56 ANGELA MARIA ROMITO
The ECI claims to allow for the direct participation of citizens in the
development of EU policies and was enthusiastically welcomed as, the most
prominent, albeit rather recent, participatory democratic instrument at EU level; as
the new tool for the citizens of the EU to set up a direct dialogue between them and
the Commission; “as a new participatory way in which Europeans interact with
their Union and with other European citizens”. All in all it was perceived as a
panacea to alleviate the “democratic deficit” of the EU.
Despite the high hopes of its proponents, the ECI has not reached its goal, and
instead of providing a, “whole new dimension of participatory democracy” as
observers had hoped for in the beginning3, it has remained, “virtually unnoticed
by the mass media and the wider public”4.
The current rules governing the ECI are based on a provision of the Lisbon
Treaty and were implemented through the European Citizens’ Initiative
Regulation, which has been in application since April 2012. Starting from 1 January
2020, the new regulation 2019/778 will replace the previous rules; the reforms aim
to make the ECI more inclusive, more accessible, and less burdensome and easier
to use for organisers and supporters, and to strengthen its follow-up.
1. Historical background and legislative framework
The concept of EU citizenship, from which ECI was derived, was first
introduced in the Maastricht Treaty.
Participatory democracy has been a topic of discussion since the beginning of
European integration, but has mainly revolved around the question of whether
treaty revision should be legitimized by popular vote. For a long time the only
instrument at EU citizens’ disposal was the right to petition the European
Parliament (EP). The concept of the ECI was developed in the context of the
Convention on the Future of Europe (2002-03) and was incorporated into the draft
treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in Article 47(4); however, lacking any
Louvain-la-Neuve, Bruylant-Academia, 2007; B. Kaufmann, The European Citizens Initiative handbook,
Bruxelles, Green European Foundation, November 2010; J.W. Pichler, B. Kaufmann, The European
Citizen' Initiative: into new democratic territory, Mortsel, Intersentia, 2010; J.W.Pichler, B. Kaufmann The
next big thing, making Europe ready for the Citizens' Initiative, Mortsel, Intersentia, 2011; Conrad M., The
ECI's contribution to the Emergence of a European Public Sphere, in Conrad/ Knaut/Böttger (Hrsg.):
Bridging the Gap?, 2016, p. 64-80; J. Organ, EU Citizen Participation, Openness and the European Citizens
Inititaive: The TTIP Legacy, Common Market Law Review, 2017, p. 1713–1748.
3 J. Organnmely, Decommissioning Direct Democracy? A Critical Analysis of Commission
Decision-Making on the Legal Admissibility of European Citizens Initiative Proposals, European
Constitutional Law Review, 2014, p. 422–443.
4 K. Böttger, M. Conrad and A. Knaut, Bridging the Gap?: Opportunities and Constraints of the
European Citizens’ Initiative, 2016, Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlag.