The ECI Watch is the newsletter of the ECI Support Centre. The ECI Support Centre is a joint initiative of the European Citizen Action Service, Democracy International and the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe
In March 2016, the European Commission's answer to the European Parliament's ECI resolution was finally made public. The Parliament had asked the Commission to reform the ECI by significantly approving the ECI resolution which was based on the ECI report developed by György Schöpflin MEP.
After four years since its launch, ECI organisers have been facing many difficulties in using the ECI because it has proven to not be user-friendly enough, not cost-effective, and unknown to citizens. The complexity of ECI rules and procedures has left citizens discouraged while the lack of impact has left them frustrated. This is why the Parliament, civil society organisations and other stakeholders have been demanding a revision of the ECI regulation in order to improve this tool for participatory democracy in the EU.
However, the Commission has replied that “it is too early to launch a legislative revision of the Regulation” without mentioning any clear explanation to this decision.
Not only is the Commission unwilling to reform the ECI for now, but it also shows its reluctance in accepting the Parliament's new requests on improving the ECI, either by stating that sufficient measures have already been taken or that the suggestions will be further evaluated.
On 22 February 2016, the Economic and Social Committee (EESC) invited various stakeholders and civil society organisations to its public hearing on the ECI. The aim of the hearing was to present, discuss and collect arguments to feed into the EESC's own initiative report on the ECI. Different issues were debated such as the ECI's impact and validation process, simplification of the rules, the existing political limits to participatory democracy at European level and the role of the EU institutions and Member States in the ECI process.
The hearing marked a turning point in any remaining hope for an ECI reform in the coming year, as a Commission representative conveyed that the ECI Regulation will not be revised this year. ECAS’ Director, Assya Kavrakova, the keynote speaker at the event, stressed how important it is to improve the ECI as it is the first transnational instrument of participatory democracy not only in Europe but in the world.
Sophie von Hatzfeldt, from Democracy International, was also one of the panelists invited to the hearing. She stated that citizens need more involvement in the process, calling for deeper reform of the ECI process rather than small changes.
In October 2015 Democracy International, Mehr Demokratie and WeMove.EU handed the signatures of 76,397 citizens to the European Parliament calling for a more powerful European Citizens’ Initiative. The petition was extremely successful: the Parliament adopted with full majority most of our proposals for improvement.
Now it is up to the European Commission to follow up on this, but it has refused to make any legal amendments to the ECI regulation. We cannot tolerate this. Citizens are losing trust in the European Union, and the only existent tool for their direct participation in the EU is given virtually no power.
The European Commission must immediately revise the ECI regulation so that the scope and implementation of the ECI is improved. Read more here.
On 20 April 2016, the EESC in cooperation with several civil society organisations including ECAS, Democracy International and IRI, is presenting the ECI Day 2016: Forging Change.
Of the 56 ECIs submitted to date to the European Commission, 36 were registered and only three succeeded in collecting over 1 million signatures – however, none of them was followed by a legislative proposal from the Commission. This necessarily gave rise to dissatisfaction among organisers and raised the question of the tool's efficiency, especially as compared to the requirements involved.
Since the ECI Regulation is not to be revised this year, 2016's ECI Day will focus on how to make the ECI as effective as possible. It will show how organisers can deal with the difficulties encountered and why the rules must be simplified in order to restore EU citizens' belief in policy-making. The ECI Day 2016 will also be the occasion to discuss other tools for participatory democracy in place at EU level. Read more here.