Reform of the ECI: a tangible improvement
Nearly seven years after the introduction of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), it has been agreed that unless it is reformed it will become obsolete. Throughout the past year, Brussels continuously reassured civil society organisers and European citizens of their intention to improve it. Naturally, there were stumbling blocks along the way. However, the reform process and the common reform proposal show that the intention of the Commission, the Council and the Parliament is for the ECI to take a step in the right direction.
First, the reform tackles the considerable bureaucratic hurdles and technical deficits criticised by users and NGOs. The Commission will take over the responsibility of translating the texts of the proposed initiatives. Initiatives can now be partially registered. Technical and legal requirements for collecting signatures will be harmonised and will become less burdensome, and organisers will have greater protection regarding liability risks.
Secondly, the reform installs and confirms the already in place and functioning European Citizens’ Initiative Forum, the online collaborative platform offering support to citizens when organising initiatives.
Thirdly, there will be a broader hearing process, and the European Parliament will play a greater role. For instance, it has amended its own rules of procedure so as to ensure that public Parliamentary plenary debates will be held on successful initiatives. All in all, the reform will be a tangible improvement and citizens will be able to put issues on the political agenda more easily.
The ECI is (gradually) opening up to young people
Although not as far reaching as in the Commission’s proposal, the ECI will open up to young people. Member States will be free to lower the participation age from 18 to 16. This seemingly small step could make a big difference by encouraging more youth participation at the European level.
This is certainly a step in the right direction. As we have shown in our policy brief: if you intend to make the European Union more citizen-friendly and to counter EU scepticism, you need to increase youth involvement. EU surveys show that young EU citizens are firm supporters of the European idea. However, voter turnout among the young in European elections has declined dramatically, which makes it all the more important that the EU addresses this challenge. It is now time for the Member States to act.
Quo vadis EU participation?
More citizen participation, more youth participation … for the EU, this reform could mark the beginning of opening itself up more and giving more thought to new forms of citizen participation. Ultimately, a new ‘architecture of participation’ may come about giving EU citizens access to other forms of participation. In these times of rising nationalism, they are surely needed.
Dr Dominik Hierlemann and Dr Christian Huesmann
Dominik Hierlemann is a senior expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung and head of the ‘Participation in Europe’ project. He lectures on new methods of citizens’ participation at the University of Konstanz in Germany.
Christian Huesmann is a project manager in the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s ‘Future of Democracy’ programme.