Members of the public will find it easier to use the citizens' initiative procedure, thanks to a tentative deal hammered out on Tuesday evening between members of the EP Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Commission and the Council, which met most of the MEPs' demands. The remaining issues will be negotiated in the coming days.
The citizens' initiative is a new instrument introduced by the Lisbon Treaty whereby one million citizens may ask the European Commission to propose a new EU law.
The main aim of MEPs at Tuesday night's negotiations was to make the citizens' initiative as simple and user-friendly as possible and to prevent any sense of frustration by the public. The following key EP demands were accepted in the discussions:
the admissibility check on an initiative will be made at the point of registration, not after 300,000 signatures have already been collected
to ensure the initiatives are well-founded and have a European dimension, a citizens' committee of at least seven members coming from seven Member States should be set up to register an initiative
the signatories must come from a minimum number of Member States: this was lowered to one quarter of the States; the original proposal was one third, while MEPs had suggested one fifth
the Commission will help the organisers of an initiative by providing a user-friendly guide and setting up a point of contact.
The institutions also reached a compromise on the difficult question of how to verify the authenticity of the signatures. It is up to the Member States to do this, and the method of verifying identity differs significantly from country to country. MEPs wanted to make the signing of an initiative as easy as possible by demanding as little personal information as possible. According to the compromise, Member States will have some flexibility in choosing which information is required in each country.
Key MEPs satisfied
The Constitutional Affairs Committee had adopted a draft report on the issue on the morning of Tuesday 30 November and given a mandate to a group of negotiators to seek agreement in a trialogue with the Council and Commission later the same day.
The EP negotiation group consisted of the Constitutional Affairs Committee rapporteurs, Alain Lamassoure (EPP, FR) and Zita Gurmai (S&D, HU), and the two Petitions Committee rapporteurs, Diana Wallis (ALDE, UK) and Gerald Häfner (Greens/EFA, DE), as well as the shadow rapporteurs Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL, DE) and Morten Messerschmidt (EFD, DK).
Alain Lamassoure commented that the aim was "to simplify the implementation of the citizens' initiative, while taking into account the specific constraints of the Member States".
Zita Gurmai said "I'm glad to see that today we took a big step towards fulfilling our aim: to get this regulation ready for the first anniversary of the Treaty of Lisbon. In particular, I'm happy that the regulation goes in the direction of being user-friendly, simple and it enhances transparency and aims to avoid abuse."
Diana Wallis particularly welcomed the deletion of "the Commission's original idea of a late admissibility check after 300,000 signatures have already been gathered".
Gerald Häfner stressed that MEPs had fought to ensure all the improvements they had approved earlier were "included in the final legislation, so we create a citizens' initiative that is meaningful and user-friendly for all Europeans".
The institutions are continuing negotiations on the remaining issues with the aim of wrapping things up within a few days. Parliament would then vote on the final regulation at its plenary session of 13–16 December. The Council is also committed to approving the regulation by the end of this year. The Member States will then have one year to incorporate the new legislation into national law, as agreed at the trialogue meeting.