Citizens often turn to the European Parliament to ask about the rules on submitting a European citizens’ initiative.
The European citizens’ initiative gives citizens an opportunity to take an active part in establishing European Union (EU) policy. If citizens want the European Union to take action on a particular issue, they can launch a citizens’ initiative calling on the European Commission to propose new laws.
Organisers need one million citizens from across the EU to sign in support of an initiative before the European Commission can consider it.
How does it work in practice?
Before launching an initiative, a group of organisers needs to be set up. This group should be made up of at least seven EU citizens, living in at least seven different EU countries. This represents a quarter of the EU population. They do not have to be nationals of those countries, but must be old enough to vote in the European Parliament elections in their own EU country.
The organisers must register their initiative with the European Commission and set a date to start collecting signatures of support. Signatures must be collected within 12 months.
To ensure initiatives are representative, an initiative must meet certain conditions. It must receive at least one million valid signatures, and these must come from no less than seven EU countries (including a minimum number of signatures from each country).
If the initiative meets all the conditions, the European Commission will consider it:
Within one month:
- EU officials will meet with the initiative organisers;
Within three months:
- the initiative organisers will have a chance to explain their initiative at a public hearing held at the European Parliament.
The Parliamentary committee responsible for the policy organises the hearing and may subsequently draft a report. Members of the European Parliament may then hold a debate in a full (plenary) session, which could lead Parliament to adopt a resolution related to the initiative. In such a case, Parliament effectively lends its support to the initiative, and calls on the European Commission to propose legislation.
Within six months:
- the European Commission issues a formal reply – and explains why it will (or will not) propose a new law based on the initiative.
If the European Commission decides to adopt a legislative proposal in response to a citizens’ initiative, this proposal has to follow the appropriate legislative procedure, and must be examined and adopted by the legislator (the European Parliament and the Council) for it to become law.
You can find out more about citizens’ initiatives, sign an ongoing initiative, or start your own on the citizens’ initiative website.
Successful citizens’ initiatives
To date, seven initiatives have reached the signature threshold and have been answered by the European Commission.
The ‘Right2Water’ 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 followed by:
- One of us
- Stop Vivisection
- Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides
- Minority SafePack – one million signatures for diversity in Europe, and
- End the Cage Age
- Save bees and farmers! Towards a bee-friendly agriculture for a healthy environment
Parliament supports the European Citizens’ Initiative
The European Parliament strongly supports wider participation in democracy and has previously called for the European citizens’ initiative to be made more citizen-friendly and for the procedure to be simplified and streamlined. As a result, the rules on the citizens’ initiative were updated in 2020, making it more accessible, less bureaucratic and easier for organisers and supporters to use.
- European Citizens’ Initiative Fact Sheet, European Parliament, 2022
- European citizen’s initiatives, At your service, European Parliament
Keep sending your questions to the Citizens’ Enquiries Unit (Ask EP)! We reply in the EU language that you use to write to us.