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Your chance to help make or break EU laws

March 29, 2011 6:00 AM
By Graham Watson MEP (edited)
Originally published by Surrey County Council Lib Dems
Graham Watson

Graham Watson

Campaign groups and individual citizens will soon be able to set the EU agenda after the European Parliament voted to approve the ground rules of the "Citizens' Initiative".

The idea was part of the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force one year ago and allows a certain number of EU citizens to petition Euro-chiefs to propose certain laws.

National governments and MEPs have now agreed the details and procedures for the Citizens' Initiative. The package stipulates that the signatures of one million European citizens from one-quarter of the EU's member states are required to be successful. Proposals must be in areas where the EU´s treaties allow for legislation at EU level.

South West England Lib Dem MEP Graham Watson, who supported the initiative today, believes it is another opportunity for campaigners in the UK to get their voices heard in the EU. He said:

"I have lent my support to a number of campaigns over the years- from pensioners' rights to those of environmental activists. This new package empowers individual citizens by giving them the same right of initiative as MEPs and national governments.

"Critics of the EU have often claimed that EU policy making it too remote. To some extent I agree, and this is an example of how the Lisbon Treaty, so fiercely opposed by Europhobes, is helping to re-connect the EU with its citizens.

"You do have to feel slightly sorry for European Commissioners, who now have three bosses; national governments, MEPs and Joe Publics!"

The European Council was expected to adopt the new legislation formally early in 2011. After this is done, the Member States will have one year to enact the necessary national legislation. People should thus be able to launch citizens' initiatives from 2012.


How will the Citizens' Initiative work?

Once the legislation is in place, a "citizens' committee" consisting of people from at least one fourth of the Member States (i.e. currently seven States) will be able to register an initiative with the Commission. After the Commission has made an initial admissibility check, they can start collecting signatures either on paper or online.

The required million signatures must be collected within 12 months. A minimum number of signatures needs to be gathered in each Member State for them to count towards the seven mentioned above, ranging from 3750 signatures in Malta to 74,250 in Germany.

Member States will verify the signatories' details. For this purpose, each State will decide which information is needed and most will require an ID card number. All signatories must be citizens of the European Union and old enough to vote in European elections.

At the end of the process, the Commission will decide within three months if a new law can be proposed, and it will have to make its reasons public.

Key achievements of the MEPs

Parliament's main aim was to make the procedure as simple and user-friendly as possible, to avoid causing frustration to the public. Its key demands have been accepted. Thus, for example, the admissibility check will now be carried out at the outset, rather than after 300,000 signatures have been collected.

The minimum number of Member States from which signatures must be gathered was lowered from one third to one fourth, and a proper follow-up will now be guaranteed to all initiatives backed by one million signatures, including a public hearing.

Finally, thanks to MEPs, the Commission will help the organisers of an initiative by providing a user-friendly guide, by setting up a point of contact and by providing online collection software free of charge.