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Commission launches European Citizens' Initiative

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Development community to add social networking and mobile applications

The European Commission's ISA programme (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations) will welcome open source software (OSS) developers to add social networking and create mobile applications for its OCS (OnLine Collection Software). This tool plays an important role in the Commission's European Citizens’ Initiative, which was launched officially on 26 January 2012.

If enough OSS developers show interest in building extensions to OCS, ISA will help them by fostering a development community. This will likely be similar to communities already active on the Joinup collaboration platform, according to Declan Deasy, Director for Information Systems and Interoperability Solutions at ISA, in his introduction to the tool.

‘In today's digital world, political initiatives mean IT systems,’ said Director Deasy. ‘And we use open source, because of the Commission policy in effect since 2011, which gives preference to this type of software, particularly when towards external partners.’

OCS offers two different views on the application. The first one is intended for the citizens, allowing signatories to submit their statement of support to the proposed citizens' initiative via an online form. ‘It is a user-friendly and easy tool,’ said Deasy.

Secondly, organisers of a petition can use OCS to manage the collecting, storing and submitting of signatures. Using OCS for this will be more efficient than collecting signatures on paper.

The tool comes complete with cryptography, allowing the collected data to be stored safely.

Pre-completed forms

The application naturally streamlines the collection and verification of the data. EU Member States have different laws regarding petitioning, for instance on how to identify voters. OCS handles such variations by producing customised and pre-completed forms. Next, it makes it easier for national governments to certify the accuracy and safety of software systems used for gathering signatures.

ISA will help IT auditors in Member States check whether OCS is installed and run securely. In countries that, for example, do not keep up-to-date lists of voters or where the rules for authenticating citizens make petitioning complex, statistically significant samples will be allowed. One of the involved developers remarked: ‘If you use our software, the certification procedure should be a lot easier.’

In his introduction to OCS, Director Deasy explained that is was difficult to transfer all legal protocols into a system useable by citizens. Calling on users, citizen's committees and open source developers, he said: ‘There will be mistakes, there will be things we did not think about. Let us know.’

The software is offered free of charge, but organisers of petitions will need to provide a hosting solution.

OCS supports all 23 official languages of the European Union. That led to one attendee at the European Citizens’ Initiative launch conference asking whether the Commission would support other European languages, such as Welsh, Catalan or Galician. Francisco García Morán, Director General for Informatics (DIGIT), whose Directorate-General is responsible for the ISA programme responded: ‘It is open source, so if a community shows sufficient interest, other languages can be added.’

The Initiative

The European Citizens’ Initiative was launched officially on 26 January 2012, at a conference hosted by Commission Vice-President, Maroš Šefčovič. The initiative gives citizens a way to propose legislation on matters where the EU has competence to legislate, such as environment, agriculture, transport and public health.

Citizens must form a committee composed of at least seven EU citizens being resident in at least seven different Member States. A citizens’ initiative must be backed by at least one million EU citizens, coming from at least seven out of the 27 Member States.

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