What is a European Citizens Initiative?
The European Citizens’ Initiative is a new mechanism which allows EU citizens to organize and collect 1 million signatures to request the EU Institutions to take action in a given area of EU competence.
Who can organise an ECI?
An initiative needs to be created by at least 7 EU citizens, residents from 7 different member states. Because it aims at improving the participation of citizens in the European Union, ECIs can not be initiated by organisations or MEPs. In reality, initiatives have a very low chance of meeting the criteria without the back up of lobbies and partner organisations.
The One of us initiative has been financed up to 96% by organisations controlled by two MEPs: Carlo Casini and Mayor Oreja. The initiative has received a strong support from pro-life and religious organisations and has been widely backed by religious media. Pope Francis has officially expressed its support to the ECI and churches have been the biggest signatures collection places.
How are signatures collected?
Aside from setting an initiative in the scope of EU law, the major difficulty for organisers is to collect 1 million signatures within a year from at least a quarter of the EU Member States with a minimum quota per country. Those signatures need to be collected through online collection software. Civil society groups have complained about the complexity of the administrative and security measures of ECIs.
What happens when a citizens’ initiative gets 1 million signatures?
After verification of the signatures by the European Commission, the organisers can present their proposal in details at a public hearing in the European Parliament. The Commission then decides to act upon the initiative or not (justification is needed in both cases). If the Commission does, the new law will have to follow the usual political process (adoption by the European Parliament and the Council or the Council only). Maroš ŠefÄoviÄ, EU Commissioner for Inter-Institutional Relations thinks that the significant pressure of the will of one million citizens would influence the institutions. And that is what is intended by the One of Us organisers. Although 1,7 million signatures is quite an insignificant number compared to the 505 million of EU citizens, it will give the impression of a broad popular support which could influence EU law makers.