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Important points 1994-1999

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pf2201.jpg (21697 bytes)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 appropriate response.

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:
-    to deal with the petition itself by drawing up a report or delivering an opinion, which will be forwarded by the President of Parliament to the European Commission or the Council. This procedure is used mainly in the case of petitions raising problems of a general nature (e.g. compensation for victims of violence, use of languages in the Union, etc.);
-    to send the petition to the European Commission for investigation. The information and comments provided by the petitioner and serving as a basis for debate in the committee may enable the Commission to initiate infringement proceedings;
-    to forward the petition to another parliamentary committee or, more rarely, an EP service (such as the Legal Service) for an opinion or for referral to the appropriate body;
-    to inform the Member State, through the President of the EP, about the petition and ask it to take measures;
-    or to refer the petition to the European Ombudsman so that it can be dealt with as a complaint.

Tangible results

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 Europe's citizens.

 

For further information: Mariapaola Sabbatucci (tel: +352 430022853 or email: mpsabbatucci@europarl.eu.int)

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