At an official ceremony held in Strasbourg on 16 February 2011, Foreign Minister János Martonyi, and President Jerzy Buzek, signed the regulation on European Citizens’ Initiative, on behalf of the Council and the European Parliament respectively. The Lisbon Treaty authorises any person to propose an EU law after 2012.
Finally, the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament (EP), gave the green light to the European Citizens’ Initiative, one of the most significant innovations in the Lisbon Treaty. Foreign Minister János Martonyi, and EP President Jerzy Buzek solemnly signed the regulation, at the EP’s plenary meeting, on 16 February 2011.
“The citizens’ initiative enables European citizens to jointly shape their common future for a strong Europe, giving EU legislation a human dimension”, Mr Martonyi declared in his speech. Similarly to President Buzek, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, who spoke on behalf of the Council, also thanked the Spanish and especially the Belgian Presidency for their untiring efforts to pave the way for the citizens’ initiative.
At least one million EU citizens
For the first time, EU citizens can make direct proposals for EU legislation. Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty grants this right. “No less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers; to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.”
It is an important provision of the EU legislation that initiates matters, where the Treaty refers to the competence of EU institutions. Such matters include the amendment of regulations on employment abroad, and the mutual recognition of diplomas and certificates. In addition, the initiative can simplify the removal of the existing obstacles in the way of enterprises’ cross-border activities, or the harmonisation of environmental regulations.
Matters within national competence such as the vast majority of tax or national rules on social allowances, cannot be amended by the European citizens’ initiative alone.
At least a quarter of member states
In the newly signed regulation, member states and the EP, set out detailed criteria for citizens’ initiatives. Specifically, collections of signatures may only be initiated by a “citizens’ committee” of at least seven members, each from a different member state. This group must register the initiative with the Commission, and collect one million supporting signatures within 12 months.
Signatories must come from at least one quarter of EU member states, which presently means seven countries. To secure proportionality, the regulation determines the minimum number of signatories from the same member state, subject to the number of MEPs from the particular country: “The minimum numbers shall correspond to the number of the Members of the EP elected in each Member State, multiplied by 750.”
The regulation is the result of a compromise reached in December 2010, with the participation of the three main EU institutions, the Council, the Commission, and the EP. Accordingly, the General Affairs Council adopted the law without a debate on 14 December 2010, while the EP’s plenary meeting consented to it, in the first reading on 15 December.
MEPs requested the amendment of several points as opposed to the Commission’s original idea. For example, the EP proposed to validate the admissibility of the initiative at the beginning of the process, and not after the collection of 300,000 signatures. It is also the MEPs’ achievement that signatures now have to be collected from only a quarter, and not a third of member states.
Exemplarily quick agreement
At the signature ceremony, Mr Martonyi declared that the Hungarian Presidency had the pleasure to contribute in the Council’s name, to launching this particularly important means. He also thanked the rapporteurs of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, European People's Party (EPP) representative, Alain Lamassoure, PES member Zita Gurmai, Diana Wallis from ALDE and Gerald Häfner from the Greens/EFA group for their cooperative attitude, which facilitated the agreement with exemplary efficiency and quickness.
After the regulation entered into force, Member states will have a year to adjust their national regulations, so the first European collection of signatures can begin in March 2012 at the earliest.