Challenge for Europe

The European Union has almost 500 million inhabitants and 23 official languages. If the question of civic participation is complex at the local, regional or national level it is even more so at the European level. Involving citizens more in the decision-making process of the European Union: is it desirable? Is it feasible? Yes, and even necessary!

European democracy is facing important challenges. Essential among them is the questioning of the roles, powers, and functioning of the European institutions. Other challenges are linked to the power of lobbies. Others still invoke the principle of subsidiarity, which begs the question: “Do we want more or less of Europe?”. In this proposition, we concentrate on a few key challenges: first, turning Europe into product of a common dream; second, daring to invest in democracy; and third, creating a real European public space.

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Post written by Tanguy Vanloqueren and Benoit Derenne, program manager and director at the Foundation for Future Generations (www.fgf.be), and Coordinator of the Panel of European Citizens (www.citizenspanel.eu)

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  1. If we’re to have more civic involvement in Europe, it is high time that the European institutions and Member State Governments acknowledged what is a fatal democratic deficit in the EU: the inability of the citizens of Member States to have a direct say in the composition of the European Commission – the one body with the power to initiate pan-European legislation.

    Elections to the European Parliament are not enough. Even with the extensions to its remit as provided for in Lisbon, it is still seen as a paper tiger. The steady decline in turnout at European elections illustrate that the European citizenry have little faith in their ability to influence events at a European level at the ballot box.

    Trust in national Governments to ‘do the right thing’ is not enough either. We’ve seen all too often that national Governments are not above pushing controversial legislation through at an EU level that would meet with stiff opposition back home – and then turning around and placing the blame on ‘Europe’.

    This situation urgently needs to be addressed, and reform of the one body whose appointment is not currently subject to a direct popular mandate would help to resolve this.

    If the political will was there, this could be done without altering any treaty – so long as European leaders and political parties were prepared to accede to the convention that they would not oppose the result of such a ballot.

    Then, perhaps, we would be able to have a Commission acting in the interests not merely of what the ‘great and good’ of Europe want – but of what the citizens of Europe want.

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