What is a European citizens' initiative?
Established under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European citizens' initiative (ECI) enables European citizens to invite the European Commission to propose legislation on matters where the EU has competence to legislate.
An ECI enables at least one million of the 500 million EU citizens from at least seven of the 28 EU Member States to invite the Commission to put forward a legislative proposal to the European Parliament and the Council that they believe necessary in order to achieve the objectives of the treaties. A minimum number of signatories is required in each of those seven Member States. For Luxembourg, that minimum number is 4 500.
Who can organise a citizens' initiative and how?
In order to launch a citizens' initiative, citizens must form a citizens' committee composed of at least seven EU citizens resident in at least seven different Member States. The members of the citizens' committee must be EU citizens old enough to vote in the European Parliament elections (18, except in Austria, where the voting age is 16).
The citizens' committee must then request the registration of their proposed initiative on the European Commission's ECI website before starting to collect statements of support from citizens. The Commission will register the proposed initiative within two months of the request, provided certain conditions have been met.
The proposed initiative must not fall outside the framework of the Commission's powers to submit a proposal for a legal act of the Union for the purpose of implementing the treaties. The proposed initiative must not be manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious, and must not run contrary to the EU values as set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.
As soon as the registration of the proposed initiative has been confirmed, organisers have 12 months to collect a minimum of one million statements of support from EU citizens in at least seven Member States. All EU citizens (nationals of a Member State) old enough to vote in the European Parliament elections can sign an ECI. To lend their support to an initiative, citizens must fill in a specific statement of support form (on paper or online) provided by the organisers.
The Guide to the European Citizens' Initiative also provides more information on the procedure and the conditions to be met.
What happens when a citizens' initiative gets one million signatures?
Once organisers have collected the necessary statements of support, they must ask the competent national authorities in each Member State where they have collected the statements to certify the number of valid statements collected for that country. The initiative is then submitted to the European Commission, which has three months to examine it and to adopt a formal response. This response will take the form of a communication which will be formally adopted by the College of Commissioners and published in all official EU languages. The Commission will submit a response outlining the action it proposes in response to the citizens' initiative, and the reasons for adopting it or not. The European Parliament will organise a public hearing for the organisers of the initiative.
Although the Commission is not obliged to propose legislation as a result of an initiative, it must examine any initiative carefully. If the Commission does decide to propose legislation, the normal legislative procedure is initiated.