"ECI must become a powerful tool for citizen participation"

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EESC welcomes simplification, but asks for more visibility and impact

The European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) is intended to promote active citizenship and participatory democracy, giving it the potential to help overcome the EU's democratic deficit. It is also a tool that can unite Europeans around a cause and thus strengthen the sense of European identity. However, in order to achieve its full potential, it is not enough for the ECI to become a user-friendly instrument, allowing every citizen in the EU to start their own initiative; it must also be accompanied by dialogue and make an appropriate impact.

The European Economic and Social Committee, in its opinion on "The European citizens' initiative" adopted on 14 March, welcomes the proposed reform of the ECI – as announced by FVP Frans Timmermans at the EESC's ECI Day 2017 – as an important step towards making the ECI a real tool for active citizenship.

However, while it is pleased that many of the good recommendations made by itself and other EU institutions have been taken on board, the EESC still sees room for improvement:

  • The EESC advocates appropriate follow-up measures to successful initiatives. It is particularly important for successful initiatives to be debated in plenary sessions of the European Parliament (EP), to give citizens' initiatives the necessary political dimension.
  • Dialogue with ECI organisers also needs to be stepped up, both during and after the campaign, following the EESC's example of inviting ECI organisers to debates in its ECI Group, sections and plenary sessions.
  • The EESC welcomes the possibility of partial registration of ECIs, but insists on clear and transparent rules for the registration phase, which should remain a one-step decision and not a two-step procedure as proposed by the Commission.
  • The roles of institutional mentor and decision-maker at registration – both in the hands of the Commission at present – should be separated. "The EESC has been recognised for its work towards improving and raising attention for the ECI beyond civil society. Therefore we see our role as a facilitator and institutional mentor", said rapporteur Kinga Joó, who reiterated the EESC's willingness to further support initiatives.

The EESC, as the bridge between the European institutions and organised civil society, has been involved since the beginning of the debate on the ECI. With its ECI Day – to be held on 10 April this year – the EESC has helped to keep the ECI high on the EU's institutional agenda and to raise its profile.

Status quo:

Six years after Regulation (EU) No 211/2011 on the citizens' initiative entered into force, 48 out of the 69 submitted ECIs have been registered by the Commission and signed by 8 million European citizens. Only 4 of the registered ECIs have collected 1 million signatures, and only one of these successful initiatives has led to a commitment from the Commission to put forward a new legislative proposal.