The Citizens' Initiative has arrived... From April 1 EU citizens have the right to introduce, through the initiative, a formal request for legislation on the part of the EU institutions. It can concern any matter they consider important, provided that enough people support it and that it is something the EU is legally able to act upon.
In the words of French Christian-Democrat MEP Alain Lamassoure, who was responsible for steering the initiative through Parliament together with Hungarian Social-Democrat MEP Zita Gurmai, the aim is to "allow citizens to refer to the European Commission problems and requests that matter to them". Ms Gurmai adds: "If citizens feel that we need to be more efficient or if they feel that a different direction should be followed, than they can let us know, with one strong voice, directly. And European institutions won't have any other choice than to listen and react and explain."
What it is about
Ms Gurmai said: "Simply put, one million citizens can ask the Commission to initiate European legislation. This participatory touch to our democratic traditions will add a new layer to political decision-making, a layer that is needed."
Mr Lamassoure said: "The organisers of Citizens' Initiatives will have a power of initiative, a new right but also an unprecedented power. It is thus normal that this right is linked to some duties as well, to ensure that Citizens' Initiatives are both serious and truly pan-European."
What initiatives will be considered
For an initiative to be considered valid and be examined by the Commission, it must meet the following conditions:
it must concern a subject on which the Commission has the right to propose legislation (such as enlargement, the environment, agriculture, transport or public health)
it must be accompanied by 1 million signatures from EU citizens of voting age from at least seven member states which...
... must be collected within a year by a committee of at least seven citizens from at least seven member states. The collection can be made electronically via a tool provided by the EU and signatures are validated by the member states according to their own rules and procedures
What happens once an initiative has been declared valid
Once the initiative has been received and declared valid or admissible by the Commission:
the organisers meet the Commission to explain their initiative in detail
they present it at a public hearing in the European Parliament
within three months the Commission formally announces what action, if any, it will take and explains its reasons.
How Parliament improved the original Commission proposal
Mr Lamassoure said the Parliament had worked hard to remove restrictions to organising an initiative in order to make it as easy and practical as possible. He explained: "The European Parliament ensured that citizens from seven rather than nine member states need be involved; that an admissibility check be carried out before signatures are collected so that citizens do not become engaged in an initiative that can not be accepted, and that the European Commission provides free software for the online collection of signatures, as well as a simple and clear user's guide so that the European Citizens' Initiative can be accessible to everybody."
Why the Parliament will keep a close eye on the Citizens' Initiative
Ms Gurmai said: "We are entering uncharted waters here. We think that we did our best to have a user-friendly regulation, one that ensures proper involvement for citizens and even incentives to do so (but) this doesn't change the fact that we have to monitor very closely the functioning of Citizens' Initiatives in the near future and if need be, we will have to proceed to adequate modifications in the regulation."