Citizens are at the heart of the EU. Citizen participation needs a place at the European level. Ensuring the proper functioning of the ECI and giving political validation to the outcome of ECI's are first steps towards European responsive, participative democracy.
The European Citizens' Initiative is a right for European citizens. It can help to respond to the perceived democratic deficit of the European Union and to bridge the gap between EU citizens and European institutions and policy makers. The European Citizens' Initiative is the expression of participatory democracy that complements the notion of representative democracy; it enhances the set of rights related to citizenship of the Union and the public debate on European politics.
stress that the European Citizens' Initiative has a huge potential for establishing a more participative democracy. Welcomes the European Commission Proposal (September 2017) to amend the regulation. While some of the new measures propose go in the correct line the political approach is still missing.
provide concrete recommendations for the instrument to enhance its potential. It advocates for increasing the visibility and people's awareness of the ECI, an increased role for the European Parliament and procedural improvements that will make the ECI process more user-friendly for (potential) ECI initiators.
advocate for the involvement of the Committee of the Regions, in particular when the ECIs refer to policy areas for which the Commission must seek advice from the CoR.
The EP approved on 12 March 2019 an interinstitutional agreement on revising the European citizens’ initiative to ensure that successful initiatives have greater political impact. The revision proposed by the EP is in line with of the COR recommendations: stronger support for organisers, simpler rules, better digital and physical facilities, longer deadlines for European Commission responses, and a new centralised collection system (by 2020).
There are however two important alls made by the COR that have not been retained:
the registration decision should be entrusted to an independent committee of lawyers, academics and representatives of European civil society .
This call was made by COR in its opinion on the ECI on 2015. One of the key sticking points with the new regulation is still the Commission's conflict of interest and its monopoly over all stages of the procedure. The COR called again for this in its last ECI opinion 2018
The EC response: at the registration stage, the Commission does not assess the initiative on substance: the decision on whether to register or not a proposed initiative is based only on the legal admissibility of the proposal in application of the requirements for registration under the Regulation.
The Commission is the institution responsible for ensuring the application of Union Law and hence for assessing whether the proposed citizens' initiatives meet the requirements for registration in application of the competences under the Treaties and in view of the fact that it is the addressee
of the initiatives and responsible (under Article 15 of the proposal) for examination of and reply to successful initiatives. Against this background, the Commission considers that creating additional mechanisms would add further complexity to the procedure and lead to duplication without bringing
real added value, as well as risks to the consistency of the assessment of the initiative at the stages of registration and examination
-Minimum age for supporting ECIs should be lowered to 16 years
The Commission proposed lowering the age to 16 years whichproposal got support from the Parliament. However, due to constitutional, technical and legal concerns by the majority of MS, the new legal framework makes it possible, but not mandatory, to lower the minimum age to support an ECI. It was agreed to allow Member States to decouple the ECI age from the age enabling to vote in the European elections. The voting age in the European Parliament elections, and therefore the minimum age to support ECI, is 16 years old in Austria and Malta and 17 years old in Greece. Within 4 years after the new ECI regulation will take effect, the age limit should be part of the periodical review by the Commission
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
- stresses that citizens are at the heart of the European project. The European Citizens' Initiative is a right for European citizens. It can help to respond to the perceived democratic deficit of the European Union and to bridge the gap between EU citizens and European institutions and policy makers;
- considers that the new regulation is an important step in the right direction to improve the ECI's procedures;
- points out that it is of key importance that successful ECIs lead to genuine political debates and receive more substantial political follow-up by the EU institutions;
- welcomes the procedural and administrative improvements in the new regulation proposed by the Commission i.e. a helpdesk service by the Commission and an online collaborative platform for the ECI;
- notes however, the political approach is missing. The new regulation does nothing to resolve the Commission's conflict of interest. The CoR therefore proposed in its 2015 opinion that an impartial ad hoc committee composed of experts, academics and lawyers be set up to investigate the admissibility criteria;
- requests the Commission and the Member States to maximise their communication efforts to make the ECI known to the citizens;
reiterates its commitment to support ECIs which fall within the CoR's political remit and which are deemed politically relevant.