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New exercise in democracy - 31/03/2010

Books showing signatures on Lisbon treaty © EU

Europeans will soon have a new way of getting the EU to act on issues that concern them. But how will the ‘citizens’ initiative’ work in practice?

Introduced by the Lisbon treaty, the European citizens initiative is intended to make the EU more democratic by giving citizens a more direct say in its policies.

Following the treaty’s entry into force in December, the commission, which drafts legislation, will now have a formal obligation – once certain conditions have been met - to consider proposals from citizens.

The citizens’ initiative "should foster a lively debate about what we are doing in Brussels,” says Maroš Šefčovič, new commissioner for administration and inter-institutional relations.

The treaty states that to be considered by the commission an initiative must be backed by at least one million citizens from a minimum of one-third of EU countries – nine at present.

Elaborating on the concept, the commission has now drawn up a set of rules for Europeans to follow in submitting their petitions. Under the proposals, the number of signatures from each country must be proportional to its size – 4 500 for the four smallest countries up to 72 000 for the largest, Germany.

Once at least 300 000 signatures from citizens in a minimum of three countries have been collected, the petition will be registered with the commission and a decision made on whether the initiative falls within the scope of its powers. From that point, the organisers would have one year to provide the outstanding signatures.

If the initiative meets the criteria, the commission has four months to investigate and decide to pursue legislation, launch a study or forgo further action. It will need to explain its decision publicly.

To avoid fraud, signatories must provide their home address, date of birth, nationality and a personal identification number – national identity card, passport or social security number. Organisers will also need to disclose who is financing the petition.

The proposed rules must be approved by parliament and council, after which the first initiatives can be brought forward - potentially as early as 2011.

European citizen's initiative

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