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 experience of Local and Regional Authorities can serve as example of good practices.
stress that the European Citizens' Initiative has a huge potential for establishing a more participative democracy, but that the current legislative framework and its implementation are unsatisfactory and even counterproductive.
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.
"Policy impact": a more detailed assessment can be made in 2016. The European Commission had announced a possible revision of the "ECI regulation" (Regulation 211/2011) for the beginning of 2016. However, for the moment it focuses on improvements possible without changing the regulation. Some of the CoR opinion's recommendations can be implemented under the current legal framework.
With this opinion the CoR developed a more structured cooperation on the topic with the European Commission and the European Parliament and has prospects of further enhancing the cooperation with the EESC. It also developed contacts with the main stakeholders. The activities related to this opinion fall within a larger context of a priority area of rebuilding citizens' trust in the European integration project and the EU institutions. Some recommendations refer to measures aimed at bringing Europe closer to the citizens, entering into a real dialogue with them and enhancing participatory democracy.
The AFCO Committee Report was adopted in the EP Plenary Session of 28th October 2015. An amendment to the draft from MEPs Goerens and Terricabras to allow ECIs that require treaty change was rejected. This is not is correspondence to the CoR Opinion, which included the following amendment of Ms. Duden: adding "suggests exploring the possibility of changing the ECI regulation so that it would also become admissible to propose ECIs which aim at concrete changes to the EU Treaties according to Art. 48 TEU."
After the amendments to the draft EP report, the final report of Mr Schöpflin is less strong than before. It focusses more on the user-friendliness of the instrument for ECI initiators than on giving the ECI the power to become a meaningful tool of participatory democracy.
The CoR Opinion also focusses on the user-friendliness of the procedures, but also emphasizes that the ECI is a legal act.
On 21 October 2015 Mr. Van den Brande (rapporteur of the ECI opinion) participated in the plenary meeting of EuroPCom where he stated that citizens are the owners of the European project and that citizen participation and constructive dialogue with citizens are a prerequisite for building trust and credibility. The rapporteur also presented the recommendation of the opinion at the meeting of the Venice Commission held on 18-19 December 2015.
The rapporteur is a special advisor to President Junker on "Advice for the outreach towards citizens". His activities as rapporteur will be taken into account in the report that will be written in his capacity as special advisor
THE EUROPEAN COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS
stresses that citizens must be at the heart of the European project and therefore European participatory democracy should be considered as the right of European citizens;
notes that ECI has the prospects of a "legal act";
notes that the ECI should be used to give an answer to the European democratic deficit and the confidence crisis, and as a way to increase the legitimacy and accountability of European policy making;
is of the opinion that we should strengthen our legal and political participatory instruments to come to a renewed governance architecture based on the principle of multilevel governance;
stresses that the European Commission should adopt clear, simple and user-friendly procedures in order to achieve the initial objectives of the ECI, namely to give every citizen the right to participate in European democracy;
is of the opinion that a revision of the Regulation is imperative and that some problems which do not require changes in the Regulation should be addressed as quickly as possible to prevent deterrence of potential organisers;
points out that extremely few Europeans know about the ECI;
asks the Commission to also develop appropriate forms of response to those ECIs which receive significant support, but do not meet all the formal criteria or do not reach the full 1 million signatures, so that any substantial political message of such ECI and the mobilisation which they have created, are not completely ignored;
reiterates its commitment to support ECIs which fall into the CoR's political remit and which are deemed politically relevant.