The EU Council moves towards simplifying the ECI. But is it workable yet?

Earlier this week, there was another General Council discussion on the ECI. A video of the last meeting has now been posted. It includes a link to a revised draft of the regulation (in case this insanely long link doesn’t work, go to this page and look for the text saying General Approach (document))

The next European Parliamentary consideration is due on 22 June.

Bottom line: the revisions move the Regulation towards specifying a system that is much less bureaucratic and hence more likely to work. On the other hand, it is still possible to take a highly critical attitude – see for instance what the people in the ‘Initiative for the ECI’ have to say (they picked up that the 100,000 limit has been kept which I’d missed).

Changes to the Regulation

To me, the main changes to the draft Regulation are:

  • The (near) removal of the secondary verification cycle at 300,000 signatures (former Art 8); the idea was that ECI proposers will instead be told on submission if their proposal is acceptable. This was replaced by a reduction of the threshold to 100,000… so there’s still two hurdles and to cross and a whole set of extra procedures to manage. Shame. If there’s a worry about spurious ECI’s why not simply require the original proposers gather 1000 signatures right at the start of the whole process
  • I’m still not comfortable with the ability to reject an ECI if officials feel that it is ‘manifestly against the values of the Union’ test (Art 4.5). This is already generating bad publicity
  • Acknowledgement of the lack of a national ID system in the UK and some other countries (Art 9.2 and Annex III) – hence not requiring collection of ID numbers. Where ID numbers are to be collected, they are now clearly specified (Annex III.B) – but if some countries can get away without collecting them, why can’t they all?
  • More sensible treatment of electronic signatures (Art 9.1) – including allowing for cross border verification of national ID documents, and acknowledgement of ‘advanced’ e-signature systems which need no further verification.
  • Registration/certification of systems is still required (Art 6) – and must be obtained before signatures are collected. It is not clear what the sanctions are if this is not complied with, or how a citizen will be able to tell that the system has been certified.
  • The need for multilingual translations is now recognised. Is is responsibility is with the  ECI organisers – but they only have to submit the ECI in one language for approval (Art 4.1)

Three thoughts

  1. I’m still not clear what the situation is regarding auditability (and re-verification if necessary) is if all signatures have to be destroyed within a month of submission to the Commission (Art 12). Shouldn’t national authorities be required to keep them, if the Commission is not collecting  all statements of support?
  2. It was surprising that the discussion did not cover the issue of Certification of online ECI systems. As the regulation is currently constructed, the whole set up will benefit a small number of multi-client EU-wide systems like EuroPetition which can offer decentralised services to citizens and petitioners, but then provide a known point of contact for national ID systems.
  3. There was also little discussion of the online system the Commission will have to provide and support for official registration of ECIs (and I guess listing Certificated online ECI systems)

Finally – the Germans emphasised that it will take at least a year to get the ECI process fully under way – so the current attempts at creating ECI-like EU-wide petitions are doomed to fail, and are (worse) misleading their supporters.

Updated: Turns out the intermediate barrier is still there, just reduced to 100,000 – so the text has been changed to reflect this.

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About Peter Cruickshank

Lecturer in the School of Computing and Research Fellow in the Centre for Social Informatics at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. Interested in information management, politics, society, ICT, security and where they intersect. My attempts at rounding out my character include food, cinema, running, history and together with my lovely wife bringing up a boy and cat.
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