The European Citizens' Initiative allows EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal. The initiative was officially opened by Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič at the European Citizens' Initiative - Warm up Conference'. To propose legislation to the European Commission, groups will have to gather at least one million signatures from at least seven out of the 27 member states.
The European Commission (EC) officials involved in making OCS hope that interested open source developers will build mobile applications linking to OCS, and that they write software that integrates social media.
To lower the threshold for petitioning, the EC's ISA Programme (Interoperability Solutions for European Public Administrations) developed OCS. The tool helps users to record, store and submit signatures.
Using OCS for this will be more efficient than collecting signatures on paper. The tool can also streamline data collection and verification. The EU countries have different laws relating to petitioning, for instance on how to identify voters, and OCS handles such variations by producing customised and pre-completed forms.
The tool also makes it easier to get national governments to certify the accuracy and safety of software systems used for gathering signatures, according to the programme managers involved.
The EC will help the member states by showing IT auditors how to check if OCS is installed and run securely. And in countries that do not keep up-to-date lists of voters or where the rules for authenticating citizens make petitioning complex, statistically significant samples will be allowed. One of the involved developers said: "If you use our software, the certification procedure should be a lot easier."
The software is offered free of charge, but it is up to the organisers of petitions to provide a hosting solution.
The OCS tool comes complete with support for all 23 official languages of the European Union. A conference attendee asked the European Commission if it would support other European languages such as Welsh, Catalan or Galician. Francisco García Morán replied: "It is open source, so if a community shows sufficient interest, other languages can be added." Mr García Morán is the Director General for Informatics (DIGIT), the DG responsible for the ISA programme.
OCS has been available on the Joinup software forge since 23 December 2011. The ISA Programme will help open source developers to build extensions, explained Declan Deasy, Director for Information Systems and Interoperability Solutions. "If there is sufficient interest, we will foster an OCS community."