The proposed new citizens' initiative whereby 1 million signatures from people would prompt changes in EU law was discussed by MEPs and MPs on 30 September. A hearing brought together Parliamentarians who discussed how it is going to work in practice and not become too complicated. We spoke to Hungarian Socialist MEP Zita Gurmai who is one of the Members steering the regulation (which would bring it legally into effect) through Parliament.
We put it to her about the merits of the initiative in the first place. She told us: "The Citizens initiative is one of the major innovations of Lisbon Treaty, a unique opportunity to breathe new life into our European democracy, to strengthen the participation of citizens in EU policy-making and to foster greater cross-border debate about EU policy issues."
We also asked her about changes she and other MEPs would like to see to the Commission's proposal about how it would work: "We would improve the EC draft in 3 ways: make it more user-friendly; make sure that it is a powerful democratic tool, so it is not abused and that it is efficient for European issues and worth using for our citizens. Finally, allow EU citizens to have more information on the initiative."
She went on to say the changes proposed are meant "to avoid any unnecessary administrative burdens that might cause frustration among citizens" and for online collection of signatures - she said the European Union needs "to meet the requirements of the 21st century and address the e-generation".
We also put it to her what would be the benefits to ordinary people of such a tool? Ms Gurmai told us that "we are at a unique milestone in the history of European democracy, represented by the Initiative and we are entering uncharted waters here, therefore we may not give exact forecasts as to how it will turn out". However, she was optimistic in the longer term: "The Citizens' initiative will foster greater debate among citizens on European issues. It will have an enormous importance: it can help make the EU a greater part of everyday discussion...very few EU innovations have been able to do so in the past fifty years."
The final text of the regulation will be put to a vote of the Constitutional Affairs Committee on 30 October. French MEP Alain Lamassoure (EPP), Green member Gerald Häfner and UK Liberal Diana Wallis are also acting as co-rapporteurs on this issue as it is also being considered also by the Petitions Committee.
18 months for the collection of signatures
16: minimum age
Must be from 1/4 of all EU States
No ID required