European Citizens' Initiatives help mobilise citizens around a common cause and foster the creation of pan-European debates. They can be a key tool in the process of establishing a permanent structured dialogue with Europeans
On 16 November CoR member Declan McDonnell, Member of Galway City Council (IE/EA) kicked off together with other institutional representatives the European Citizens' Initiative Week organised by the European Commission. He stressed that the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) facilitates and underpins CoR's political priority of bringing Europe closer to its people. The CoR is committed to supporting ECIs which fall into its political remits and which are deemed politically relevant for local and regional authorities. Such initiatives could be discussed at the CoR Plenary sessions. They could also be integrated in the CitizEN - Citizen Engagement in the EU Network – a tool proposed by the European Committee of the Regions which aims at involving citizens in policy-making.
The European Citizens’ Initiative Week is looking back on the first year of the reformed rules of the European Citizens' initiative which applied on 1 January 2020. Online activities and debates take place with institutional representatives, members of the civil society and organisers of past and ongoing initiatives to discuss which improvements the reform has brought, assess how the new rules have been implemented and put special focus on the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking in the presence of European Commission’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová and other representatives from all EU-institutions, CoR member Declan McDonnell, Member of Galway City Council (IE/EA) said: "The European Citizens' Initiative is hugely important to the EU's regions and local authorities. It allows for the shaping of EU policies through citizens' engagement reflecting on the needs of their regions and communities, while respecting the principle of subsidiarity. This is why I suggested that the CoR Plenary should be in a position to discuss some of the relevant citizens initiatives."
Furthermore, Cllr McDonnell reinforced the view developed in his CoR opinion "Local and regional authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens" which was adopted in the October CoR plenary: "A pan-European network would be developed that would gather and channel citizens' input from across Europe and, at the same time, serve as a hub where knowledge and experience will be shared. This CitizEN network could be launched during the Conference on the Future of Europe, with a view to becoming a permanent mechanism for the future. The European Citizens Initiatives could be one component of this network".
The CitizEN - Citizen ENgagement in the EU Network, would have three objectives:
- to strengthen interaction between European institutions and citizens, through direct methods for engagement at local and regional level;
- to provide examples of participation methods that can be used both formally and informally;
- to act as a repository for information and sharing of best practice of national, regional and local participation initiatives from across the European Union.
After a launch during the Conference on the Future of Europe, The CitizEN network could become a stable and permanent infrastructure able to carry on with the follow-up on the work of the Conference and ensuring that citizens are kept well informed and can be involved in the monitoring, evaluation and assessment phases.
The European Citizens Initiative (ECI) was established in 2011 under Article 11(4) of the Lisbon Treaty. It is an instrument of participatory democracy in the EU, allowing citizens to invite the European Commission to submit a proposal for a legal act to implement the EU Treaties. Since 1 January, new rules apply to make the ECI more accessible, less burdensome and easier to use for organisers and supporters. The main technical innovation is a central online collection system managed by the European Commission. This service is offered free of charge and allows citizens to sign using e-Identification. Organisers may also choose to set up their own individual online collection system until the end of 2022.
Since 2012, 96 initiatives received for registration, out of which 71 were registered. 5 initiatives have been successful, in that they have managed to reach the threshold of one million valid signatures. The latest initiative that was submitted for examination by the Commission is ‘Minority Safepack’ regarding minority languages, which is currently being examined by the Commission.
The CoR adopted an opinion on the new regulation on the European Citizens Initiative in March 2018 (rapporteur was Luc van den Brande BE/EPP).
The opinion 'Reflecting on Europe: the voice of local and regional authorities to rebuild trust in the European Union' adopted in October 2018 framed the ECI within the wider topic of democracy and citizens' participation: "… participative instruments such as the European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) should be strengthened; as a complementary tool to the existing structures of representative democracy at EU level, and to innovative additional elements of participative decision making and permanent dialogue, ECIs can help to mobilise citizens around a common cause, highlight the European dimension of key political issues and foster the creation of pan-European debates and corresponding public opinion"
In the same perspective, the CoR Resolution on the Proposals for the new European Union legislative mandate, adopted in June 2019, included the ECI among the existing instruments of participatory democracy that strengthen the legitimacy and democratic foundations of EU, and which should be complemented by new instruments - such as a permanent system of dialogue with citizens.
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