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Can you change the law? European Citizens' Initiatives give everyone an opportunity

Last week, the European Commission registered a new European citizens’ initiative (ECI), entitled “Right to Cure”.

It calls for “introduc[ing] legal obligations for beneficiaries from EU-funds to share COVID-19 health technology related knowledge, intellectual property ” considering that “there should be no profit on pandemics”.

If the organisers managed to reach one million signatures from citizens across the European Union, the Commission will have to address the issue for which it has been advocating.

Here’s what you need to know about the little-publicised, direct democracy mechanism.

What is it?

Although it was officially introduced by Article 11 of the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, ECI became fully operational in 2012.

Originally, the petition-like tool aimed at increasing direct democracy within the block by “maintain[ing] an open, transparent and regular dialogue with representative associations and civil society”.

The ECI allows European citizens to urge the Commission to propose a law to tackle a problem that has been identified, as long as it is in line with EU values and it falls under Commission’s competences.

How does it work?

To ask for your initiative to be registered, you need to set up a group of organisers composed of at least seven EU citizens, living in 7 different countries.

You will then need to provide a description of your initiative in one of the EU official languages, alongside details about the representatives, the funding, the collecting process, etc.

You will get a reply from the Commission within two months — up to four months amid COVID-19 special circumstances — after it assessed whether your initiative meets all the criteria to get published.

Once it’s formally launched, you have 12 months to get one million signature from EU nationals — whether on paper or online.

You must get the support from people with minimum numbers in at least seven EU countries.

For instance, it equates to 67,680 from Germany and 4,230 from Cyprus — the thresholds correspond to “the number of the Members of the European Parliament elected in each Member State, multiplied by the total number of Members of the European Parliament”.

After the Commission verified the statements of support, you will meet representatives and get to present your initiative to the European Parliament.

The Commission will eventually disclose what actions, if any, it will propose in response to your demand.

Has it succeeded before?

Out of the 75 initiatives registered, only 4 have successfully been answered.

An initiative being reviewed by the Commission, however, does not necessarily translate into new law proposal.

In 2017, after the ECI called “Ban glyphosate and protect people and the environment from toxic pesticides” managed to collect 1,070,865 supporters, the Commission stated that it “has no basis to submit to the co-legislators a proposal to ban glyphosate”.

Only in a 2012 initiative that urged the “European Commission to propose legislation implementing the human right to water and sanitation” did the Commission truly set “new actions in areas that are of direct relevance to the initiative” out.

What are ECI’s limits?

The mechanism is non-binding and the Commission is only required to give, at least, a response to the organisers who managed to collected enough signatures.

The initiatives can only be dealing with areas that the Commission is competent for, i.e. agriculture, health, environment, culture, transport etc. They cannot propose changes to the EU treaties either, only implementations.

98 initiatives are currently pending registration.

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