(Source: European Committee of the Regions)
Members of the European Committee of the Regions, members of the European Parliament, citizens’ consultations experts and citizens draft a checklist to be used for future citizens’ consultations
• What are the lessons learned from the Conference on the Future of Europe for the link between participatory and representative democracy and citizens’ assemblies at local, regional, national and European level?
• How should we link local citizens’ assemblies to EU-level debates?
• What do regions and cities need to establish citizens’ assemblies in an EU context?
• What will the European Committee of the Regions do to put the recommendations of the Conference on the Future of Europe into practice?
These questions were reflected upon with invited politicians, citizens and experts from local and regional governments as well as from EU institutions and bodies. The objective of this working conference was to deliver recommendations on how to take citizens’ participation in EU policymaking and its link to representative democracy to the next level and make it a permanent reality.
Apostolos Tzitzikostas (EL/EPP) , Governor of Central Macedonia and President of the European Committee of the Regions and head of the delegation of local and regional elected representatives to the plenary session of the Conference on the Future of Europe, welcomed the participants and said: “ Our European Committee of the Regions with the Bertelsmann Foundation, have worked and will continue working together on better tools to revive representative democracy while looking for new ways of participatory democracy. This is in line with the citizens’ proposals during the Conference on the Future of Europe. The Conference proposals were clear: people want a stronger role for local and regional authorities so that EU decisions respond to their real daily needs. These proposals shall be now implemented mostly within the current treaty provisions in order to reach beyond Brussels, Strasbourg and the capitals to Europe’s people in their regions, cities and villages. We need to listen, act and restore trust or risk further alienating people in our Union. “
In the opening debate, Christophe Rouillon (FR/PES), Mayor of Coulaines, France, President of the PES group in the CoR said: “The Conference on the Future of Europe sent a clear message: we have to dare more democracy! This means strengthening both representative and participatory democracy. We, European cities and regions, are best qualified to prepare citizens for a stronger say on social, environmental and health policies: we can build on our experiences with citizens’ participation and also be the labs of democratic experimentation. We are ready and motivated to get the European democratic project to a new stage!”
After the opening session, the next steps to be envisaged to link the levels of democracy in Europa were discussed in three parallel workshops.
In the first parallel workshop on “Benefits of citizens’ participation at different levels of democracy”, Jelena Drenjamin (SV/EPP), Member of Huddinge Municipality and Vice-President of the EPP group in the CoR said: “European democracy needs to be revitalised to survive at a time when only 13 percent of the world population lives in a democracy and 70 percent lives under dictatorships. The Conference on the Future of Europe is the world’s largest democracy project, securing different levels of citizens’ participation to reinforce European values and democracy. Building democracies takes effort and time but can be ruined in seconds. We are all determined to make Europe the world’s strongest democracy.”
In the second workshop on how to involve regions and cities in a “European Citizens’ Assembly”, Kieran Mc Carthy (IE/EA), Member of the Cork City Council and President of the European Alliance group in the CoR said : “What the Conference on the Future revealed is the stark lack of knowledge by citizens of the myriad of work the EU is doing. There is an onus on all of us across all of the EU institutions to lessen the jargon of EU policy and to talk about the work programmes of the EU and their practical outcomes in layperson’s terms. We need more inspiration and not exasperation. We also need to go where the citizens are – streets, shopping centres, cinemas, streaming platforms, social media – to name just a few sites. We need to inspire citizens to take part in our democratic processes. And most importantly, we must ensure feedback to their ideas. As a delegate to the Conference, I also realised how important it is to strengthen collaboration with young people. We often talk to them as the future of the European project but they are in fact citizens of today and need to have their voices heard now.”
In the third workshop on how to do capacity-building and networking on citizens’ participation, François Decoster (FR/Renew Europe), Vice-President of the Regional Council of Hauts-de-France, President of the Renew Europe Group in the CoR, said : “The CoR is the place that gives a voice to local and regional authorities in the EU decision making process. Our opinions are increasingly taken into account because we are the people with their feet on the ground and EU-institutions are aware of our added value, also in terms of legitimacy. The network of EU Councillors of the CoR with local politicians who are in charge of communications on EU issues in their constituencies, are good means of capacity building, networking on citizens’ participation at local level, and bringing up citizens’ concerns to EU decision makers”.
Vasco Alves Cordeiro (PT/PSE), First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions concluded the session by saying: “The Conference on the Future of Europe was an unprecedented exercise of citizens’ consultation. But it has also shown that there is a large margin of progression and all levels of governance will face three challenges for upcoming citizens’ consultations: the conditions to motivate people to participate need to be created; it should be clear from the beginning of the process to the citizens how far they are empowered; be accountable of what to do with the citizens’ recommendations. Local and regional authorities have an interesting record in citizens’ participation and will play a key role in addressing these challenges.”
In the “From local to European” joint project, the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Bertelsmann Stiftung – together with 23 cooperation projects from 67 European cities and regions – conducted Citizens’ Dialogues with around 200 politicians. Among these politicians were 14 members of the European Committee of the Regions. 2,000 European citizens contributed to the Conference on the Future of Europe with more than 400 concrete proposals on the future of Europe.
The five key results of these citizens’ consultations are:
1. The project led to high-quality Citizens’ Dialogues. Over 90 percent of the citizens and over 90 percent of the organisers rated the Citizens’ Dialogues as very good or good. All initiators stated that the support provided by the project had improved their own Citizens’ Dialogues.
2. Expertise for good citizen participation was firmly established. All initiators rated the quality principles as useful, regardless of their previous knowledge of citizen participation. They were applied in practice. It was only random selection, as a little-known instrument, that had some implementation issues.
3. Participatory democracy in the cities and regions has been given a lasting boost. 100 percent of the projects stated that they would apply the quality principles again in the future. In addition, all Dialogues were supported by politicians. Around 200 politicians supported the Dialogues, discussed them with the citizens and promised to take concrete action.
4. Citizens want to be more involved in European issues. The evaluation of the citizens’ assessments and the approx. 400 proposals made by citizens in the Citizens’ Dialogues clearly show that European citizens want more citizen participation at the European level.
5. United in diversity: the proposals of European citizens are similar. Around 400 developed proposals show: European citizens want more out of Europe and more unified solutions at EU level. Furthermore, it is evident that citizens not only often discuss the same issues, but also often arrive at similar proposals for the future of Europe although these concern different countries.