June 26, 2009
Turning Europe into the Product of Our Common Dreams
We need to remake Europe into the product of our common dreams – by daring to change and daring to innovate. We, that is, the citizens and political beings that know ourselves to be part of a community of interests and responsibilities extending beyond national borders.
Europe is oft criticized for not being able to be able to provide concrete benefits. In order for citizens to appreciate common policies, they need to see concrete implications in their daily lives.
For this it is necessary to turn the terms of the debate inside-out. In fact, more often than not, when ordinary citizens are involved in European policy it is generally because it is being explained to them. What we are affirming here is that we need to turn this process on its head: begin with the concrete preoccupations of citizens. This means thinking of Europe and building European policy by starting with citizens and building common policies that are likely to respond to their wants from the bottom-up. We need to reform the major structural policies of the union WITH its citizens.
Investing in our democracy
In the economic and scientific domains, we easily recognize the need to invest in “research and development.” The products and mechanisms that are unable to adapt at the pace of our modern world become obsolete and inefficient.
We think that the same goes for our system of public decision-making and for the functioning of our democracy – at the European level and other levels alike.
Europe needs to innovate, which is to say that it needs to analyze its needs and the flaws in its rapport with its citizens, and above all else test new ways of interacting between citizens and elected officials. It needs to launch trial efforts, evaluate and document them, and disseminate the most decisive advances with an eye towards rendering them systematic.
If participatory democracy, which can be summed up in the diverse ways citizens are involved in the process of making policy decisions that takes place between two elections, is not a miracle solution, at least it responds to part of the problem of a perceived gap between citizens and elected officials.
Valuing and Clarifying Democratic Innovations
Today, people of good will do not have enough room to maneuver within the EU institutions, owing as much to budget levels as the juridical and administrative framework in which democratic innovations could be registered.
In terms of the budget, the costs of these innovations need to be compared with the cost of inaction. In other words, we need to take into account the cost of a policy measure that is not accepted by citizens. For example, we must include the cost of a referendum that turns out to be negative at the end of the day, the results of which could have been different if we had included the citizens upstream in the decision-making process; the cost of a legitimate measure in relation to the treaties but which is not perceived as such by the general population, etc…
At the juridical and administrative level, the framework has not been suitably adapted. The involvement of citizens is not encouraged, documented, nor valued. We speak a lot about communication with citizens. When will we begin listening to them? When we begin the “consultation,” who is actually consulted? Lobbies and organized civil society – what about citizens who are not organized into interest groups? Who is missing from the consultation process? Is consulting with a sum of all opinions sufficient? What is the place of contradictory information, maturing, ruminating, deliberating, and integrating different points of view?
In addition, after the civic consultation stage, we observe that the processes that evaluate the impact of citizens’ opinions in the process of policy decisions are at best non-transparent, and at worst non-existent. Moreover, the feedback mechanisms which seek to understand whether or not the opinions of citizens were taken into account lack clarity and are not systematic.
We Propose to:
- Establish budget funds within community programmes that will encourage and make it possible for citizens to participate actively in the decision-making process of each of the European institutions.
- Create a centre of expertise to research and support the implementation of participatory efforts, in partnership with or within the Secretariat General of the Commission, which will be at the service of all commissioners and director generals
- Do not wait for the Treaty of Lisbon to pursue democratic research and innovation as well as the implementation of schemes to involve citizens that have already been tested at the European level – such as consultations with and deliberative panels composed of citizens. The legal example of a popular initiative inscribed in the Treaty is an important advancement. Nonetheless, the institutional options inscribed in the Treaty are not enough with this alone.