The Treaty of Lisbon introduced the European citizens' initiative, a major innovation to strengthen the democratic fabric of the European Union.
According to Article 11 of the treaty, "not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of member states may take the initiative of inviting the [European] Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the treaties".
The European citizens' initiative would therefore enable European citizens and civil society organisations to directly influence the political agenda of the EU for the first time in history.
The European Parliament in 2009 adopted a resolution which provides detailed guidelines for implementing the initiative.
All very good so far but here comes the restrictions:
1. One million signatories.
2. Must come from one third of countries i.e. 9
3. Signatories must be in proportion to the population of the countries i.e 5,000 from Estonia, 50,000 from France etc.
4. The European Commission will apply an admissibilty test once the number of signatories has reached 300,000.
5. The million signatories must be collected within 12 months.
6. Each signatory will have to provide a variety of personal data to prevent fraud.
As if the above were not restrictive enough a Slovac Vice President of the European Commission said,
The European Commission will filter citizens' petitions to make sure that "silly" initiatives like abolishing the EU are blocked, Maroš Šefčovič, a vice-president of the EU executive, told EurActiv in an interview ahead of talks today (6 May) on improving the transparency of EU decision-making. Asked whether the ECI could one day oblige the Commission to draft legislation on abolishing the EU or banning the Islamic burqa, Šefčovič said "it is quite clear that if it comes to silly initiatives, there will just be an administrative procedure and the initiative will not be registered".
Anders Ekberg one of the promoters of the Oneseat Campaign; which wants to bring an end to the so-called travelling circus which makes MEPs, their staff, journalists and lobbyists travel 450km from Brussels to Strasbourg for twelve four-day sessions a year has collected 1.27 million signatures over a 4 year period. Ekberg will not however be using this new petition saying that it is too complex, he added,
"This seems to be a way for the Commission to make sure that is more difficult to reach one million of signatures and also another evidence of how old fashioned they are,"
I wonder how many petitions to the European Commission there will be? I think I'll stick with the National Assembly's Petition system...10 signatories and it goes to the Petitions Committee, a far more open and transparent way of doing business.