PositionEuropean citizens' initiatives

The online signature system for European citizens' initiatives (ECIs) needs to be improved. A conference, hosted on 9 April by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in partnership with the EU Committee of the Regions (CoR), the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), Democracy International and the Initiative & Referendum Institute Europe, highlighted a number of technical problems plaguing these initiatives.

The ECI enables citizens to participate directly in European policy making: a petition signed by one million EU citizens can be submitted to the European Commission asking it to present a legislative proposal. The ECI has been operational since 1 April 2012.

At present, 90% of signatures are collected online. The initiative entitled Water is a human right' (the first to have collected the one million signatures required) is a good example. A year ago, when the project was launched, the Commission made available to ECIs an open source software tool to be used to collect signatures. The rest (servers, IT staff, etc) had to be provided by promoters of initiatives. But the software furnished by the Commission presented start-up problems that resulted in the loss of numerous signatures.

The Commission tried to deal with this problem by offering to store ECI data on its secure server based in Luxembourg. It then prolonged by six months the deadline for collecting signatures. It also created OCS (online collection software) for use in collecting signatures for the ECIs. But the tool proved to be complex and hard to install. The Commission then realised that it had to address legal requirements to ensure its proper functioning. Francisco Gimeno, the Commission's IT official, explains that he trained organisers in using the software, specifying that it was designed for a virtual server.

Xavier Dutoit, representing the ECI...

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