How can we directly influence the policies of the EU? So far, the sole and most effective option to do so is the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). It gives us the chance to jointly challenge the European Commission to deal with a subject and to take a legislative initiative. At the same time, a successful ECI forces a hearing in the EU parliament. This legal instrument has existed since 1 April 2012.

In order to start an ECI, seven individuals who are citizens of an EU state must establish a citizen’s committee, and formulate an initiative text. The ECI text must relate to matters for which the EU Commission is responsible, and where it may therefore propose acts of law such as directives or regulations. When the citizen’s committee has registered the ECI with the EU Commission and has received a confirmation, then the collection of signatures starts. Every citizen of the member states who is enfranchised to vote for the European Parliament and who is older than 18 (in Austria older than 16), may sign. This may be done on-line or using signature forms.

One million signatures must be gathered within one year. Additionally, in seven EU states a specific minimum of supporters must be achieved, e.g. 72,000 signatures in Germany, 55,500 in France, or 54,750 in the United Kingdom. If the initiative succeeds in doing this, then the EU Commission organises a hearing in the EU Parliament, and concerns itself with the matter. The ECI citizen’s committee then finally receives a written response from the Commission. If the Commission decides to present a legal act, then this is is passed on to the European Council and to the European Parliament.

Although it has no direct decisional character, an ECI can create great impact. It creates a pan-European public for significant subjects, and spells out how citizens of the EU states think about them. This can also result in direct political achievements. For example, the “right2water” ECI resulted in the liberalisation of water supplies being removed from the planned EU concessions directive, even before “right2water” received a hearing in the EU Parliament.

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