||European Parliament elections 1999
Important points 1994-1999
Petitions - The public's hotline to the European Parliament
A Member State refuses to recognise qualifications gained in
a different EU country; another fails to apply the principle of equal opportunities or to
implement the VAT directive. These and similar problems are frequently encountered by
European citizens in the course of their daily lives. What redress do they have? What can
they do to defend themselves? They can exercise their right of petition.
The right of petition
The right of petition, which was first introduced as part of
the European Parliament's rules of procedure in 1981, was institutionalised by the
Maastricht Treaty in the context of European citizenship (Articles 8d and 138d). It gives
any citizen, company, organisation or association residing or having its registered office
in an EU Member State the right to address a petition to the European Parliament either
individually or collectively. This offers citizens a form of protection which is informal,
accessible and - most importantly - free. Another undoubted advantage is that petitioners
can submit their petitions in their own language.
Petitions must concern an area of activity which falls within
the areas of responsibility of the EU, such as the free movement of persons, goods,
services and capital, equal treatment for men and women, environmental protection and the
right to education, training and health. They must be addressed to the European
Parliament, whose Committee on Petitions will consider the request and decide on the most
Possible courses of action
An average of 1 200 petitions is referred to the committee
each year, and 60% of them are declared admissible, which means that the subject of the
petition is deemed to be connected with an area of activity of the European Union. Once
the petition is declared admissible, various courses of action are open to the committee:
The right of petition has enabled many EU citizens to have
their rights under the treaties or Community directives enforced.
France, for example, changed its laws on the recognition of
'Bac+3' diplomas, which did not cover the teaching profession, as a result of a petition.
A British national with a teaching diploma obtained in England was refused the right to
teach in France on the grounds that this diploma was insufficient; the teacher addressed a
petition to the European Parliament for infringement of the Community directive on the
recognition of 'Bac+3' diplomas. After infringement proceedings had been initiated by the
Commission, the French Government changed the law to allow teachers from other Member
States to take up teaching posts in France without undergoing further training, since the
training received in their own country was deemed to be sufficient.
Belgium and Italy were also forced to act as a result of a
petition to the European Parliament concerning failure to meet the deadline for
reimbursement of VAT in the transport sector. The Italian and Belgian authorities, who had
far exceeded the six-month period laid down in the Eighth VAT Directive, had to change
their administrative practices.
Another striking example involved Spain, which had failed to
comply with the directive on the protection of the natural habitats of wild flora and
fauna. The non-selective methods used in Calabria to trap wolves causing damage to humans
or other animal species were denounced by a Spanish national. The European Commission
initiated infringement proceedings against Spain. Meanwhile, the Spanish Government
informed the Commission that it had abandoned non-selective hunting methods, thus
transposing the European directive into national law.
So it can be seen that the right of petition is a practical
expression of the primary purpose of the European Parliament: to be the voice of
For further information: Mariapaola Sabbatucci (tel: +352 430022853 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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