The European Citizens' Initiative regulation, which takes effect on 1 April, empowers European Union (EU) citizens to work together across borders to play a direct part in shaping democratic decisions. It is the world's only transnational tool of direct democracy.
Committees of at least seven citizens living in at least seven EU Member States who can gather at least one million signatures in support of an idea will be able to ask the European Commission to propose legislation to enact it, provided that the idea falls within the Commission's sphere of competence and is consistent with the EU's fundamental values.
Georgios Papastamkos, European Parliament Vice-President in charge of the ECI, said: "The establishment of the European Citizens' Initiative constitutes an innovative participatory instrument of the EU. It certainly raises the expectations of European public opinion, but it could have an unpredictable impact on EU rule making. Τhe ECI will help to create a 'European public sphere' in which the EU can be built from the bottom up. The European Parliament's substantial contribution to shaping ECI participation rules made it friendlier, simpler and less bureaucratic for EU citizens".
"The ECI procedure's real beneficiaries will be citizens who cannot make themselves heard in today's Europe, such as Erasmus students finding that their qualifications are not recognised abroad, cross-border workers liable for tax in two countries, and citizen 'pioneers' of the European cause, who choose to live, marry and work outside their country of origin and brave apparently insurmountable bureaucratic hassles in their daily lives. A huge ideas box is now open", said MEP Alain Lamassoure (EPP, FR), who, as "co-rapporteur", helped steer it through Parliament.
His co-rapporteur, MEP Zita Gurmai, (S&D, HU), said "The aim behind the European Citizens' Initiative is to reduce the growing gulf between EU institutions, by enabling them to take part in shaping legislation and encouraging trans-European public debate. This procedure is a unique opportunity for ordinary citizens to make their concerns known to us, and we sought to make this tool as accessible as possible, whilst ensuring that any initiative that meets the necessary conditions is followed up properly".
The ECI enables European citizens to get in touch directly with European institutions. Their power to petition the Commission will be equivalent to those enjoyed by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Parliament has striven to ensure that the procedure is as simple as possible, so that as many citizens as possible can use it. You will also be given the opportunity to present your initiative in a public hearing at the European Parliament. The Commission and Parliament will ensure that this hearing is held.
This tool should help to strengthen democracy in the European decision-making process in the era of the internet and social networking.
Please see the Q&A to the right for further information.