Participation and the citizens’ initiative after Lisbon

The Lisbon Treaty introduces a novel form of public participation in the European policy-making process,[1] by defining, quite uniquely, a new right: the right of ‘citizens’ initiative’.[2] Stated as a general right of citizens, this could become of direct interest to consumers, and may in particular allow interest groups to influence telecommunication regulation.

The key provision in this regard is Article 11 TEU stating that ‘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’. This grants to EU citizens the right to ask the Commission to propose legislation on a particular issue, such as consumer protection, if they collect at least one million signatures from a large number of Member States.

The details of this ‘citizens’ initiative’ procedure had to be defined by the Council and the European Parliament by the ordinary legislative procedure. Therefore, in March 2010, the European Commission prepared a proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the citizens’ initiative.[3] The EU regulation on the citizens’ initiative was eventually adopted on 16 February 2011 and entered into force on 1 April 2012.[4]

According to this regulation, a European citizens’ initiative would require the European Commission to submit a legislative proposal if it lies in its competence. Such an initiative has to be made by one million EU citizens that have to cover at least seven Member States. In addition, a minimum number of signatories is needed in each of those Member States, which is determined in an annex to the aforementioned regulation.[5]

Currently, the EU includes about 500 million consumers, of whom approximately 375 million are eligible voters.[6] The gathering of one million signatures in the EU thus seems a relatively accessible target. To start such an initiative, at least seven EU citizens of voting age, who are residents of at least seven different Member States, have to form a ‘citizens’ committee’ (Article 3).[7] Organizations are not allowed to manage a citizens’ initiative, but they can promote such an initiative on condition that this is done in a transparent way.[8]

However, the regulation on the citizens’ initiative also sets important constraints for the procedure: first, the signatures must be collected from at least one quarter of Member States (Article 7(1)), which means they must come from at least seven countries. Secondly, a minimum varying number of signatories is required in each of them.[9] Thirdly, the initiative may only regard ‘matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties’ (Article 1). Thus, the initiative must be within the scope of the existing, general EU legal framework. Finally, once such an act is proposed by the Commission, it has still to get through a lengthy legislative process and requires sufficient political support in order to be adopted. However, this initiative procedure provides a welcome alternative way to create a more democratic dialogue.

There are already some relevant open initiatives that were registered in 2012. One initiative, for example, aims to invite the Commission to propose legislation ‘implementing the human right to water and sanitation as recognized by the United Nations, and promoting the provision of water and sanitation as essential public services for all’.[10] Another initiative, dealing with responsible waste management, is also related to sustainable consumption behaviour of households.[11]

Interestingly, an initiative has also been registered in 2012 specifically impinging on the telecommunications sector. This initiative proposes a ‘Single Communication Tariff Act’, which would create a ‘European common market for all mobile phone customers’ and eliminate roaming fees across the Union.

Although it is too early to predict the long-term impact of the citizens’ initiative, it will provide consumers with new possibilities to steer the EU policy towards more consumer-citizens-oriented objectives.

  • [1] See P. Craig, The Lisbon Treaty. Law, Politics and Treaty Reform (Oxford: OUP, 2010), p. 77; J.Mendes, ‘Participation and the Role of Law after Lisbon: A Legal View on Article 11 TEU’, (2011)48 CML Rev. 1849-78.
  • [2] See the Commission’s website: .
  • [3] Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the citizens’initiative by the European Commission, COM(2010) 119 final, 31.3.2010.
  • [4] EU Regulation No 211/2011 on the citizens’ initiative, OJ L 65/1, 11.3.2011.
  • [5] Commission Delegated EU Regulation No 268/2012 amending Annex I of Regulation (EU)No 211/2011 on the citizens’ initiative OJ L 89/1,27.3.2012.
  • [6] For the number of eligible voters, see the European Parliament’s website: .
  • [7] The committee member must be of the age to be entitled to vote in elections to the EuropeanParliament (Art. 3(1) Citizens’ Initiative Regulation).
  • [8] See the European Commission information website: .
  • [9] .
  • [10] This initiative is also supported by the European Federation of Public Service Unions(EPSU), the European Anti-Poverty Network, and European Environmental Bureau; see: .
  • [11] See the European Commission’s website regarding open initiatives: .
 
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