The last few decades have seen more countries adopt a democratic form of government than ever before in history. For the most part though, citizens do not directly participate in day-to-day governance but rather elect representatives like Members of Parliament or Senators to do that in their stead. These MPs decide on the issues that are most relevant to society and then these issues are debated on and legislation may follow.

Historically, the main reason for this representative form of democracy was that it was prohibitively expensive and time consuming to conduct nationwide referendums to decide on various issues. However, modern technology has greatly alleviated some of these restrictions and led to the creation of initiatives like the ECI, short for the European Citizen’s Initiative.

What is the ECI?

The European Citizen’s Initiative is a participatory democracy instrument which allows European citizens to suggest legislation to the European Commission. The Commission must obviously have the power to legislate on such matters in the first place (trade, agriculture, environment, energy etc are some such examples). There are also certain minimum thresholds required to make a suggestion – like 1 million signatures spread across at least 7 member states. The exact specifics and minimum requirements may be found at this link.

Once a citizen’s initiative crosses the minimum thresholds, the Commission is required to carefully examine it within a period of three months. This includes a process of meeting the organisers of the initiative, holding a public hearing in the European Parliament where the organisers can put forth their arguments, and finally a formal response from the Commission along with the rationale for their decision. Some such successful initiatives are detailed here.

The role of eIDAS in enabling ECI

A detailed study for the use of eID for the ECI can be found here. To enable something like the ECI is a significant technical challenge. The solution must provide scalability to enable millions of signatories to participate, must be cost effective to use, should provide the necessary level of security and should be portable across platforms and easily integrated into various front-end solutions.

The identification and authentication tools provided by eIDAS address all of these challenges. Additionally, eIDAS also covers the legal aspects of digital identification tools across all EU member states, is more user friendly and provides for on the spot validation as well. eIDAS can ensure that there are no issues like double voting and that each voter indeed is who he claims to be. By providing a fully digital platform, it can make the barrier to accessing the European Parliament lower for EU citizens.

Conclusion

The eIDAS Directive aims to provide the most technically secure and legally sound method of identification and authentication on a large scale and at a reasonable cost. It is a perfect tool for initiatives like ECI to use the eIDAS framework in order to achieve its goal in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. This would go a long way in ensuring that ECI gets the mass adoption that it deserves and becomes a positive enabler for participative democracy across the EU.

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References and Further Reading

 Image: Athena and Nike guarding Parliament, courtesy of  Karen , Flickr (CC BY 2.0) enhanced  by VentureSkies

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