European Scrutiny Committee Contents

3 European citizens' initiative



COM(10) 119

+ ADD 1

Draft Regulation on the citizens' initiative

Commission staff working document: Outcome of the public consultation on the Green Paper on a European citizens' initiative

Legal baseArticle 24 TFEU; co-decision; QMV
Document originated31 March 2010
Deposited in Parliament25 May 2010
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationEM of 22 June 2010 and Minister's letter of 13 July 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see (31169) 16195/09: HC 5-iii (2009-10), chapter 16 (9 December 2009)
To be discussed in CouncilDate not known
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionFor debate in European Committee B


3.1 Article 11(4) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) contains a new right. It provides that:

"Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.

"The procedures and conditions required for such a citizens' initiative shall be determined in accordance with the first paragraph of Article 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union".

The first paragraph of Article 24 requires the Council and European Parliament to adopt regulations on the conditions and procedures for citizens' initiatives.

3.2 In November 2009, the Commission invited views on the ten questions set out in its Green Paper on the citizens' initiative.[9] Views were invited on, for example:

  • The minimum number of Member States from which citizens must come — would one third of the total number of Member States constitute a "significant number of Member States" as required by Article 11 (4) TEU?
  • The form and wording of a citizens' initiative — would it be sufficient and appropriate to require that an initiative should state clearly the subject-matter and objectives of the proposal on which the Commission is invited to act? What other requirements, if any, should there be about the wording and form of an initiative?
  • The requirements for the collection and authentication of signatures — should there be a common set of procedural requirements for the collection, verification and authentication of signatures? To what extent (if at all) should a Member State be able to specify its own requirements on these matters? Are EU-wide common procedures necessary to ensure that EU citizens can support a citizens' initiative regardless of their country of residence? Should citizens be able to support an initiative online? If so, what security and authentication arrangements should there be?

3.3 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 7 December 2009, the then Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Chris Bryant) told the previous Committee that the Government broadly supported the Green Paper and would send the Commission its response to the questions.

3.4 The previous Committee welcomed the Commission's decision to invite views on the practical questions posed in the Green Paper before it drafted the implementing legislation required by Article 24 TFEU. It cleared the Green Paper from scrutiny and asked the Minister for a copy of the Government's written response to it.

3.5 He provided a copy on 16 February 2010. It said that the Government agreed with most of the Commission's suggested answers but took a different view on a few. For example, the Government did not believe that there should be common requirements for the collection, verification and authentication of signatures — those were matters which should be left entirely to the discretion of each Member State.

The Commission's draft of the Regulation

3.6 The Commission says that it received over 300 responses to the Green Paper and took them into account in producing its draft Regulation on the procedures and conditions for citizens' initiatives. The responses are summarised in the Commission staff working document (ADD 1) which accompanies the draft Regulation.

3.7 The main provisions of the Commission's draft of the Regulation are as follows:

  • the organiser of a petition should be either a citizen of the EU or, if a legal person or organisation, established in a Member State;
  • signatories of a citizens' initiative should be citizens of the EU and meet the age requirements (18) for eligibility to vote in elections for the European Parliament;
  • before initiating the collection of statements of support for an initiative, the organiser should register the initiative with the Commission and provide the information listed in the Regulation;
  • the Commission should register proposed initiatives unless they are abusive, frivolous or "manifestly against the values" of the EU;[10]
  • statements of support may be made in writing or electronically and should be made within 12 months of the registration of the initiative;
  • online systems for the collection of statements of support should comply with the requirements of Article 6(4) of the Regulation and organisers should obtain from their Member States certification that their systems are compliant;
  • to be valid, an initiative should be supported by statements by a minimum number of citizens in at least a third of the Member States — the minimum number for each State is specified in Annex 1 of the Regulation (for example, for the UK and Italy the minimum number is 54,750; for Germany it is 72,000; and for Luxembourg and Malta it is 4,500);
  • after collecting 300,000 statements of support coming from at least three Member States, the organiser should ask the Commission for a decision on the admissibility of the initiative;
  • within two months of receiving the request, the Commission should notify the organiser of its decision; the Commission should decide that the initiative is admissible if it concerns a matter about which the EU could adopt a legal act for the purpose of implementing the Treaties and about which the Treaties give the Commission's power to make a proposal;
  • if the initiative is admissible and when the organiser has collected at least a million statements of support, the organiser should submit all the statements to a Member State for verification and certification; verification and certification should be completed within three months of submission and would be the responsibility of the Member State in the territory of which the statements were collected and will be stored;
  • the organiser should send the certificates to the Commission, which should publish the initiative on the Commission's website and, within four months, set out in a communication its conclusions on the initiative and the action (if any) it intends to take — the Commission should publish the communication and send it to the organiser, the Council and the European Parliament;
  • Member States should ensure that the organisers of initiatives are liable under criminal and civil law for infringements of the Regulation; and
  • five years after it comes into effect, the Commission should report to the Council and the European Parliament on the implementation of the Regulation.

The Government's view of the Commission's draft

3.8 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 22 June, the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) says that the citizens' initiative is in line with the Government's proposal that petitions which attract 100,000 signatures should be eligible for debate in the House.

3.9 While the Government agrees with some of the provisions of the draft Regulation, it has concerns about others. For example, the Government:

  • considers that the proposed Regulation is "overly bureaucratic and risks alienating the very citizens that the [European citizens' initiative] is intended to engage";[11]
  • notes that, in the absence of an Impact Assessment of the draft Regulation, a firm judgment cannot be made on whether the proposals would lead to successful initiatives that are representative of the views of the people of the EU;
  • does not agree that the minimum age to be eligible to make a statement in support of an initiative need necessarily be voting age;
  • does not agree that 300,000 statements need be collected before the Commission decides if the initiative is admissible — "the Commission should take a view on competence as early as possible in the process";[12]
  • does not agree that Member States should be responsible for the verification and certification of statements of support — there is insufficient evidence that the initiative would be systematically abused to the extent that such verification would be necessary or desirable.

3.10 The Minister notes that the Commission has sent the draft Regulation to the European Data Protection Commissioner and looks forward to seeing his opinion on it.

3.11 He also notes that, according to the Commission, the cost of the citizens' initiative to the EU budget would be €784,000 in 2010, €394,000 in 2011 and, subsequently, €354,000 a year. The cost to Member States of verifying statements of support has not been quantified. The Commission hopes that the Regulation will be adopted by the end of 2010.

The General Affairs Council's draft of the Regulation

3.12 On 14 June, the General Affairs Council agreed a revised draft of the Regulation.[13] The main differences between the Council's and the Commission's drafts are as follows.

  • the Council's draft provides that the Commission should reject an application to register an initiative if it is manifestly outside the scope of the Treaties as well as if it would be against the values of the EU;
  • new Recital 11a encourages the Commission to promote the development of open source software which would comply with the technical and security provisions of the Regulation and would be available for use by the organisers of all initiatives;
  • the Council has amended Recital 15 to say that Member States' verification of citizens' statements of support may be based on checks of random samples;
  • under the Council's draft, the Commission would be required to report on the implementation of the Regulation after three years rather than five;
  • the Council has amended Annex III to provide that the Member States listed in Part A need not require signatories of statements of support to provide additional personal information (the UK is named in Part A);
  • it has also added a Part B to Annex III specifying the additional identification which other signatories would have to provide — the requirements differ from country to country: for example, Austrian signatories would have to provide the number of either a passport or an identity card whereas a Bulgarian signatory would have to provide his or her "single civil number";
  • the Council's draft reduces from 300,000 to 100,000 the number of statements of support that the organiser would have to collect before asking the Commission for a decision on the admissibility of the proposed citizens' initiative;
  • within a period of three months after receiving an organiser's request for verification of the statements of support, the Member States should complete the verification "on the basis of checks, in accordance with national law and practice, as appropriate" (Council's draft, Article 9(2)); and
  • the Council has added a requirement that the personal data Member States receive when asked to verify statements of support may be used only for the purpose of verification and they must destroy the statements of support within a month of issuing the certificate of verification.

The Minister's letter of 13 July 2010

3.13 On 13 July, the Minister sent us the Council's revised draft of the Regulation. In his covering letter, he tells us that, at the General Affairs Council on 14 June, the Government opposed the Spanish Presidency's proposal that the Council agree a common approach on the revised draft. The Government made clear that it would abstain because the draft Regulation was still under scrutiny in Parliament and that it had policy concerns about the draft. While there was sufficient support for the Presidency's proposal for the general approach to obtain agreement, the Council accepted that it should have further negotiations on the text because of the concerns of the UK and a number of other Member States.

3.14 The Minister's letter adds that:

  • the Government regards the changes the Council has made to the Commission's draft as a step in the right direction;
  • but the proposal remains over-bureaucratic and burdensome on both Member States and citizens;
  • the Government wishes the Regulation to be amended to give Member States greater discretion about how to verify statements of support and, indeed, whether to verify them at all;
  • it will also "be seeking more thought and development into the idea of a single website for the collection of online signatures, with no role for Member States in certification";[14] and
  • the Government agrees with the French, Czech, Italian and Lithuanian Governments that the Commission should decide the admissibility of a proposed initiative before statements of support are collected.


3.15 We are grateful to the Minister for sending us the Council's amended draft of the Regulation and for his comments on it. We are also glad that the Council is to have further negotiations on the text. In our view, some of the provisions require clarification. For example, Article 9(2) of the Council's draft says that Member States may verify statements of support by making checks "in accordance with national law and practice"; the meaning of those words is unclear, as is the reference to "open source software" in Recital 11a.

3.16 Our main concern, however, is not with the drafting of the Regulation, important though that is. It is with the substance of the rules for citizens' initiatives. In our view, the rules should be as few and simple as is consistent with the prevention of the abuse of the process. This raises questions such as:

  • is it necessary for the admissibility of an initiative to be decided in two stages, initially when the organiser applies to the Commission to register the initiative and subsequently when a specified number of signatures has been collected; or should admissibility be decided once, before any statements of support are collected?; and
  • is it necessary for Member States to verify statements of support and what would be the risks if there were no requirement for verification?

There is scope for legitimate differences of opinion about what the rules should be and, indeed, about the desirability of citizens' initiatives in parliamentary democracies. Because the political importance of these questions, we recommend the draft Regulation for debate in European Committee B.

9   (31169) 16195/09: see HC 5-iii (2009-10), chapter 16 (9 December 2009). Back

10   Draft Regulation, Article 4(4). Back

11   Minister's Explanatory Memorandum, paragraph 29, final sentence. Back

12   Ibid, paragraph 33. Back

13   10626/2/10. Back

14   Minister's letter, penultimate paragraph, fourth sentence. Back

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