Report European Citizens' Initiative

Most European citizens have never heard of the European Citizens’ Initiative

Ten years after its creation, the European Citizens' Initiative is one of the most important instruments of participatory democracy in the EU. At the same time, citizens are not aware it even exists, according to a recent poll.

Published on 9 May 2021 at 08:00

The European Citizens' Initiative, or ECI, is an instrument aimed at increasing participatory democracy by enabling European citizens to influence European legislation through direct address to the Commission.

Introduced by the Treaty on European Union in 2011, it requires

  • at least 1 million signatures of European citizens from a significant number of member states;
  • it must touch on a domain of relevance to the EU Commission's competences;
  • it deals with an issue that the signatories consider needing an EU legal act.

Ten years is an opportunity to do a first assessment, and the ECI is not doing well.

Out of a total of 98 initiatives submitted, 76 met the criteria: only 5 out of the 76 managed to reach the end of the process (legislative conditions and a million signatures collected): "Right2water" in 2012, "Stop vivisection", "One of Us", "Stop TTIP" and "Stop glyphosate". None of these have become law.

What is the Commission's obligation? To account for its decision with a response, but it must not integrate the outcome of the ECI into a legislative process.

Procedure is not the only issue that complicates its action: how aware are European citizens of this tool?

A survey,  commissioned by the promoters of the EU SIGN DAY Initiative (Eumans, UBI for All, Voters Without Borders, Freedom to Share, New Europeans, Democracy International) and carried out by the YouGov platform between 28 April and 4 May 2021 questioned 5,094 European citizens residing in Germany (2,057), Italy (1,034), Finland (1,002) and Portugal (1,001) over the age of 18. The topic? Knowledge and awareness among European citizens about the ECI.

Respondents were asked if they had heard of the European Citizens' Initiative and also to tick an answer among the options provided, explaining how it works. The options are:

  • A petition that at least 300,000 European citizens must sign within a year to get an official hearing in the European Parliament.
  • A proposal for a new European law that needs one million valid signatures to be heard by the commission, which is obliged to react.
  • An organisation run by European citizens (without politicians) that has the right to participate in the expert committees of the European Commission;
  • An organisation run by EU citizens (without politicians) which has the right to get financial and advisory support from the expert committees of the European Commission for municipal/local policy.
  • Don't know / none of the mentioned

Overall, the results match the success of the ECI: unfortunately, the ECI is still unknown to most Europeans (in relation to the sample interviewed). Out of the total number of answers, only 8.5% of the respondents know about the existence of the ECI and only 10.8% answered the second question correctly. Crossing the two data - answer "yes" to the first question and correct answer to the second – the figure obtained is a total of 2.4 per cent.

The highest number of positive answers were recorded in Portugal and Italy: 13.9% of the Portuguese respondents said they knew what the ICE is and 12.4% got the correct answer, so a total of 4.1% knew the ICE and what it is about. Portugal is followed by Italy, where 10.8% of respondents knew what the ICE is and 14.2% clicked on the correct answer to question 2, leading to an overall score of 3.4%. Only 4.5 of Finnish respondents said they knew the ICE, and 10% what it is about, leading to an overall score of 1.5%. Lastly, only 6.7% of respondents in Germany knew about the ICE, and only 8.6% of them knew what it is about, leading to an overall score of 1.4%.

Another problem is that the ECI does not make the news: "Between 2011 and 2017, the ECI only achieved 516 mentions in 14 countries and 84 sources, about a little less than one article per year and per average," according to a study dedicated to the ECI by the think tank Bertelsmann Stiftung in April 2018.

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