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Your EU Rights

This section provides some information on your rights in the EU and how you can participate in the European project.

The four classifications of specific provisions and (fundamental and personal) rights that EU citizenship provides are:

  1. freedom of movement and residence throughout the Union;
  2. the right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal elections and in elections to the European Parliament in the state where he/she resides;
  3. protection by the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State where the State of which the person is a national is not represented in a non-member country,
  4. the right to petition the European Parliament and apply to the Ombudsman.


The Amsterdam Treaty (1997) finalised the scope of civic rights and explained the relationship between national and European citizenship.

Other rights and tools to participate are:

  • The European Citizens Initiative
  • Petitions to the European Parliament
  • Complaints to the European Commission
  • Consultations
  • The Ombudsman
  • Cross Border problems
  • Civil Dialogue
  • European Elections.

The European Citizens’ Initiative

The European citizens' initiative allows one million EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies, by calling on the European Commission to make a legislative proposal.

How does it work?

  • An ECI needs to be submitted by a citizens’ committee of at least seven EU citizens from seven different Member States over a period of 12 months.
  • The minimum number of supporters per country is based on the number of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) elected in each Member State - in the UK’s case, 54,000 signatories must be collected.
  • Signatures of supporters must then be collected (via a free online Open Source software) in the same number of EU member states by citizens of the Union and of voting age. Organisers must also comply with stringent data protection rules.
  • Successful initiatives gain the right to a public hearing in the European Parliament.
  • If the Commission then decides whether to take up the initiative, the Council and the Parliament ultimately decide on the framing of legislation.
  • In the best-case scenario, the initiative becomes a draft law. In the worst-case scenario, it at least attracts public attention.
For more information, go to the initiative Right2Water website or view all the current open initiatives here.

How can I register an initiative?

You can get all the information on rules and regulations on the Commission website. Please note that there is no EU funding available for organisers of an ECI.

Petitions to the European Parliament

The petition may present an individual request, a complaint or observation concerning the application of EU law or an appeal to the European Parliament to adopt a position on a specific matter. For example, if you think that a new road development is violating EU environmental law, you can write directly to the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions.  Mass petitions may also be submitted.

How does it work?

  • After your petition the European Parliament can request the Commission to investigate, and if necessary, can push for an amendment to EU law. However, anyone who wishes to put an issue on the EU agenda which is currently not the subject of a Brussels directive should opt for the new ECI instead.
  • The Petitions Committee cannot, however, override decisions taken by competent authorities within Member States. As the European Parliament is not a judicial authority: it can neither pass judgment on, nor revoke decisions taken by, the Courts of law in Member States

How do I submit a petition?

Submitting a petition is simple and all you need to include is certain personal details and a full account of your complaint. Your petition may be submitted through the post or online via the Parliament’s website.
If your petition is declared admissible,
  • the Parliament may ask the Commission to conduct an investigation
  • the petition may be referred to another committee
  • the petition’s committee may take a more active role by undertaking a fact finding mission or submitting a full report to be voted on in plenary.
Note that Petitioners are advised that minutes are published in the Official Journal and therefore details are consequently available on the Internet. Requests for confidentiality mist be explicitly mentioned in the petition Committee meetings.
Getting support from your MEP could be helpful –find out who your MEPs are and see a list of the members of the Petitions Committee.


Another way to directly take part in EU policy making is by responding to Commission Consultations. You can give your opinion on various EU policies and influence their direction. The current consultations are available on the Commission website. We also highlight relevant consultations to civil society organisations via our newsletter  - you can subscribe here

The Ombudsman

Since 1995, the Ombudsman, who is elected by the European Parliament, has ensured that the EU institutions conduct themselves correctly in their dealings with citizens. Although the Ombudsman has no legally binding instruments at his disposal, public censure by the Ombudsman is often enough to make the authority concerned see reason.

How can I write to the Ombudsman?

  • You can make your complaint by either writing a letter or completing an electronic form which is available on the Ombudsman’s website, but you must make sure to do it within two years from date of facts.
  • Your complaint will then be assessed and if the Ombudsman finds that it within his competence, he will forward his opinion and recommendation to the institution concerned.
The most typical complaint to the European Ombudsman concerns:
  • access to documents
  • European documents being unavailable in all the official languages of the EU
  • the institutions failing to comply with time limits provided in the treaties.

Cross-border problems

  • If you have a problem relating to a cross-border element that is due to bad application of EU law by public authorities, citizens and businesses can make a complaint to SOLVIT.
  • If you are looking for advice or help with problems linked to cross-border shopping, information can be found on the European Consumer Centres Network .

Complaints to the Commission

You also have the right to make complaint to the Commission relating to an infringement of EU law by a Member State.

How do I make a complaint?

  • The complaint can be done either online or by post
  • After two weeks, you will receive an acknowledgement that your complaint has been lodged and within one month you will receive a response on its validity
  • The Commission will require you to indicate what area of community law has been breached and to give a complete account of previous action you have taken
  • If the Commission proceeds with the complaint, it may open an infringement procedure requiring the Member State to alter its legislation;gather more information;refer the case to the European Court of Justice

The other major change in the Lisbon Treaty recognises the ongoing role of civil society dialogue in a healthy democracy,  for this reason it included an explicit requirement for the European Commission to go further in opening up its decision-making process to citizens and associations.
NCVO and many of our key partners in Brussels have been working through key recommendations to the European Commission on the application of the article 11 (it explicitly provides the legal basis for ‘an open, transparent and regular dialogue’ between the EU institutions and ‘representative associations and civil society’) to establish a Civil Society Charter or Agreement that would build on existing practice of engagement with national governments through Compacts and framework agreements.