Europe moves to facilitate the launch of citizens’ initiatives

It should soon be easier to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative, following a political agreement between negotiators of the European Parliament and the European Council on a Commission proposal to revise the Initiative.

The European citizen’s initiative is the first transnational instrument of participatory democracy that enables people at the grassroot level to influence decision-making in the European Union. It allows one million European citizens to ask the European Commission to propose new EU legislation.

The European Commission’s proposal would also enable States to lower the age at which people can sign on to an initiative, which is currently 18 years in most member States, to 16 if they so wish. The European Parliament wanted Parliament to oblige all member States to do this, but States baulked at this.

Rather than reject an initiative because some of its objectives are not within its purview, the Commission can partially register it.

Among other modifications, the new version of the European citizens’ initiative will have technological improvements, particularly for collecting signatures, and a collective platform granting assistance to organisers. Information and the central collection system will be accessible to handicapped persons. The Commission will take care of the translation of initiatives into all official EU languages.

Organisers would have six months (up from three) to decide when to launch the collection of signatures after their registration. This greater flexibility should benefit smaller groups and less well-equipped organisers.

The accord still needs to pass through various procedural stages before it can take effect.

Since 2012, nine million persons from 28 countries have already signed a European citizens’ initiative, but shortcomings have prevented this instrument from realising its full potential as a platform for policy development and democratic debate.

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