Editor Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team
‘Putting citizens at the heart of any considerations regarding the future of the European Union must be the key to a success existence’, you would expect the EU institutions to be thinking, and, to a degree, that is what they are saying they will do. Making it happen in practice may however be more of a challenge.
A Special Eurobarometer 500 study was commissioned by the EU Parliament and the EU Commission ahead of the signing of the Joint Declaration on the Conference of the future of Europe by the Presidents of the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission. The Conference; already delayed by one year, and shortened by a year also, due to the pandemic; is intended to create a new public forum for an open, inclusive, transparent and structured debate with Europeans around the issues that matter to them and those affecting their everyday lives. With the pandemic well established at the start of the process for the study, October and November 2020, the views of citizens is set to play a key role in future policy development of the EU bodies and in the conclusions of the Conference on the future of the European Union.
So, the study was something to concentrate the minds of the policy makers before the Conference began in earnest, asking those surveyed, citizens of the EU27, about their attitudes towards the planned Conference and its proposed key themes.
With the published findings in May 2021, the Conference was given the thumbs up by 76% of those surveyed in that they considered (51% tend to agree, 25% totally agree) that the Conference on the future of Europe would be a step forward for democracy in the EU. Presumably, that is also on the understanding that citizens play a large part in the proceedings?
There were resounding desires for ordinary citizens (51%), young people (47%) and national governments (42%) to be actively included in the Conference. Civil society organisations who were split down into various categories also featured with significant numbers. The assessment of how active citizens and civil society are due to be engaged is still up for discussion, as many plans still appear to be in draft form. Nevertheless, further surveys or tick box exercises are unlikely to satisfy the expectations of those wanting to contribute.
The majority of Europeans (92%) across all Member States demand that citizens’ voices should be ‘taken more into account in decisions relating to the future of Europe’. That is a worrying statistic that implies that citizens do not already feel sufficiently listened to, nor engaged. This is something that is repeatedly raised and which the EU institutions must now take on board.
However, all that said, the survey also shows that only 51% ( Yes definitely 14%; Yes, probably 37%) actually wanted to get involved. Which begs the question, why do so few actually engage when the demands are so high?
One answer could be that, especially for northern Europeans, citizens consider that their elected MEPs are their representatives. But, 55% of Europeans ‘totally agree’ that “the voice of EU citizens should be more taken into account for decisions relating to the future of Europe”, meaning they may not feel totally served by their Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).
The survey, having been carried out during a pandemic, where Europe was being challenged with developing a vaccine and preventing lockdowns, had obviously made citizens consider their views on the European Union, 60% admitted to this. However, with the vaccine fiasco having since surfaced, leaving Europe behind many other nations without an effective vaccine roll out programme due to a lack of supply, these statistics could be very different if the survey was conducted today.
Add alongside this, that European citizens consider “Climate change and environmental issues” (45%), is seen as the biggest challenge for the future of the EU, followed by “terrorism” (38%), “risks related to health” (37%) and “forced migration and displacement” (27%), the EU Council, Commission and Parliament has a great deal to listen to when it finally allows the citizens into the Conference process.
The final consideration are the statistics that should most concentrate the minds of the Conference on the future of Europe organisers, those associated with the current status of the European Union in the minds of citizens , “27% of Europeans are in favour of the EU as it has been realised so far, while 45% are also in favour of the EU, but not the way it has been realised until now. 21% are rather sceptical, but could change their opinion. 5% are opposed to the idea of the European Union in general.” In other words, almost three quarters of Europeans do not like the European Union we have now!