Latest World News

The European citizens’ initiative, an ineffective tool for direct democracy


This is a double event for the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). Thursday 8 June marks the annual “ECI day” event organized by the European Economic and Social Committee. It is also the date chosen by the Belgian Paul Magnette and the French Aurore Lalucq to file a request for a petition on the taxation of large fortunes intended to finance the ecological transition.

The ICE procedure, like that which can lead to the citizens’ initiative referendum in France, is long and complex: only twelve projects out of 97 have exceeded the million signatures required since the launch of the system in 2012.

A multi-step initiative

For ten years, the 400 million European voters have been able to put a cause on the agenda and encourage the Commission to legislate. Seven citizens from seven different Member States must form an organisation, a “citizens’ committee”, in order to propose an initiative. The Commission then examines whether it is “not outside the scope of his duties”neither “abusive, fanciful or vexatious” Or “manifestly contrary to the values ​​of the Union”.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers The first European citizens’ initiative launched in May 2012

This registration phase passed, one million supporters must be collected in one year. If this bar is crossed, the Member States verify and certify the signatures. The European Parliament then receives the organizers who present their arguments during a public hearing. The final stage is the examination by the European Commission which decides on the adoption or not of one or more legal acts taking up the recommendations of the initiative. In accordance with settlementBrussels is required to explain its choice.

Out of 94 ECIs launched since 2012, plus three ECIs whose collection has not yet started, only seven have been examined and received a response, positive or negative, from the Commission. Three initiatives are in the process of verifying and certifying the number of signatories and two others have passed this phase.

Among the first twenty-three initiatives, three reached one million signatures, including Right2Water, the first ECI to which the European Commission said yes and whose measures are taken into account by the body through new legislative acts and the review of European legislation.

Read also: How to navigate the multitude of European institutions

A shortness of breath of the tool

The advent of this tool had raised some hopes. Alain Lamassoure, co-rapporteur of the proposed regulation on the citizens’ initiativeeven saw in it the emergence of“a fourth power of initiative, one that belongs to all European citizens”. But this enthusiasm was quickly dampened, in particular by the practical pitfalls of the procedure. In 2016, only three new initiatives were recorded, compared to fifteen in 2012, the year of the launch.

In 2015, an open letter to the European Commission, signed by more than 40,000 people, denounced excessively strict requirements for the collection of signatures, the excessive complexity of the online signature collection system or the impossibility of determining the date of the launch of a signature collection campaign. Even Brussels has recognized pitfalls in the first version of the regulation, noting the excessive number of ECIs not falling within the competence of the Commission, the complexity of translations and the requirements to which signatories are subject.

Two emblematic cases of back-pedalling have weakened the ICE: Minority SafePack, launched in 2013, and Stop TTIP, filed in July 2014. Brussels rejected the registration of the first on the grounds that the proposals listed did not fall within its competence. For the second, concerning the transatlantic partnership treaty, the initiative was submitted to the Europeans, exceeded one million signatures, but the Commission refused to allow its organizers to be heard before the European Parliament, arguing that an initiative could not concern a preparatory bill and could not prevent ratification.

The citizens’ committees of the two initiatives have appealed to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The judicial institution annulled and quashed the two decisions. Minority SafePack And Stop TTIP finally started their respective collection in 2017. Problem, Stop TTIP aimed in particular to stop negotiations between the European Union (EU) and Canada within the framework of the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, but this had already been signed.

Read also: Half-hearted response from the Commission to the first European Citizens’ Initiative

Faced with these criticisms and failures, the Commission adopted a new regulations whose claim is to be “more accessible, lighter and easier (…) for organizers and supporters ». The text entered into force on 1er January 2020. Between 2015 and 2018, twenty-four initiatives were submitted to European citizens, compared to twenty-five in the first two years of the system, a sign that this tool is running out of steam.

The world

Special offer

Unlimited access to all our content from 10.99 €5.49/month for 1 year.


But the health crisis did not allow the new regulations to take effect and forced the organizers to stop their campaign. The European Commission has therefore granted extensions (one of six months and two of three months) of the durations of collection and verification. Three initiatives are still in the signature verification phase.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Breeding: nearly 1.4 million European citizens call for a ban on cages

A long process of several years

Even if an ECI has taken the first steps, its stakeholders must be patient. Certain provisions of Right2Water, an initiative registered in May 2012, have been taken over six years after its launch. The Commission adopted a proposal to revise the Drinking Water Directive in March 2018 taking over the ECI. Worse, when the old regulations were still in force, the organizers decided on the date of the launch of signature verification, which explains why the procedure is still in progress for the Stop Extremism initiative, the collection of which was launched in June 2017.

Despite its decade of existence, the ECI is struggling to emerge as an initiative tool used by Europeans. Only about ten million European citizens, since 2012, have taken up the tool, and barely more than 300,000 in France.

Of the twenty initiatives proposed since 2020, the Commission has refused one. The institution argued that this proposal ” spell[ait] manifestly within the scope of the Commission’s competences” because this initiative to create “a right to decide (…) [qui] can only be achieved by treaty change. which is against the rules. A next inventory carried out by the Commission on the operation of the ICE is scheduled for 1er January 2024.