The right of petition

Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Maastricht, every EU citizen has had the right to submit a petition to the European Parliament, in the form of a complaint or a request, on an issue that falls within the European Union’s fields of activity. Petitions are examined by Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, which takes a decision on their admissibility and is responsible for dealing with them.

Legal basis

Articles 20 and 227 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), Article 44 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.

Objectives

The right of petition aims to provide EU citizens and residents with a simple means of contacting the European institutions with requests or complaints.

Achievements

a.Principles (Article 227 TFEU)

1.Those entitled to petition Parliament

The right of petition is open to any EU citizen and any natural or legal person that is resident or has a registered office in a Member State, either individually or in association with others.

2.Scope

In order to be admissible, petitions must concern matters which fall within the EU’s fields of activity and which affect the petitioners directly. The latter condition is interpreted very broadly.

b.Procedure

The procedure for dealing with petitions is laid down in Rules 215 to 218 of, and Annex VI (XX) to, Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, which confer such responsibility on a parliamentary committee, the Committee on Petitions.

1.Formal admissibility

Petitions must state the name, nationality and address of each petitioner and be written in one of the official EU languages. They can be tabled either by post on paper or by electronic means through the EP Petitions portal.

2.Material admissibility

Petitions that meet these formal requirements are referred to the Committee on Petitions, which must first decide whether they are admissible. The committee does this by ascertaining that their subject falls within the EU’s fields of activity. Where this is not the case, the petition is declared inadmissible. The petitioner is informed of this and of the reasons for the decision. Petitioners are often encouraged to contact another national, European or international body. An analysis of the statistics concerning petitions shows that the main reason why petitions are declared inadmissible is that petitioners confuse EU and Member State competences, as well as EU and Council of Europe responsibilities and possibilities for action and redress.

Examination of petitions

The Committee on Petitions usually asks the Commission to provide relevant information or to give its opinion on the points raised by the petitioner. Sometimes, it also consults other parliamentary committees, particularly when petitions are seeking to change existing laws. The Committee on Petitions may also hold hearings (during this term, hearings on the European Citizens’ Initiative, the Right to Petition, Disabilities, Article 51 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, Transparency and Freedom of Information, Union Citizenship and Free Movement took place) or send members on fact-finding visits to the location in question (during the current term to the UK, Spain and Slovakia). Once sufficient information has been gathered, the petition is included on the agenda for a meeting of the committee, to which the petitioner, the Commission and the Member States’ representatives are invited. At this meeting, the petitioner presents his/her petition, the Commission gives its opinion orally and comments on its written response to the issues raised in the petition and the representatives of the Member States concerned can take the floor if they so wish. Members of the Committee on Petitions then have the opportunity to put questions to the Commission representative and to the petitioner.

3.Outcome

This varies from case to case:

  • If the petition concerns a specific case requiring individual attention, the committee may contact the appropriate institutions or authorities or intervene through the permanent representation of the Member State concerned to settle the matter.
  • If the petition relates to a matter of general interest, for example if the Commission finds that EU law has been breached, infringement proceedings can be opened. This may result in a Court of Justice ruling to which the petitioner can then refer.
  • The petition may result in political action being taken by Parliament or the Commission.

In all cases, the petitioner will receive a response detailing the results of the action taken.

c.Annual activity report

The annual report for 2015 was drawn up by Ángela Vallina (GUE/NGL, Spain) and adopted in plenary on 15 December 2016. The report underlines that petitions are a key element for participatory democracy and allow for the detection of loopholes and breaches in the transposition and implementation of EU law by Member States. Parliament notes that a number of petitions have led to legislative or political action, EU pilot cases, preliminary rulings or infringement proceedings, and calls for the Commission to play a more proactive role in guaranteeing the effective application of EU law and of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It calls also for more transparency regarding its actions against Member States on possible breaches of EU law, notably when initiated on the basis of petitions. In 2015, the Committee on Petitions was particularly active in the fields of fundamental rights (disabilities, children’s rights, discrimination, minorities, access to justice), the environment and animal welfare, the internal market, labour relations, migration, trade agreements, public health, mortgage legislation and risky financial instruments in Spain. Fact-finding visits, public hearings, the development of a web portal to submit petitions and SOLVIT, and cooperation and dialogue with national parliaments and authorities — notably with the European Ombudsman — are cited as instruments to ensure that issues raised by citizens in petitions are addressed and resolved.

Annual number of petitions received by Parliament

Parliamentary year Total number[1] Admissible Inadmissible
2005 1 032 628 318
2006 1 021 667 354
2007 1 506 980 526
2008 1 849 - -
2009 1 924 1 108 816
2010 1 746 988 667
2011 2 091 998 416
2012 2 322 1 406 580
2013 2 891 1 844 1 047
2014 2 715 1 630 1 083
2015 1 431 943 483

Main subjects of petitions

2015 2014
Subject matter Number of petitions % Subject matter Number of petitions %
Environment 174 9.2 Justice 300 8.3
Justice 142 7.5 Environment 284 7.8
Internal market 139 7.3 Internal market 266 7.3
Fundamental rights 84 4.4 Fundamental rights 208 5.7
Transport 84 4.4 Health 173 4.8
Health 78 4.1 Social affairs 158 4.4
Employment 74 3.9 Transport 117 3.2
Social affairs 60 3.2 Education and culture 113 3.1
Education and culture 57 3.0 Employment 108 3.0
Property and restitution 32 1.7 Property and restitution 55 1.5
Other 974 51.3 Other 1 844 50.9

Number of petitions by country

2015 2014
Country Number of petitions % Country Number of petitions %
European Union 491 29.7 European Union 908 28.9
Spain 213 12.9 Spain 449 14.3
Italy 203 12.3 Germany 271 8.6
Germany 153 9.3 Italy 248 7.9
Romania 104 6.3 Romania 199 6.3
Poland 57 3.5 United Kingdom 109 3.5
Other 431 26.0 Other 1 071 34.0

Format of petitions

2015 2014
Format of petition Number of petitions % Format of petition Number of petitions %
E-mail 992 69.3 E-mail 2 174 80
Letter 439 30.7 Letter 540 20

[1]The sum of admissible and inadmissible petitions sometimes differs from the total number of petitions submitted as a decision on admissibility may not yet have been taken on some petitions.

Ottavio Marzocchi

06/2017