Public consultation on the European citizens' initiative
The European citizens' initiative and you / General considerations
Do you consider that the European citizens' initiative has so far achieved its objective of fostering the participation of citizens in the democratic life of the EU and bringing the EU closer to the citizens?
In your view, how important are the following considerations when revising the rules for the European citizens' initiative?
a) Signing an initiative should be as simple as possible (statements of support should be collected in a user-friendly way and the personal data requested should be kept to the minimum needed).
b) The rules and procedures for organising an initiative should not be burdensome and should remain proportionate to the nature of the tool (a tool for citizen participation which does not lead to a binding outcome).
c) Citizens' initiatives should be launched only on issues relevant to citizens in a significant number of member states.
d) Citizens' initiatives should foster debate and interactions between like-minded citizens across the EU as well as between themselves and the EU institutions.
e) The rules for giving support to an initiative should allow the use of the best available technology in terms of security and user-friendliness.
Not at all important
f) Other. Please specify: 200 character(s) maximum (19 characters left)
2 questions in the questionaire are impossible to answer: "foster debate and interactions" (d), "security and user-friendliness" (e). I want 1 of the 2, both options are not equal.
Preparatory phase of a citizens' initiative / Citizens' committee
A citizens' initiative must be organised by a citizens' committee of at least seven EU citizens residing in seven different Member States and of the age to vote in European Parliament elections. Before starting to collect statements of support from citizens, organisers need to register their proposed initiative with the Commission.
During the first five years of implementation, several committees raised the following concerns:
- potential issues related to their liability as they are responsible for collecting the statements of support (and therefore for protecting the personal data provided by signatories);
- obstacles, for example to raise funds and manage data protection, especially in view of the fact that they act as individuals (the citizens' committee has no legal personality) and reside in at least seven different countries.
In accordance with the Regulation, the Commission has established a point of contact which provides information and assistance to organisers. Do you consider that the provision of information and assistance to organisers in this phase should be strengthened?
Assistance to organisers in the preparatory phase should be provided by:
- The Commission through its point of contact ('helpdesk')
- Independent expert(s), for instance through an online collaborative platform
- X Other:
Local authorities. If they are uncapable to do so, they should get in touch with the Commission and after being educated get back to citizens and pro-actively help them within a set term. Failing to do so should have consequences and these cases should be publicly known through the Commission's website and investigated.
In your opinion, what would be the best way(s) to limit the liability of organisers?
- X Reduce the amount of personal data collected from signatories.
- Organisers should not be in charge of collecting statements of support (online collection should take place on a single platform, under the responsibility of a public authority and/or statements of support in paper form should be submitted by signatories to a public authority).
- Only collection of statements of support in paper form should be allowed.
- Only online collection of statements of support should be allowed.
- Initiatives should not be organised by citizens' committees, but only by organisations.
- Organisations should be allowed to be part of the citizens' committees.
- The citizens' committee should be required to register as a legal entity in one member state.
- X Other: Please specify:
Do you have any other suggestions for improving this preparatory phase/the citizens' committee?
At any stage citizens should be allowed to leave the committee. If they do not respond to a probe from the European Commission within a month, they are removed. Anyone can add themselves if the existing members confirm within a month that they agree. The number is members is infinite. Membership changes are publicly available (online), updated monthly.
To be registered, the proposed initiative must comply with the conditions set out in Article 4(2) of the Regulation, which require that:
- a citizens’ committee has been formed and the contact persons have been designated;
- the proposed initiative does not manifestly fall outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union for the purpose of implementing the Treaties;
- the initiative is not manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious;
- the initiative is not manifestly contrary to the values of the Union as set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.
Since 2012, 45 initiatives have been registered. 21 requests for registration have been refused, all of them because they manifestly fell outside the framework of the Commission’s powers. As the tool has matured and the Commission's approach has evolved, registration rates have improved. Since the start of the Juncker Commission's mandate in November 2014 only one request for registration had to be rejected.
The Commission has taken a number of measures to improve the registration phase in order to make it more citizen-friendly, by:
- reinforcing the advice and support to organisers in this phase;
- allowing for the partial registration of proposed initiatives in cases where part(s) of the proposed initiative fall outside the Commission's powers (see decisions on the initiatives ‘EU Citizenship for Europeans: United in Diversity in Spite of jus soli and jus sanguinis’, ‘Minority SafePack – one million signatures for diversity in Europe' and 'Let us reduce the wage and economic differences that tear the EU apart!').
The Commission Decisions on the registration of such initiatives clarify the areas in which legal acts of the Union for the purpose of implementing the Treaties can be adopted and set out the understanding on the basis of which statements of support may be collected. Commission Decisions on registration are made available online in the register of citizens' initiatives in order to ensure transparency.
Should the registration phase continue to include an admissibility check to verify that the proposed initiative does not fall outside the Commission’s powers?
When do you think this check should take place?
- X After the collection of all the necessary statements of support (at least one million) together with the assessment of the political opportunity of the proposed initiative.
- After the collection of a certain number of statements of support.
- X Other:
50.000. When the answer is negative, the ECI should be pro-actively passed on to one or more authorities which are asked for a (public) response. By doing so, more citizens get the 'Right of Petition'
In order to redraft their proposed initiative, the organisers should have the possibility to be assisted by:
- Independent expert(s), for instance through an online collaborative platform
- An officer within the Commission with an independent and impartial role for the European citizens' initiative ('hearing officer')
- Other: Local authorities. They are accessible and accountable. Online or EU assistance is distant, slow, not 'in person'. The local authorities in their turn can ask advice from Commission, experts (online or not).
Do you have any other suggestions for improving the registration phase?
No admisability check on the framework of the Commission’s powers will encourage more citizens to start an initiative. All 50.000 signatories can learn about how the subsidiarity between the EU and member states. After member states get the initiative on their plate the EU can observe and demand an answer. If the answer is not positive, at least the ECI instrument worked and gets the attention it needs.
Organisers have 12 months to collect the necessary statements of support from citizens, as of the date of registration of their proposed initiative by the Commission. Signatories can give their support in paper form or online.
In order to collect statements of support online, organisers must build their online collection system and get it certified by a competent authority in the member state where the data collected will be stored before starting to collect statements of support online via this system.
To be certified, the systems must ensure among other things that the signatories' data are securely collected and stored. Certification can be requested by organisers before or after registering their proposed initiative with the Commission. However, the starting date of the collection period is in all cases the date of the registration of the proposed initiative with the Commission, regardless of whether the organisers' system has already been certified or not.
As foreseen in the Regulation on the European citizens' initiative, the Commission has developed open source online collection software which is available free of charge.
Organisers can use the Commission's software or another software of their choice. In addition to the software, organisers have to find hosting servers to put the collection system into operation.
Shortly after the entry into application of the Regulation, the first organisers of initiatives had difficulty finding appropriate and affordable hosting servers for their systems. In view of this obstacle that prevented organisers from starting to collect online, the Commission has exceptionally offered, beyond its obligations under the Regulation, to host organisers' online collection systems on its own servers, free of charge. Organisers using this solution still need to get their systems certified in accordance with the Regulation.
The hosting of online collection systems exceptionally offered by the Commission should be:
- Made permanent and remain optional (organisers could still build their own system and get it certified by the relevant national authority).
- Made permanent and simplified (transformed into an online collection platform readily available for organisers upon registration, without the need for a certification) while still remaining optional.
- Transformed into a single online platform for all initiatives (readily available for organisers upon registration, without the need for a certification), as there would be no real need for other online collection solutions.
- X Stopped – organisers should find their own hosting provider, build their own online collection system and get it certified by the relevant national authority as foreseen in the current Regulation.
To which extent do you agree on the importance of using new solutions for electronic identification such as eID or electronic signature for supporting initiatives?
Would these electronic identification solutions make the online collection more user-friendly for citizens and organisers?
No, not at all
To which extent do you agree that several ways for providing support to an initiative online (filling the form online, using eID, using other e-identification solutions) should be available in parallel in order to maximise the user-friendliness of the tool?
Collection in paper form
In the case of a single online platform to gather support, how should the collection of statements of support in paper form be organised?
Completely different. Very little should be known about the signatory, just a pseudnym is enough. As long as there is a way to contact: telephone/e-mail/socialmedia handle/postal address... Only upon verification a sample of the signatories receive a communication to confirm their support. Because registration is more light, the certification is not needed and user friendlyness increases tremendously.
Requirements for signatories
Any EU citizen of the age to vote in European Parliament elections (18 years old in all EU countries except in Austria, where it is 16) is entitled to give support to an initiative. According to the Regulation, for that purpose, signatories have to fulfil the requirement of a link of nationality or residence with a given member state and provide personal data, allowing thereby that member state to verify its statements of support. These requirements vary from one member state to another.
The amount and types of personal data to be provided vary significantly depending on the country. This is related to the procedure for the verification of statements of support in place in each member state and/or to the organisation of their population registers. Sensitivity as regards the different types of personal data also varies depending on the country.
Examples of personal data which signatories are required to provide:
- Sweden, Lithuania, Hungary, Czech Republic: name, nationality and personal identification number
- Finland, Ireland, United Kingdom: name, nationality, address and date of birth.
- The Netherlands, Slovakia: name, name at birth, nationality, address, date and place of birth
- Austria, Italy, France: name, nationality, address, date and place of birth, ID card or passport number (for Italy also the issuing authority)
In your view, should EU citizens residing outside the EU be allowed to support a European citizens' initiative?
Yes, but only if they are eligible to vote in European Parliament elections
In your view, what should be the minimum age to give support to an initiative?
It should be harmonised at 16.
Personal data to be provided by signatories and subsequent verification process
In your view, what should be verified in relation to the signatories' personal data? Please keep in mind that a citizens' initiative is a tool for citizen participation which does not lead to a binding outcome.
a) that data is not entered by a robot and that the overall probability of having entered fake data is below predetermined thresholds (based on data analysis techniques)
b) that a person corresponding to the data provided exists
c) that the person is eligible to support a citizens' initiative (old enough and EU citizen)
d) that the person has provided his/her own data (that he/she did not introduce someone else's data fraudulently)
e) that this person has not supported an initiative more than once.
f) other. Please specify: 500 character(s) maximum (55 characters left)
I have to explain my 'No' to the previous 5 questions. In my proposed design all personal information is collected in a sample during the verification phase. Just a means of contact: e-mail, phone, social media handle, postal address, is enough (whatever the database of the collection system supports). The national verification authority contacts a sample of these asking to provide the information, which is deleted immediately when correct.
Which types of personal data do you think citizens would not be willing to provide when giving support to a European citizens' initiative? How does this vary between member states?
Any personal information. Citizens do not object to passing on a pseudonym, which will protect them sufficiently. Those who want to protect their privacy will choose a pseudonym which does not link to them in any way, for example an e-mailaddress without their name which forwards to their actual e-mail. When it comes to the verification stage the national authority sends a sample an e-mail "you have been selected to be verified, either let us know how and when we can call/message/vist you in real time or provide the following information in a reply."
The current Regulation sets out different data requirements for signatories depending on the member states (see above). Among the following options, which one do you think would be the most user-friendly
- Requiring the same set of personal data in all member states (without taking into account the different sensitivities) even if that means increasing the amount of data required in some countries and/or weakening the verification process.
- Requiring the same set of personal data in all member states. Then signatories may be contacted to provide additional personal data depending on the country they come from, for verification purposes.
- Requiring different sets of personal data and offering different ways of giving support as long as the most citizen-friendly solution is available to signatories depending on the country they come from (i.e. the most practical solution, collecting the minimum number of personal data while allowing for the required verification process).
- X Requiring to provide only once the personal data needed by your member state for verification purposes in order to get credentials allowing you to support any initiatives.
According to you, who needs to have access to the signatories' personal data?
- Organisers or other persons acting on their behalf who collect the statements of support and the public authorities in charge of their verification.
- Only public authorities (which would be responsible for the collection and verification of the statements of support).
- X Other: Please specify:
500 character(s) maximum (500 characters left)
In my proposed design organisers get access to the data they ask to collect. If they only collect Facebook likes, that is their choice. Public authorities then get a database with just Facebook-handles to try to contact for the verification. Organisers will probably opt for a middle ground and also collect e-mailaddresses so they can warn and instruct signatories about the verification procedure once the 1 million is reached.
Time limit for the collection period
Should the time limit for collecting statements of support (12 months from the date of registration) be revised?
Do you have any other suggestions for improving the process of collection of statements of support and their verification?
As described above, I propose only collecting pseudonyms with a means of communication: phone/mail/social media handle/postal address. Only at the verification stage the signatories get a communication. In many cases the data can be deleted because requirements were not met (the 1 million, within powers of EU, etc.) Because collecting is easy and without any registration of start date, anyone can start anytime. Good for the fame of the ECI-instrument, failed initiatives advertise for free.
Submission to the Commission and follow-up
Once an initiative reaches at least one million signatories and the necessary thresholds in at least 7 member states and after verification of the statements of support by the competent national authorities, the organisers can submit their initiative to the Commission. Once the statements of support have been verified (which can take up to three months), there is no specific time limit for the submission of a successful initiative to the Commission. This is a potential source for confusion and uncertainty both for the institutions and the public.
The submission of the initiative triggers a 3-month examination procedure including the following steps:
- Commission representatives meet the organisers so they can explain in detail the issues raised in their initiative;
- the organisers have the opportunity to present their initiative at a public hearing in the European Parliament;
- the Commission adopts a formal response spelling out what action it will propose in response to the citizens' initiative, if any, and the reasons for doing or not doing so.
This response takes the form of a communication which is formally adopted by the College of Commissioners and published in all official EU languages.
Since 2012, three initiatives have been through this procedure. The following concerns have been raised by different stakeholders:
- Discussions during the public hearings at the European Parliament did not ensure stakeholders representing different views and perspectives to be heard.
- The 3-month period for the preparation of the Commission reply to a successful initiative proves very short and does not leave enough time to organise a formal stakeholder consultation, in addition to the public hearing.
Do you think that there should be a time limit for the submission of a successful initiative to the Commission?
In your view, what should be this time limit?
- Less than six months from the end of the collection
- Between six months and one year from the end of the collection
- More than one year from the end of the collection
- Don't know
- Other Please specify:
The 3-month examination procedure is the standard, but the Commission can motivate a request to the organisers of the initiative to prolong the 3 months with 1, 2, or 3 months, up to 3 times. This shows thoughtful examination by the Commission.
According to you, what would be the best way(s) to ensure that stakeholders representing different views are heard before the Commission replies to the initiative?
Do you have any other suggestions for improving the examination procedure and the possible follow-up to initiatives that have reached the required number of signatories?
It is of vital importance that the answer to the initiative is communicated to the European Citizens. Both individually, using the communication channels the signatories have provided when signing, and publicly using mass media. For example a small, but prominent, advertisement on all major news website/newspapers and a 10 second tv-commercial, all pointing to a page on the Commission website or to Europe Direct for a personal explanation.
Transparency and awareness-raising
What more could be done to better inform citizens and communicate on the European citizens' initiative?
All local governments (municipalities, communes) should be involved, as I proposed. Besides standing close to citizens, they employ also many civil servants. They are professionally equiped to understand the instrument fully and motivated to discuss it with colleages, friends and family members after receiving an internal memo about their duty to help citizens with it if they request assistance. Some might pro-actively inform citizens using their own budget/time. Many will passively wait for a request. If a citizen does not get assistance, then Europe Direct should find, instruct and test a local civil servant who will get in touch with the citizen. If such a local civil servant fails to do this, Europe Direct will inform their superior etc
Other comments, document upload and submit
A draft version of my design for a simple ECI was published on 11 April 2017, the European Citizens Initiative Day where Timmermans announced this public consultation.
http://www.rustema.eu/simpleecidesign also uploaded as a one-page PDF.