The right to petition the European Parliament is closely linked to European citizenship, established in the Maastricht Treaty which entered into force in 1993, therefore giving Treaty status to the right to petition.
According to Article 227 of the Lisbon Treaty: "Any citizen of the Union, and any natural or legal person residing or having its registered office in a Member State, shall have the right to address individually or in association with other citizens or persons, a petition to the European Parliament on a matter which comes within the Union's field of activity and which affects him, her or it directly".
The European Parliament registers approximately 1200 to 1500 petitions per year. Only a limited number of them are declared admissible, given the restrictions of the Treaty with regard to the areas of EU competence. Petitions declared admissible are mostly discussed in committee with the petitioners and the national competent authorities and forwarded to the Commission who, in its capacity as Guardian of the Treaties, examines the petition in light of the Treaty and EU legislation. In a number of cases, petitions by citizens have resulted in a Member State being brought before the European Court of Justice.
The Petitions Committee has increased its area of activity
Under pressure from the EPP Group in the European Parliament, the Petitions Committee has significantly increased its area of activity over the years by using the Parliament's proceedings for European citizens in, for example, drafting initiative Reports, forwarding Oral Questions to the Council and the Commission and organising hearings. In a huge number of cases, the Petitions Committee is now asked for an Opinion by the responsible committee on subject matters related to environmental issues, EU citizenship, the Single Market, consumer rights and more recently, issues relating to the application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EPP Group, in order to properly follow up initiative Reports adopted by the Parliament, regularly uses Parliament's Rule 115 on Oral Questions to urge the Commission and/or the Council to speed up its actions.
The Petitions Committee is the committee responsible for relations with the European Ombudsman and in charge of drawing up an annual report on its activities and outcome of its inquiries (Article 205 of Parliament's Rules of Procedure).
More recently, the role of the Petitions Committee has been strengthened following the European Parliament's adoption in May 2012 of a Report amending Parliament's Rules of Procedure with regard to the implementation of the European Citizens' Initiative.
The EPP Group supported the Opinion of the EPP Group Members in the Petitions Committee that under Article 50 of Parliament's Rules of Procedure, the committee would be automatically associated with the responsible legislative committee for the organisation of public hearings with regard to European citizens' initiatives that have complied with all the relevant procedures and conditions set out in the Regulation.
The fact that the European Parliament is moving away from a 'band wagon' Parliament to a legislative Parliament also affects the Petitions Committee. A growing number of citizens are becoming aware that a large part of national law has been initiated by EU law, which might also enable them to seek a legal remedy at EU level, rather than limit their scope of action at national level.