Citizens' initiatives are procedures that allow citizens to bring new issues to the political agenda through collective action by collecting a certain number of signatures in support of a policy proposal. This book aims to compare different forms and designs of citizens' initiative instruments in eleven European countries, and to evaluate their function and impact in widely different political systems. The final chapter of the book shifts its attention to a higher level and assesses the citizens' initiative at the European Union level.

The historical and political backgrounds to citizens' initiatives are summarised, and the procedures of making popular initiatives are discussed on the basis of different initiative tools such as full-scale initiatives (initiatives followed by a ballot) and agenda initiatives (initiatives dealt with by a representative body). In some countries, such as Switzerland and Liechtenstein, initiatives rest on a rather long tradition, whereas in others, like Spain or Eastern European countries, they are relatively recent practices.

The case studies show significant variations in terms of admissible topics, the number of signatures and ballot validity requirements, rules concerning funding and transparency, legality reviews, the role of courts and other bodies taking procedural decisions, and parliamentary procedures. The research demonstrates that the most important requirements for initiative procedures are the number of signatures required and the time limits for the collection of signatures, which determine the costs of launching an initiative and therefore the possibility for all interest groups in society to make use of citizens' initiatives on an equal footing rather than only wealthy interest groups. The case studies identify several cases where the requirements for making an initiative are rather restrictive and are sometimes even criticised for being prohibitive such as in Lithuania or in the majority of German states (Länder). From that perspective the regulation on European citizens' initiatives by the European Commission which entered into force in April 2012 provides for the possibility of online signature collection, which seems likely to encourage member states to redefine their procedures in that direction.

The book comprises a thorough analysis of the citizen initiative instruments in selected countries. However, this book makes only limited comparisons of the impact of initiative instruments. Not only are the political systems studied in this book different in many respects but also the use of initiative instruments occurs at different levels of government, for example at the national level in Italy but only at the regional level in Germany. Another challenge is the lack of sufficient consideration given to the strength of civil society as an important factor in the use of citizens' initiatives. The book will be of use for researchers, policy makers and citizens interested in the means of participatory democracy.