On December 17, the European Commission decided to register a European Citizens‘ Initiative entitled ‘Stop Finning – Stop the Trade’ related to sharks and rays. The aim of the Initiative is to ‘end the trade of fins in the EU including the import, export and transit of fins other than if naturally attached to the animal’s body.’
The organisers state that ‘although the removal of fins on board of EU vessels and in EU waters is prohibited and sharks must be landed with their fins naturally attached, the EU is among the biggest exporters of fins and a major transit hub for the global fin trade’. The Initiative specifically calls on the Commission ‘to extend REGULATION (EU) No 605/2013 also to the trade of fins and […] develop a new regulation, extending “fins naturally attached” to all trading of sharks and rays in the EU’.
Under the Treaties, the EU can take legal action in areas of common fisheries policy and common commercial policy. The Commission therefore considers the initiative legally admissible and decided to register it. The Commission has not analysed the substance of the initiative at this stage.
The registration of this initiative will take place on 2 January 2020, allowing the organizers to start, within next 6 months, a one-year process of collection of signatures of support. Should the initiative receive one million statements of support within 1 year, from at least 7 different Member States, the Commission will have to react within 6 months. The Commission can decide either to follow the request or not, and in both instances would be required to explain its reasoning.
The European Citizens’ Initiative was introduced with the Lisbon Treaty as an agenda-setting tool in the hands of citizens. It was launched in April 2012. In 2017, the European Commission tabled reform proposals for the European Citizens’ Initiative to make it more citizen-friendly. In December 2018, the European Parliament and the Council agreed on the reform and the revised rules will start applying as of 1 January 2020. The revised rules, among others, will give the organisers more flexibility to choose the starting date of their campaign as well as revise the proposed initiative before the Commission’s registration decision.
In the meantime, the Commission has been raising awareness of the European Citizens’ Initiative through a communication campaign and offered support to organisers via a collaborative platform. In total, the Commission has registered 71 Citizens’ Initiatives and refused 26, with only 6 refusals in the past 5 years.
Once formally registered, a European Citizens’ Initiative allows one million citizens from at least one quarter of EU Member States to invite the European Commission to propose a legal act in areas where the Commission has the power to do so.
The conditions for admissibility are that the proposed action does not manifestly fall outside the framework of the Commission’s powers to submit a proposal for a legal act, that it is not manifestly abusive, frivolous or vexatious and that it is not manifestly contrary to the values of the Union.