The Citizens’ Initiative has hit a snag. It was created so the public could propose new laws, and since 1st April 2012, campaigners have been able to register petitions, seek Commission approval and start collecting signatures – theoretically. But those launching ECIs, like these young people who want greater student mobility, have been finding it can’t be done for free. The problem is that if we promise more democracy, then we have to provide the instruments for citizens to use it. If we don’t do that, then in the end it will lead to a great deception. It was already difficult: organisers need at least seven supporters in seven countries to propose new legislation in an area of EU competence that would not require a treaty change. The Commission decides if it’s eligible before anyone starts collecting signatures – they need a million within 12 months from several Member States according to a complex formula. But to meet the Commission’s requirements, campaigners are finding they have to rent a server of their own. The European Citizens’ Initiative was meant to be free, and here we encounter young people who are organised, who are ready, but they have to collect over €7,000, which is completely against what the European Parliament intended. Most MEPs think this is a problem the Commission should have foreseen. The department responsible is understaffed, they say, and there is no immediate solution in sight, but after intervention by Gerald Häfner, the Commission has agreed to stop the clock. They promised me that the time count will only start when the problems are solved. So right now the time doesn’t count. When the problems are solved, the 12 months will start. The summer recess gives those trying to fix the problem breathing space, but when they return, MEPs will be demanding to know just when the much-trumpeted Citizens’ Initiative will really be operational. Meanwhile, none of the half dozen or so ECIs now registered can collect signatures.
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