Citizens finally gained the ability to request EU legislation on the issues that matter to them on 1 April thanks to the launch of the European citizens' initiative. It enables people to call directly on the Commission to propose new laws provided they collect one million signatures from at least seven member states and it is within the EU's competence. As it has been more than six months since the scheme was first launched, we take a look at how the first initiatives are doing.
About the citizens' initiative
Put in place by the Lisbon Treaty, the citizens' initiative allows citizens to call on Commission to propose new legislation in areas that fall within its competence by collecting one million signatures from at least a quarter of the EU member states. The organisers of successful initiatives will participate in a hearing at the European Parliament. The Commission will have three months to examine the initiative and decide how to act on it.
The first initiatives
So far 22 initiatives have been proposed, of which two are already collecting signatures. They cover a wide variety of topics, ranging from fresh water for all and pan-European suffrage to the abolition of roaming charges within the EU.
Hungarian Social Democrat Zita Gurmai, who is one of two MEPs responsible for steering the legislation on this through Parliament, said: "I am pleased that 22 initiatives have already been proposed, of which 12 are registered. It is good to see that these initiatives come from European citizens or grassroots organisations and not lobbies or big corporations as some would have expected and feared. It demonstrates the appetite of ordinary citizens for being involved in the European debate and it is a strong sign that this new tool of participatory democracy was long due.”
As this is a brand-new tool, initiative organisers experienced a few teething problems, which are currently being sorted out. Ms Gurmai explained: “Several technical issues remain when it comes to the online collection and verification of signatures. Commission vice president Šefčovič and the European Commission are aware of these problems and offered their own servers while trying to extend the collection period.”
The MEP said this would only be a temporary fix and that a permanent solution must be found soon. "I have been in contact with organisers from various initiatives and we will make sure that the European citizens' initiative is as accessible and user-friendly as we wanted it to be while drafting the regulation. On the other hand, one has to acknowledge that it is a brand new tool that has never been launched at such a large scale. Therefore it is crucial to learn from these experiences and to make sure that the European Parliament, the European Commission, the member states and the initiative organisers work hand-in-hand to ensure its accessibility and success."
We spoke to the organisers of some of the initiatives. Read on to find out more about their experiences.