EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen wants to involve the citizens of the European Union more in important political decisions in the future. For this reason, she wants to seek the opinion of citizens' panels before submitting important legislative initiatives. This was announced by von der Leyen at the closing event of the Conference on the Future of Europe on 9 May 2022 in Strasbourg.
In doing so, the Commission President is taking up a proposal made by a randomly selected EU citizens' panel. The conference plenary had endorsed this proposal on 30 April 2022. According to this proposal, citizens' panels in the EU should be given a legally binding framework. The participants are to be randomly selected. The citizens' panels are to be composed in such a way that they reflect the EU population according to criteria such as age, gender, education and origin. Experts are to provide the panel participants with the information they need for their deliberations. If the resulting recommendations are not adopted by the EU institutions, this must be justified.
"Democracy must update itself"
"Democracy has not gone out of fashion, but it must update itself in order to keep improving people's lives," von der Leyen quoted David Sassoli, former President of the European Parliament, who died in January 2022. He had opened the EU Future Conference in May 2021.
And I feel pride that citizens from every corner of Europe have brought to life his vision of a vibrant and modern European democracy. We saw it in the National Citizens' Panels, such as those held right across France. And we saw it in the European Citizens' Panels – from Dublin to Natolin, from Florence to Maastricht. It connected men and women who have never engaged with Europe before. Different stories, different languages, different identities; but one shared future to build on.
"This form of democracy works"
"You have proven that this form of democracy works," the Commission President praised the 800 randomly drawn participants in the EU Citizens' Forums. "I want to address every single one of you who took part in this Conference: Your message has been well received. And now, it is time to deliver."
Von der Leyen therefore wants to give deliberative democracy "more room, it should become part of the way we make policy. This is why I will propose that, in the future, we give citizens' panels the time and resources to make recommendations before we present key legislative proposals. Because I am convinced that democracy does not end with elections, conferences or conventions. It needs to be worked on, nurtured and improved every day ," explained von der Leyen.
Four citizens' panels
During the conference on the future of Europe, randomly selected citizens had discussed with EU institutions and other stakeholders how the EU should evolve to meet future challenges. Four citizens' panels debated ideas from events across the EU as well as proposals submitted via the conference website.
The four European Citizens' Panels were each attended by 200 citizens. Participating citizens were randomly selected by an independent polling company according to five criteria to reflect the diversity of the EU: geographical origin (nationality and urban/rural), gender, age, socio-economic background and level of education. Young people between 16 and 25 years old made up one third of the participants in each forum. A gender balance was also maintained.
Further steps announced
On 17 June 2022 the European Commission announced, to dedicate time and resources to organise citizens’ panels with the aim to deep-dive into a select number of key themes and help prepare particularly important sets of key initiatives and receive feedback from ahead of launch of legislative process. Furthermore the commission wants to organise smaller targeted deliberative or co-creation/co-design processes, run in a smaller scale, to address specific policy issues more cost-effectively and in a timelier way.
On 14 September 2022 EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced the introduction of the first measures to follow from the recommendations of the citizens' panels. "The citizens' panels that were central to the Conference (on the Future of Europe) will now become a regular feature of our democratic life", she stated in her State of the Union speech.