The EESC issues between 160 and 190 opinions and information reports a year.
It also organises several annual initiatives and events with a focus on civil society and citizens’ participation such as the Civil Society Prize, the Civil Society Days, the Your Europe, Your Say youth plenary and the ECI Day.
The EESC brings together representatives from all areas of organised civil society, who give their independent advice on EU policies and legislation. The EESC's326 Members are organised into three groups: Employers, Workers and Various Interests.
The EESC has six sections, specialising in concrete topics of relevance to the citizens of the European Union, ranging from social to economic affairs, energy, environment, external relations or the internal market.
EESC public hearing on the revision of the ECI instrument on 23 February 2016
"Not just nice words and high ideals, but a concrete tool must be built" – this was the original idea of an instrument allowing citizens "to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required…" laid down in Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty.
For a long time the EU has been criticized for its democratic deficit. With the European Citizen Initiative (ECI) designed to allow citizens to actively participate in the EU's law-making process, the way to a more democratic Europe seemed to have been paved.
However, the result so far is meagre: Although more than 6 million Europeans have signed an ECI, from a total of 56 initiatives only 36 have been registered by the Commission and only three of them have been able to collect the necessary one million signatures. And from these final three initiatives, none of them have been taken forward by the European Commission as it is not obligatory for the Commission to translate an ECI into European legislation.
Assya Kavrakova, director of the European Citizen Action Service, ECI Support Centre, compared the ECI with a boutique for elitist clients, however in order to become accessible for all European citizens the ECI has to become a supermarket. Antonio Longo, rapporteur of the EESC opinion called for a user-friendly instrument allowing every European to participate. "In times where people are more and more losing trust in the EU, the ECI has to become the instrument to give people a real say."
The main difficulties that participants identified at yesterday's hearing on "The European Citizens' Initiative: more impact, simpler rules" were:
• A too tight timeframe to get all the necessary signatures: already certifying online collection systems in each Member States costs a lot of time;
• The huge liability risks that the organisers have to take on: The fact that promotors are personally liable for "any damage they cause in the organisation" of an ECI has a deterrent effect;
• The excessive amount of information needed to support an ECI application;
• The absence of a legal status for citizens' committees: This has a negative impact on important practical aspects of the ECI, such as fundraising or even the simple opening of a current account;
• The excessively rigid application of ECI eligibility criteria (around 40% of initiatives were declared inadmissible by the EC during the first phase in the process); and
• The different requirements regarding data in different Member States.
The European Commission is now reflecting upon how to optimise the ECI which provides the EESC with an important opportunity to influence the future shape of the instrument. The EESC is currently preparing an opinion on the ECI and the results of the hearing will feed into this. In particular, proposals regarding policy areas, the validation process, simplification of the rules and the role of the EU institutions and Member States will be tackled in the EESC's opinion with the aim of making it more user-friendly, practical and with impact.
The EESC has actively been involved in the ECI process with the dual role of facilitator and institutional mentor. Every year it organizes the European Citizens Initiative Day in order to assess the state of implementation and the effectiveness of the ECI with all the players involved. The next ECI-Day will be on the 20 April in Brussels.
More information and the presentations are available here.