations on the European citizens’ initiative (2022/2206(INI)) which presents a first base of discussion. Below is a list of reform proposals in order for the ECI to fulfill its promise and realize its democratic potential.

Firstly, we request that successful ECIs, which have reached the threshold of one million signatures across seven different Member States, should be combined with stratified randomly selected European Citizens’ Panels. This would go beyond the debate in Parliament and enable a more meaningful debate on a topic that has received attention from many citizens from all over Europe. European Citizens’ Panels are a representative sample of the European population who can further assess the pro and con sides of a topic before the European Commission takes a final decision on how to follow-up. Therefore, combining the two instruments will provide a valuable opportunity for citizens to engage more in the EU policy-making process and will enable more well-rounded debates around topics that are of concern for the citizens of Europe.

The digital dimension is a tremendously important factor for the success of ECIs. Free accessible IT campaigning tools provided by civil society organisations have proven to be particularly efficient. 30% of all ECIs that made use of these tools were able to gather more than one million signatures while 10% of all ECIs using the European Commission’s software were able to reach this threshold. Although the campaign tools provided by civil society contribute significantly to the success of the ECI, the European legislator has decided to ban their use from the end of 2023. Due to this prohibition, the instrument of the ECI offers considerably less campaign possibilities and tools for organisers, and therefore is at risk of being significantly weakened. We therefore call on the European legislature to reverse this step and to prevent harm to the ECI and participatory democracy at EU level.

For the time being, the European Commission consults with representatives of the Member States behind closed doors in an “ECI expert group” about the further development and the implementation of the ECI. Despite the fact that the ECI is a democratic instrument aimed at empowering the citizens of the Union, representatives of civil society so far are not invited on an equal footing. To ensure that the ECI becomes a more accessible and citizen-friendly instrument, representatives of civil society need to be involved on a permanent basis.

While the Conference on the Future of Europe has made recommendations calling for treaty change, no such measures have yet been adopted. The ECI could provide the possibility for citizens and civil society to request such changes. Although not prohibited by applicable law, the Commission refuses to admit ECIs which aim at implementing amendments to the European treaties. This prevents citizens from addressing many fundamental requests and concerns. For this reason, it is necessary to clarify that ECIs can also request treaty changes.

Lastly, the practical experiences of the last years have shown that the ECI, due to its limited legal impact, does not provide sufficient incentives for many civil society organisations to make use of this instrument. Thus, it becomes more clear that the ECI rules in the EU Treaties also need to become subject to review. To ensure that citizens can participate in a meaningful way in the democratic life of the Union, the ECI should therefore be developed into a genuine citizens’ initiative right, where the requests of the citizens can be submitted directly to the EU legislature instead of to the EU Commission.

Please find here our in depth assessment of the EP Draft and our initial proposals how to reform the ECI.

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