Friday, July 30, 2010

"Smart Initiatives" come to Europe as European Union allows online signatures for its Citizens’ Initiatives

Online signing of official initiative petitions is not yet recognized as valid anywhere in the U.S., but the European Union, with its 500 million citizens, is about to provide for this as an integral part of its plan for European Citizens’ Initiatives, which will allow a minimum of one million signers distributed across “a significant” group of nations to propose legislation for their own self-governance. It hopes to have this system in place by the end of 2010.

Saying that this “new provision is a significant step forward in the democratic life of the Union,” the European Commission, writes, in its proposal to the European Council and the European Parliament for the establishment of regulations to govern the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI):

“Respondents have almost unanimously called citizens to be allowed to support initiatives online….Moreover, in light of the responses to the consultation, the proposal also provides for statements of support to be collected online. However, in order to ensure that statements of support collected online are as genuine as those collected in paper format and that the Member States can check them in similar fashion, the proposal requires that online collection systems should have adequate security features in place and that the Member States should certify the conformity of such systems with those security requirements, without prejudice to the responsibility of the organizers for the protection of personal data. Given the need to draw up detailed technical specifications in order to implement this provision, it is proposed that the Commission should lay down these specifications by means of implementing measures. Online collection should nevertheless be allowed from the outset.”

These ECI’s will need to be officially registered:

"Required information for registering a proposed citizens’ initiative
The following information shall be provided in order to register a proposed citizens’ initiative on the Commission's register:
1. The title of proposed citizens’ initiative in no more than 100 characters;
2. The subject-matter, in no more than 200 characters;
3. The description of the objectives of the proposal on which the Commission is invited
to act, in no more than 500 characters;
4. The legal base of the Treaties which would allow the Commission to act;
5. The full name, postal address and e-mail address of the organizer or, in the case of a
legal entity or organization, its legal representative;
7. All sources of funding and support for the proposed initiative at the time of
Organizers may provide more detailed information on the subject, objectives and background to the proposed citizens' initiative in an annex. They may also, if they wish, submit a draft legislative text."

The European Council has considered the regulations proposed by the European Commission, suggested some changes be made about decisions on the admissibility of proposed initiatives and forwarded its recommendations to the European Parliament. The European Parliament will meet on September 30th with representatives of the member states’ parliaments to discuss the various provisions of the regulations.

The Commission wants admissibility to be determined after 300,000 signatures have been collected; the Council after 100,000; and, a working paper of the Parliament suggests reducing that number to only 5,000. Furthermore, the Parliament’s working paper proposes giving authority over the admissibility question to an “Ad Hoc Wise Persons’ Panel” instead of the Commission itself, with appeals from this body’s decision then going to the Commission, and, above that, to the European Court of Justice.

Presumably, these are issues that will be resolved through the ordinary legislative process of the EU. Hopes are high that a final decision and acceptance of the regulations will occur before the end of 2010, so that the process of qualifying these initiatives can start at the beginning of 2011. It’s likely that provisions allowing online signature-gathering will be part of any final determination by the various EU bodies. Thus, by 2011, Europe will have adopted the proposal made ten years earlier by this reporter in his advocacy of "Smart Initiatives."