The paper discusses whether the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) is a driver of politicization on the EU level. It assumes that civil society actors, who are used to national level politics but not to EU level consensus oriented decision-making, will contribute to the establishment of informal institutions governing actors’ behaviour within the formal framework of the ECI procedure. Hence, confrontational behaviour that is considered as illegitimate on the EU level will become appropriate during ECI procedures. Following the institutionalisation of the ECI in EU primary law (art. 11(4) TEU) and secondary law (regulation No. 211/2011) the establishment of a constitutional practice is still going on. We assume that this process can be explained by the sociological neo-institutionalist logic of appropriateness. As there is no agreement which behaviour is as appropriate during an ECI, we assume that all actors behave according to the norms, rules and standard operating procedures, which they are used to follow in daily politics. MEPs and EU Commission officials are acquainted with consensus oriented EU level politics, while national level civil society actors – organising an ECI and seldom active on the EU level – are used to more confrontational politics. Hence, we expect to observe learning processes of mutual adaptation that will result in ECIs being more politicized than traditional EU politics.
To test our hypothesis we compare the cases of the three successful ECIs “right2water”, “One of Us” and “Stop Vivisection”. To trace back how the actors behaved in each step of the ECI procedure (explanatory factor), we analyse official documents, news reports, PR materials, interviews, and meeting minutes of the ECI procedures and interfering EU level decision-making processes. Applying deductive categories, these documents are coded following Mayring’s qualitative content analysis. By comparing the three consecutive ECIs we prove that there is no commonly accepted constitutional practice, yet. Furthermore, the comparison allows studying, whether specific operating procedures were repeated in all three of them or modified from one to the other (informal institutions in the making = explained factor) and whether processes of learning occur. Also documents from the discussion about the Commission report and the EP resolution on the ECI are considered to include the actors’ self-reflection on the ECI procedure into the analysis. In the first section of the paper, we sketch the theoretical model of institutionalisation and the emergence of a constitutional practice of the ECI on which our assumption is based. Then we show in the second section that traditional EU politics is consensus oriented and that many civil society actors organising ECIs have few previous experience in EU decision-making. Instead they are more active in national level politics. In the third section, we conduct the analysis of the three successful ECIs to test our hypothesis. Based on our findings, we discuss in the fourth section of the paper, whether the ECI might contribute to the general trend of politicization on the EU level and whether the EP recommendations on reforming the ECI will foster politicization or contribute to depoliticization.