Citizens recurrently turn to the European Parliament in order to find out how to actively participate in the legislative process. The European citizens’ initiative (ECI), launched in April 2012, is a big step in bringing citizens closer to Europe, allowing them to participate in the democratic process.
The European citizens’ initiative enables 1 million EU citizens, from at least seven of the twenty-eight Member States, to call on the European Commission to propose legislation on matters where the EU has competence to legislate.
Once the initiative has collected the necessary statements of support, and they have been verified, in the three months following the submission of the initiative, the organisers will have the possibility to present their initiative during a public hearing held in the European Parliament. Within the same timeframe, the Commission carefully examines the initiative and adopts a formal response spelling out what action it intends to take, if any, and its reasons.
If the European Commission decides to adopt a legislative proposal in response to a citizens’ initiative, this proposal will have to follow the appropriate legislative procedure, and it will have to be examined and adopted by the legislator (in general the European Parliament and the Council) in order to become a law.
The committees of the European Parliament may also decide, in the areas where the treaties give the Parliament the right of initiative, to draw up a report on a subject within its remit and present a motion for a resolution to Parliament. More details about the own-initiative reports are available under Rule 52 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament.
First successful ECI – ‘Right2Water’
The initiative entitled ‘Water and sanitation are a human right! Water is a public good, not a commodity!‘ was the first successful example of this democratic mechanism; it was the first ECI to meet the formal requirements and be signed by enough EU citizens.
The initiators called on the European Commission to draw up legislation to ensure that all citizens are provided with sufficient and clean drinking water and sanitation. They urge that:
- the EU institutions and Member States should be obliged to ensure that all inhabitants enjoy the right to water and sanitation,
- water supply and management of water resources should not to be subject to EU ‘internal market’ rules and water services should be excluded from liberalisation,
- the EU steps up its efforts to achieve universal access to water and sanitation.
Procedure of the ECI – ‘Right2Water’
Following the collection of signatures for the initiative, the organisers of the ‘Right2Water’ campaign attended a hearing on 17 February 2014 with the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), in association with the petitions, internal market and consumer protection and development committees. Further information is also available in the background note on this initiative.
On 8 September 2015, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the follow-up to the European Citizens’ Initiative Right2Water. The Parliament welcomed ‘the fact that the support of almost 1,9 million EU citizens from all Member States for this ECI concurs with the Commission’s decision to exclude water and sanitation services from the Concessions Directive’, however it considered ‘it regrettable that the [Commission’s] communication lacks ambition, does not meet the specific demands made in the ECI and limits itself to reiterating existing commitments’.
Further details can be found in the EP press release of 8 September 2015.
Firstly, the fact that citizens have the opportunity to take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal in areas within its competence is a right that is enshrined in the EU treaties (Article 11(4) of the Treaty on European Union).
The rules and procedures governing the citizens’ initiative are set out in Regulation (EU) No 211/2011 adopted by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on 16 February 2011.
EP resolution on the citizens’ initiative
On 28 October 2015 the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the European Citizens’ Initiative, in which it welcomed this instrument and proposed some ideas on how to improve the process, in anticipation of the European Commission’s review. The Parliament underlined that out of the 51 requests to launch an initiative, only three were deemed admissible, showing that there is still work to do in order to make sure that the ECI lives up to its full potential.
For an in-depth evaluation of the ECI, see EPRS publication on ‘Implementation of the European Citizens’ Initiative: The experience of the first three years‘.