October 10, 2012
By Tony Venables
Over one hundred thirty people gathered on Friday, 5 October in Vienna to assess issues surrounding the implementation of European Citizens Initiatives (ECI) which started on 1 of April 2012.
The conference, organised by the Austrian institute for European Law and Politics, is part of the ECAS-led project ‘ECI link’ and is a follow-up of similar events in Barcelona and Paris.
‘It is a mess’ said Gerald Häfner MEP, one of the European Parliament’s rapporteurs on the ECI. He was reflecting the faltering start to ECIs. The Commission has rightly stopped the clock on the online signature collection due to the absence of a secure system. Since 1 April, 21 initiatives have been received, one withdrawn, 7 rejected. Of 11 initiatives actually registered, only one ECI, ‘Water is a human right‘, has been able to start collecting signatures online.
What measures are necessary? Briefly,
1) There must be more widespread awareness of this innovative European right and better understanding by organizers about how to successfully collect the necessary one million signatures. Resources should be put in a communication campaign during the Year of citizens in 2013 leading to the European Parliament elections in 2014. This could for example be supported by the European Union offering free advertising space to ECIs,
2) Organisers of ECIs need to take more time for preparation, networking and fundraising. There should be a small fund to encourage the planning process. Organisers have a responsibility to take this new right seriously. Small measures can also help, such as the Commission agreeing with them on the actual launch date of an ECI.
3) Organisers have a right to expect guarantees that the system for certification and secure online signature collection will work. Such a system should be free of charge. The Commission’s effort to overcome the problem itself and to provide a secure system for online signature collection have general support with most participants appearing to see this as more of a permanent than just a temporary solution.
Finally, it was stressed that ECI organisers, civil society support structures, and representatives of the European Commission should work together to ensure the success of the ECI. For this purpose a consultative ‘sherpa’ group should be set up by the Institutions. Such a group would have the task of helping to sort out immediate problems and identify issues for the revision of the Regulation in 2015 to make it more user-friendly.
Tony Venables is Director and Founder of the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS).Blogactiv Team