Around 1.5 million statements of support, thousands of discussions and meetings, hundreds of days. The first year with the all-new European Citizens’ Initiative – the world’s first direct, digital and transnational tool of participative democracy – has offered a true roller coaster ride, with many up and downs. After centuries of democratization, decades of fundamental debates, and years of political struggles, we can now look back on the first 365 days with the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI). A useful experience indeed.
Everything began rather low-key. On April 1, 2012 the European Commission uploaded its new ECI registry, definitely the single most important element of participatory infrastructure for the new instrument. With this website the Commission created a unique and powerful platform for formal aspects related to the ECI – in not less than 23 languages. At the same time, a first version of an online signature collection software (OCS) was released. That was all. While the registry proved to be a robust and reliable tool at the frontend (open to everybody), all the backend features (like the protected “manage your initiative” sections and the OCS) had and continue to have problems in working smoothly. Moreover, the human resources behind those electronic services in the Commission were and remain very limited. The latter must be seen against the background of a manifest ambivalence towards the new instrument of citizen participation by the Commission’s leadership.