Citizens' initiative to pass long-awaited refashion
Just three projects reached the necessary criteria and were discussed by the Commission
Maria Koleva, Brussels
13 April, 2017
Precisely on its 5th anniversary came one eagerly awaited news - the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) regulation will be finally revised. The news was delivered by the Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans on the ECI Day, 11 April, at a vibrant get-together place for past and future initiative organisers, hosted traditionally by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels. On the same day the Commission launched new online software that ECI organisers can use for collecting signatures and a team of experts demonstrated at a special stand how easy it works.
Seeing the light of the day thanks to the Lisbon Treaty, the ECI is a direct cross-border instrument that empowers citizens to shape and design EU laws that can make the life of the Europeans easier. The registered initiative has to receive one million signatures by people from at least seven Member States. Then the Commission has to say what legislative action will be taken, if any, and should give an explanation on its decision.
As EESC President Georges Dassis rightly opined, ECI constitutes an instrument for civic engagement as it allows citizens to send their messages directly to the Commission.
Almost since ECI was launched, many campaigners started to voice their concern that instead of being a vigorous tool in the hands of the citizens that sets the agenda, ECI is unattractive and almost powerless. We cannot tolerate being silenced like this, warned the Association for the ECI chair Carsten Berg, who for years advocated for ECI legal amendments.
The EC FVP Timmermans asserted that he is wishing to make the ECI more accessible and citizen-friendly, promising that the Commission will table proposals for ECI refashion later this year.
So far the Commission has registered about 50 initiatives, but just three projects have reached the threshold and were discussed by the executive.
‘Stop TTIP and CETA!’ ECI is neither registered, nor reached its goal. But it has its intangible value and influence. Michel Cermak, representative of the campaign said that it is “especially a success for us and definitely a failure for the EU”. It was refused for registration by the Commission as “the negotiating mandates on TTIP and CETA are not legal acts but internal preparatory acts” among other claims. For Cermak in 2014 the Commission made a “major political and democratic mistake” when it refused the initiative and even today hasn’t learn from that mistake. In October same year they launched so called ‘self-organised’ ECI and in 2 months were gathered 1 million signatures. For a year the signatures raised to 3.2 million but they left it open and finally reached 3.5 million thumbs up.
Pablo Sanchez Centellas from the most successful so far ‘Right2Water’ ECI however is partly happy from the result. We asked the EU and Member States to make access to water and sanitation a human right, to stop promoting privatisation and liberalisation and an unambiguous exclusion of water and sanitation services in any trade agreement as TTIP, CETA, TISA and the next, he said. We expected the Commission to be more ambitious on taking the issue further, he stressed, and also complained from the red tape “straitjackets”. The process is too slow for people to feel that the EU is actually listening to citizens, he urged. The Commission will present amendments to the Drinking water directive later this year. Centellas is glad that Slovenia has introduced recently the human right to water and sanitation in its constitution. Irish Parliament is the next to do the same.