The European Citizens' Initiative has been called 'the biggest innovation in transnational democracy' since the introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament more than four decades ago. We, the citizens of the European Union, now have the same right as a majority in the European Parliament and the Member States to set the political agenda for the whole continent. An instrument used diligently: since its launch in 2012, more than 100 initiatives have been filed.
While the formal right to initiate pan-European legislation remains the prerogative of the European Commission alone, the European Citizens' Initiative constitutes an instrument for agenda-setting. It opens also the door to the future of participatory politics: it is more direct, more transnational and more digital than anything ever before in the EU and has inspired many Member States to introduce similar agenda-setting instruments at home.
This is the reason why the ECI is not just another right of petition, but is more of an everyday citizens' activation right regarding the next issues to be put on the agenda of the European institutions.
In order to be politically considered by the European Commission, an ECI must be backed by at least one million EU citizens from at least 7 Member States within one year of starting the collection of statements of support. A minimum number of signatories is required in each of those seven Member States.
An initiative is possible in any field where the Commission has the power to propose legislation, for example the environment, agriculture, transport, public health or international trade.
For detailed information please see the European issues and competences section and visit:
In order to launch a citizens' initiative, citizens must form a 'group of organisers' composed of at least 7 EU citizens resident in at least seven different Member States.
An initiative can be supported by all EU citizens old enough to vote in the European Parliament elections or aged at least 16 years old in some countries (i.e. 16 in Austria, Malta and Estonia, 17 in Greece and 18 in all the other countries). To give their support to an initiative, citizens have to fill in a specific statement of support form provided by the organisers, on paper or online.
Within one month of receiving a successful initiative, the Commission will meet with the organisers, the organisers can then present their initiative at a public hearing in the European Parliament, and the Commission will adopt a formal response within 6 months. If the Commission decides to put forward a legislative proposal, the normal legislative procedure kicks off.
Since 2012, more than 100 initiatives have been filed with the European Commission, which refused to register 26 of them because – in its view – they did not fulfil all the formal requirements. In several cases – the Stop TTIP and Minority SafePack initiatives, for example – the European Court of Justice later obliged the Commission to revise its decisions.
For more information on the ECI and the detailed procedure, see the Set the EU agenda in 10 steps section.
More information on the ECI registration page.
Note: The difference between the total number of registration requests submitted and the addition of the numbers of registered requests, requests in the registration pipeline (number in brackets) and refused requests is due to the fact 3 requests were initially refused and then registered following court rulings.
Regulation (EU) 2019/1799 (Official Journal of the European Union L274/3 of 28.10.2019).These rules are applicable to independent collection systems, authorised until the end of 2022 only. After that day, the central online collection system made available by the European Commission will be used by all organisers.European Parliament:
Rules 222 and 230 of Parliament's Rules of ProcedureComplete ECI regulatory framework: ECI verification and certification by Member States:
The European Citizens' Initiative is sometimes compared to a Swiss army knife: a smartly designed, adaptable multifunctional tool. As the ECI is available to nearly 450 million EU citizens across 27 Member States (and across the world, if you happen to live outside the EU as an EU citizen), it has addressed the way democracy is understood and is working at the transnational level.
Based on the experiences of the almost 100 initiatives submitted between 2012 and 2019, an updated and more accessible version of the ECI came into force in 2020. A quarter of the initiatives were rejected due to the strict interpretation and application of the regulation by the Commission. However, under the new rules the organisers and the Commission are given more time for finding a solution, including the possibility of registering only the admissible parts of an initiative. More time is also given to prepare for the start of the signature collection, as well as all other steps in the process.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged everybody's way of interacting, discussing and decision-making. In order to safeguard the democratic potential of the ECI, the Commission has proposed a set of coronavirus-related rules allowing for the extension of deadlines for collecting and verifying signatures and for examining successful initiatives (see Regulation (EU) 2020/1042, Commission Implementing Decision of 17.12.2020 (EU) 2020/2200 and Commission Implementing Decision of 19.2.2021 (EU) 2021/360).
In an ECI process, there are three different kinds of roles: organiser, supporter and observer.
As organiser(s), you are at the very heart of the process, as you are in charge of all the key steps set out in the ECI regulation. You are also the responsible representative vis-à-vis the institutions, your supporters and the whole of Europe. For this reason, you need a great deal of careful consideration, patience, commitment and intensive communication and public relations work will be required.
As a supporter you are asked to support a certain European cause as one of at least one million people in at least 7 different Member States. Your main role involves becoming a signatory to an ECI, which means that you fill in a statement of support, either on paper or electronically. Make sure that you are signing a formally registered initiative. For all open initiatives check the Official Register.
Finally, as an observer you may be curious to see what the ECI is about, want to understand it in greater detail and possibly be able to offer interesting insights and comments to organisers, the media, researchers and the EU.
As a group of organisers, supporters or observers, there are several aspects to think about before starting, signing or commenting. The key question is: what does a specific ECI want to achieve? What is your goal?
Do you want to propose something new to Europe? Or is your idea to remove and abolish a particular EU policy? Many things, however, are not simply black or white, good or bad: they may just need to be adjusted. So you could be mostly interested in changing parts of a law in the EU as well.
There are many ways of taking actions with an ECI, which you can use as:
- an accelerator in order to get the EU to do something new. Here you need to be very patient as it will take a long time to see this kind of ECI through to the end; you need to find an appropriate and workable legal basis first, and you need to see the public debate on your proposal as the main reward for your efforts.
- a brake to stop the EU from doing something. In this case, timing is critical, as you need to find the right moment to raise your concerns to achieve the maximum impact and support, which means that you need to gather the signatures swiftly.
- a valve with the aim of making current EU legislation better. As you want to fix a certain problem by changing specific legislation, you need to keep things simple. 'Valve' ECIs tend to be overly complex and hard to communicate, so do everything you can to stick to the main focus.
- a bargaining chip by using the ECI process as an additional element in an attempt to influence European policy-making. However, before you start such an ECI, take stock of your influence and political power independent of the initiative and check the possible additional benefits. Be clear about your intentions vis-à-vis supporters and be aware of the withdrawal option of an ECI and its timely use.
- a catalyst to build broad alliances and networks across Europe. This is an especially appropriate option when you see your initiative as an element of a longer-term strategy to bring people across Europe together and/or to prepare a European election campaign.
- a canvasser to make yourself and/or your group better known in the public sphere. In this case, you need to first identify a suitable and easily communicable substantive issue for your ECI. You should also be as open as possible about your goals to ensure that you do not deceive potential supporters.
The ECI offers many opportunities, but in the end it all comes down to your own understanding and capacities when assessing the options and limitations of an ECI. By becoming aware of the multifunctional capabilities of this transnational and participatory process, you may be able to develop realistic expectations and thereby a realistic approach to your strategy and the options you choose.
If you are not sure if the ECI is the best tool to meet your objectives, consider various aspects of your case in the Consider before you act section and read about other tools available at the European level in the Participation toolkit section.
Thinking of launching your own ECI? It will take you at least three years, probably even more (and quite a lot in terms of resources) to make it happen. However, if you are smart and careful, the process will offer you new insights and teach you many new lessons – and (hopefully) enable you to make a difference to Europe. Here are 10 steps to expect during the ECI process.
You have an idea, project or concern that can be translated into European policy. Check first of all whether there are any other, possibly simpler and more accessible tools available to make your voice heard on this issue. If you go for the ECI option, go to step 2.
The European Citizens' Initiative is a process with a number of legal and political implications. Learn everything about the options and limitations of the process when it comes to promoting your own future initiative. Get support at this early stage by contacting the European Citizens' Initiative Forum (see More support section for details). Then try to evaluate: is it worth the effort? If you believe that it is, continue to step 3.
Another important checkpoint before taking the first formal steps is to establish what you want to accomplish with your initiative and what you can realistically hope to achieve.
Define the aim, scope and specific function of your initiative. Keep it as simple as possible for everybody. In this step, it makes sense to look more closely at the lessons learnt by earlier ECI organisers.
The wording and explanation of your initial proposal must be comprehensible in many different languages and even more political cultures across Europe. Like most organisers, you may want to use the official online signature collection system, which the EU provides for free. Now is the time to familiarise yourself with this system – and to use all available support.
This is a the first formal hurdle for many 'groups of organisers', as you need to fulfil certain criteria in order to get registered. The most important thing is that your initiative does not manifestly fall outside the framework of the Commission's competences. Again, the European Citizens' Initiative Forum can assist you during this step. And then it is time to submit your ECI on the official website, providing a title and the objectives of your proposal. Depending on the need to amend and update your proposal, the Commission will register (or refuse) your ECI within 2-4 months. After registration, the Commission will translate the title and the objective of your proposal into all 24 official languages.
Now comes the best and, at the same time, the hardest part: you have to convince more than one million Europeans in at least seven different countries to sign your initiative in less than a year. This task needs to be prepared well in advance by creating a pan-European network of supporting partners across Europe. After the official registration, you have to start the actual signature collection within six months. You just need to inform the Commission 10 working days before your chosen starting date, so that the beginning and the end of the year-long gathering phase can be published. Please take note of the fact that you will need to use separate support forms according to the nationalities of the signatories. This means that all the signatories on any one form must be nationals of the same EU country.
Without communication, you will have no supporters: dialogue with all possible like-minded people - and even sceptics - will be critical for the lasting success of your initiative. With this in mind, complement your signature-gathering activities by reaching out via the (social) media and at public events. For this step, it again makes a lot of sense to learn from earlier ECIs. The people who worked on them have a great deal of experience and knowledge to share.
A full set of requirements and hurdles have to be dealt with before you can finally submit your initiative with all the required certifications to the European Commission. First, you need to submit the gathered statements of support to the various national authorities within 3 months after the end of the signature-gathering phase. These authorities have at most 3 months to verify and certify the signatures. After that, you as the "group of organisers" have another 3 months to prepare to finally submit the certificates to the Commission. These demanding operations require a solid and well-prepared management team for your initiative. Silly mistakes will generate high additional costs, delays and frustration.
Submitting your ECI is just the beginning of another important chapter: communication on an official EU topic, which will bring you onto the political centre stage. After being acknowledged as a successful initiative, new doors will open to you: in formal talks with the Commission and at a public hearing at the European Parliament.
Within one month of the submission of your successful ECI, you will be invited to an official meeting with the Commission to discuss your proposal and in the following months, you will be invited to speak at a public hearing at the European Parliament. Other EU institutions, such as the European Economic and Social Committee and all the national parliaments of all EU Member States, will also be informed. It will be your big opportunity to convince even more people – and ideally the right people!
At the end of an exhausting but hopefully empowering exercise, it is important not to forget to do the back-office work, the documentation and evaluation in order to learn (and share) the conclusions drawn. By being part of the second generation ECIs (starting from 2020) you are about to make history.
RIGHT TO WATER: A HUMAN RIGHT> 1.6 million signatures
This initiative launched by trade unions across Europe was one of the first to ever be registered, on 10 May 2012. The aim was to invite the European Commission to propose legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation, as recognised by the United Nations, and their provision as essential public services for all. The main objective of the campaign was that EU legislation should require national governments to ensure and provide all citizens with sufficient clean drinking water and sanitation. The Commission decided to take action in different areas related to the initiative (increase transparency, stimulate innovation, etc.) and made a legislative proposal to revise the Drinking Water Directive, including the obligation for the Member States to ensure access to water for the most vulnerable groups.
- Initiative website: www.right2water.eu
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2012/000003_en
Pro-Life Movement: One of Us >1.7 million signatures
The 'One of Us' initiative was one of the first European citizens' initiatives that succeeded in collecting more than one million signatures. The initiative addressed the dignity, right to life and integrity of every human being from conception. Its main objective was to end EU funding of activities involving human embryos, in particular in research, public health and development aid. The European Commission decided not to carry out the legislative review as it considered the existing legislative framework appropriate. The organisers appealed against this to the European Court – but lost.
- Initiative website: oneofus.eu
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2012/000005_en
Protect the Animals: Stop Vivisection > 1.17 million signatures
The 'Stop Vivisection' initiative aimed at phasing out animal experiments. The campaign was supported by an EU-wide alliance of more than 250 animal protection groups, scientific organisations and companies selling "animal cruelty-free" products – and managed to gather the support of more than 1.17 million EU citizens. The European Commission shared the organisers' conviction that animal testing should be phased out, but did not accept that scientific principles invalidate the 'animal model'.
- Initiative website: stopvivisection.eu
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2012/000007_en
BANNING PESTICIDES: STOP GLYPHOSATE>1.07 million signatures
The 'Stop Glyphosate' ECI was launched in January 2017 and had three aims: to ban glyphosate, to reform the pesticide approval procedure and to set mandatory targets for reduced pesticide use EU-wide. Its main objective was to achieve a pesticide-free future. The organisers reached the one-million threshold within less than 6 months! While the Commission decided not to ban glyphosate, it committed to a legislative proposal to increase transparency in the evaluation of pesticides and to enhance the quality and independence of the scientific studies that are the basis of the assessments carried out by the European Food Safety Authority. The Commission also committed to the revision of the Sustainable Use Directive.
- Initiative website: stopglyphosate.org
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2017/000002_en
MINORITY SAFEPACK: PROTECTING DIVERSITY IN EUROPE >1.1 million signatures
As the name of this initiative already suggests, the 'Minority SafePack' ECI proposed a whole package of measures to the Commission, containing aspects including the promotion of rarer languages, the protection of national minorities and research programmes on the benefits of linguistic and cultural diversity in the European Union. Initially launched in 2013, its registration was rejected by the Commission, a decision annulled by the European Court four years later. In its reply, the Commission considered that the full implementation of legislation and policies already in place provided a powerful arsenal to support the initiative’s goals and therefore did not propose any legal act.
- Initiative website: minority-safepack.eu
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2017/000004_en
END THE CAGE AGE: AIMING AT HIGHER ANIMAL WELFARE>1.39 million signatures
This initiative called on the Commission to impose clear anti-cage legislation in the European Union to give priority to the more humane treatment of farm animals. In particular, the organisers hoped to prohibit the use of cages for all poultry, individual sow stalls and calf pens etc., to ensure that animals have freedom of movement and can stay close to each other in their flocks or herds. The End the Cage Age ECI was submitted to the European Commission in October 2020. The Commission will reply by mid-July 2021.
- Initiative website: endthecageage.eu
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2018/000004_en
STOP EXTREMISM: SUPPORT HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE EU
This initiative, registered in summer 2017, invites the European Commission to propose a new Anti-Extremism Directive, featuring a neutral definition of extremism, regardless of its motivation, and covering all 'acts aiming at the destruction of fundamental rights', as well as bans on extremists in schools and other public institutions. A European Directive in this area should also allow for compensation claims, inspired by the existing anti-discrimination law, to effectively protect women, children and persons at work. After one year of signature collection, the organisers announced they had gathered more than one million statements of support.
- Initiative website: stop-extremism.eu
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2017/000007_en
EAT ORIGINAL. UNMASK YOUR FOOD: KNOW WHERE YOUR FOOD COMES FROM
According to the organisers, over 1.1 million EU citizens signed this ECI to support the objective of mandatory declarations of origin for all food products in order to prevent fraud, protect public health and guarantee consumers' right to information. This ECI also called for clearer food labelling of all primary ingredients in processed food. This ECI is in the process of certification of its statements of support.
- Initiative website: eatoriginal.eu
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2018/000006_en
COHESION POLICY FOR THE EQUALITY OF THE REGIONS AND SUSTAINABILITY OF THE REGIONAL CULTURES
The organisers of this initiative ask for special attention to be paid to regions with national, ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics that are different from those of the surrounding regions in the context of the cohesion policy. The registration of this initiative was initially rejected by the Commission in 2013, a decision annulled by the European Court six years later. The organisers reported the support of 1.1 million citizens at the end of their collection period in May 2021 (the deadline was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic). The verification of the statements of support is pending.
- Initiative website: www.nationalregions.eu
- Official ECI Register: europa.eu/citizens-initiative/initiatives/details/2019/000007_en