I’ve never been a great fan of the concept of the European citizen’s initiative. Having to mobilise 1.000.000 people to submit an idea for review by the Commission without the Commission having any obligation to actually act on it, I’ve always thought it could potentially produce great deception, rather than foster enthusiasm for European issues. On the other hand, in times where barely half of the citizens bother to vote to elect their political representatives, I think that any initiative that aims at fostering more citizen participation is good to take, especially when the initiative is meant to promote pan-European debates as it is the case here.
So I read carefully the Commission’s proposal for the citizen’s initiative, and as many commentators (see here, here, here, and here), I was disappointed. The general feeling is that the initial spirit of the citizen’s initiative will be nipped in the bud by unnecessary administrative requirements.
- The main problem to me is to require petition signatories to give their ID number. Honestly, who would give their ID number to petition organisers? I wouldn’t, and I’m not even a very wary person. First name, last name, city of residence, email or phone number should be more than enough.
- Petition organisers would only get 12 months after they officially register their petition to get 1.000.000 signatories in 1/3rd of member states. Surely that will favour large organisations that have established networks and permanent staff, and will not give enough time for individual citizens to set up campaigns from scratch during their free time. The citizen’s initiative is meant to get citizens actively involved in the political process, not large organisations.
- A citizen’s initiative would be checked for admissibility after 300.000 signatures have been collected. In my opinion, that should be done right at the beginning, or not at all. Is there really a need to have it checked anyway? Does it really matter if the initiative doesn’t fall in the competences of the Commission and/or the EU? These are not carved in marble after all.
- The proposal also requires that online petitions should have adequate security features. What does that mean exactly? Does it mean that petition organisers would have to purchase expensive security software to get their petition approved? Again, that would favour large organisations, and kill many grass-root campaigns from emerging.
- Finally, it would apparently be up to each member state to verify the validity of signatures. So a petition organiser would have to submit its support forms to 9 member states at least. More red-tape again. Less room for citizen-led initiatives.
If ever one petition manages to fulfil all the requirements, it’s not even sure the Commission would make a proposal according to the petition’s request, and the proposal would have to get the European Parliament’s and the Council’s approval anyway. So I can’t help but wonder… is there really a need for that many security safeguards -admissibility check, security software, signatories’ ID numbers and address, authentication of statements of support by member states, etc?
Both the European Parliament and the Council will have to examine the proposal now. Maybe it’s time for some citizen lobbying? Davygee on Twitter the other day suggested to set up a social media campaign to improve the Commission’s proposal. Who’s up for it?