New report highlights limited of success of Europe Citizens' Initiative

Written by Martin Banks on 23 April 2018 in News

A new report says the EU’s European Citizens’ Initiative has had only a limited success.

Photo credit: Press Association

Since the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) was introduced in 2012, some eight million Europeans have supported individual initiatives. But, of the 67 citizens’ initiatives that have been submitted, only four have been successful. The public has hardly any awareness of this participation instrument and its concrete initiatives. 

The report by the Bertelsmann Stiftung think tank said, “At present, the bureaucratic hurdles for gathering signatures are too high. 

“The initial enthusiasm of civil society organisations is being dampened by the complicated processes. To start with, the European Commission has only authorised initiatives under very strict conditions. The concrete political changes have been rather limited. As a result, there is hardly any media coverage about this participation instrument.”


An analysis of 84 online and print media sources in 14 EU member states shows that, on average, less than one article on the European Citizens’ Initiative appears in each media source per year. 

The report, published on Friday, said, “Relatively speaking, there is still a lot of media coverage in Germany, Austria and Luxembourg. In contrast, hardly any media attention is paid to it in the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Denmark.

“The media write almost nine times as much about the democracy deficit of the EU than about the European Citizens' Initiative. The European Commission enjoys 500 times more media coverage, and the European Parliament 170 times more.”

Dominik Hierlemann, an expert on participation at the Bertelsmann Stiftung and co-author of the study, said, “The European Citizens’ Initiative doesn’t get through to citizens, so they don’t perceive the EU’s steps towards democratisation.

“This is partly due to the fact that this participation instrument is overly complicated and hardly has any impact. 

“The Commission’s reform proposal envisions several technical improvements and reductions in bureaucratic hurdles. 

“But many MEPs and organisers of individual initiatives want more. In its present form, the process ends too abruptly following a public hearing in the Parliament. After spending months gathering signatures, the activists suddenly feel abandoned. They want to see a change in the mechanism of how the EU bodies deal with the results. 

“The reform proposal is a good first step, but is too technical.

“There still hasn’t been enough light cast on precisely how the citizens’ initiatives are supposed to have an impact.”

In the study, ‘More initiative for Europe’s citizens’, the authors provide details on five reform options that could help raise public awareness about the ECI. For example, additional enhancements could be made to the public hearing, which has hardly attracted any public attention so far. 

Having a debate in the European Parliament would raise public awareness about citizens’ initiatives – in addition to giving the Parliament and the individual MEPs an opportunity to enhance their public profiles. 

“What’s more, Brussels isn’t the only important place. Indeed, a discussion about concrete citizens’ initiatives must also take place in Berlin, Paris and Warsaw,” said the report.

The study also demonstrates that the successful citizens’ initiatives have been able to expand their European networks. The reform of the ECI can also mark the start of giving fresh thought to new forms of citizens’ participation and a better “architecture of participation.”


About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine


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