Citizens Can Call for Legislation

European citizens will soon be able to call upon the Commission to present legislative proposals on issues they feel need addressed. This so-called Citizen’s Initiative, foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty, will become a legal right as a result of a new legislative proposal from the Commission.

Key Points

Many key features of the Citizens' Initiative are outlined in the Lisbon Treaty (Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union). In particular the Treaty requires that the signatories of a citizens' initiative should number at least one million and that they should come from a significant number of Member States.

Any initiative must also be within the scope of the Commission's powers, and must concern matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the EU is required in order to implement the Treaties. However, the Lisbon Treaty leaves it up to the European Parliament and the Council to set out in a Regulation the procedures and conditions for how the Citizens' Initiative will function in practice.

The proposed Regulation would not affect the Commission's right of initiative (i.e. it would still be the Commission that must come forward with a legislative proposal). It would however oblige the Commission to give serious consideration to the requests made by Citizens' Initiatives.

Minimum Number of Member States

The proposal fixes the minimum number of Member States that must be involved in a Citizens’ Initiative at one third. The Commission believes that nine, or one third of Member States, is sufficient to ensure the representation of an EU interest. This threshold also reflects the outcome of a public consultation that was carried out on the proposal for a Citizen’s Initiative between November 2009 and February 2010.

Minimum Number of Citizens per Member State

The proposal provides for a minimum number of citizens that have to participate from each Member State. This is proportional to the population of each Member State. A proportionately lower number of signatories from large countries are required than for small countries. The proposal also sets the minimum age to participate in a Citizens’ Initiative as the age at which citizens are entitled to vote in the European Parliament elections.

Registration of Proposed Initiatives

The proposal provides for a mandatory system of registration of proposed initiatives on an online register made available by the Commission. This reflects the broad support expressed for this option during a public consultation. The responses received by the Commission underlined the need for the procedures and conditions for the Citizens' Initiative to be simple, user-friendly and accessible to all EU citizens.

Collection of Statements of Support

The proposal does not set any restrictions as to how statements of support should be collected. The proposal does require however that any online collection systems should have adequate security features in place. The proposal also provides for a time-limit of 12 months for the collection of statements of support. 
The organiser of an initiative must submit a request to the Commission for a decision on the admissibility of the initiative after having collected 300,000 statements of support from signatories coming from at least three Member States. This corresponds to one third of the final thresholds required for presenting an initiative to the Commission. At least one million statements of support from at least one third of Member States are needed for that purpose.

The Commission would then have two months to assess and take a decision as to whether the initiative falls within the remit of its powers and concerns a matter for which a legal act of the EU can be adopted for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.

Commission Examination of a Citizens' Initiative

The proposal provides that the Commission would have a time-limit of 4 months to examine a citizens' initiative which has been formally submitted to the Commission in accordance with the provisions of the Regulation. The Commission would then be required to set out its conclusions on the initiative and the action it intends to take in a communication, which would be notified to the organiser as well as to the European Parliament and Council and would be made public.

Revision and Review

Given the absence of any experience at EU level with this form of participatory democracy instrument, the proposal provides for a review clause, which requires that the Commission should report on the implementation of the Regulation after five years.

In addition, the proposal provides the possibility for the Commission to amend the Annexes by means of delegated acts in accordance with Article 290 of the Lisbon Treaty. Indeed the Commission considers that such adjustments would not warrant a full legislative proposal and that the use of delegated powers is therefore justified.