EU democracy: How to give citizens a voice in the future of Europe

EU democracy: How to give citizens a voice in the future of Europe
Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) - Citizens' panel.- Plenary session, Credit: EP

A model for permanent citizens’ participation in EU’s decision-making in the form of Citizens’ Assemblies was presented in a report on Friday by the Bertelsmann Foundation.

As previously reported, the European Commission adopted on 17 June a plan on how it intends to follow up the outcome of the Conference on the Future of Europe and transform its proposals into legislative action. Among others, the Commission proposed to enable Citizens Panels to deliberate and make recommendations ahead of certain key proposals.

Increasing citizens’ participation in EU’s policy-making and decision-making process in the future is key for the success of the Conference. According to a recent study, conducted jointly by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the European Policy Centre (EPC), the EU lacks a functioning infrastructure for citizens’ political participation.

“It’s good to see that the Commission has decided to use Citizens’ Assemblies more often – especially with key legislative proposals,” Dr Dominik Hierlemann, a senior expert on citizen participation at the Bertelsmann Foundation and co-author of the study, told The Brussels Times.

“However, at this stage it is still unclear what the concrete method shall look like. We believe it is important to also include a bottom-up perspective. Also, the commitment of all three EU institutions is key. In this respect the current CoFoE related conclusions of the European Council are rather disappointing.”

In its new report on a permanent mechanism for citizens’ participation, the Bertelsmann Foundation proposes a model for the institutionalisation of European Citizens’ Assemblies. It would make the EU a frontrunner in innovative citizen participation and reduce the often-quoted gap between Brussels and its citizens, according to the report.

How will the link between your model for permanent citizen participation and the EU institutions look like?

 We describe the links in the paper quite clearly,” Dominik Hierlemann replied. “Our model is citizen-centred. It describes how European Citizens’ Assemblies can be directly connected to the EU’s policy-making. We even drafted an Interinstitutional Agreement that EU institutions just would have to sign.”

The model does not require legal EU treaty or institutional change. European Citizens’ Assemblies would become a permanent mechanism of the EU policy-making with links to the annual budget cycle and the state of the union address by the European Commission president.

How much influence will the new citizens’ assembly have on EU decision-making?

 “There would be no legal requirement to implement the conclusions of the citizens’ assembly. However, each EU institutions would have to reply to the assembly. Especially the institutions would be obliged to develop a joint action plan. A Citizens’ Board will oversee this process and can give feedback. This would ensure transparency and accountability.”

The budget for the new mechanism has not been estimated in detail and depends on the recruitment costs, the length of the assembly and the number of meetings.

The proposal draws on the experience of the Citizens’ Panels in the Conference on the Future of Europe by proposing a format that would make this experience permanent and more impactful, he explains. “Citizens' participation in the EU must be an ongoing effort. In this sense, our model presents a logical next step forward for the EU after the Conference."

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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