European future with citizens' panels

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The Conference on the Future of Europe advocates the regular holding of randomly selected citizens' panels at EU level. A recommendation to this effect was adopted in Strasbourg on 30 April 2022.

Since May 2021, European citizens have been allowed to discuss with experts and MEPs at conferences, in plenary sessions and working groups what they expect from the EU politically and which reforms they consider necessary. The result of this Conference on the Future of Europe is a 53-page paper with recommendations on how the EU could be made more democratic, closer to its citizens and more efficient.

Legally binding framework for citizens' panels

At the suggestion of a randomly selected citizens' panel, citizens' panels in the EU are to 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.

The 200 members of this Citizens' Panel on European Democracy, Values and Rights, Rule of Law and Security, like the participants in three other citizens' panels, had met a total of three times to discuss, among other things, how to improve citizen participation in the European Union.

Improving the effectiveness of participation

In addition to the regular convening of citizens' panels, the Conference on the Future of Europe places particular emphasis on the general participation and prior involvement of citizens and civil society in political decisions. "In exceptional cases", the European Parliament should even have the possibility to initiate EU-wide referendums "on matters particularly important to all European citizens".

Concerning citizen participation, it is proposed to improve the effectiveness of existing participation procedures and to develop new procedures based on the existing ones. All information on participation opportunities in the EU should be compiled on an official website with various functions. Citizens should be able to understand which measures and legislative initiatives result from participation procedures.

Inclusive participation

In addition, the Conference recommends that participation procedures be designed in such a way that they are inclusive and reach a broad audience. The impact of the discussed political measures on women and vulnerable people, among others, should be analysed.

The conference on the future of the EU also suggests strengthening online and offline exchanges between the EU institutions and its citizens through various tools. This is to ensure that citizens can participate in the EU policy-making process to voice their opinions and receive feedback. Furthermore, a charter on citizen participation is to be drawn up for EU officials.

Digital participation platform

For online citizen participation, the conference participants recommend the provision of a user-friendly digital platform where interested parties can exchange ideas, ask questions to representatives of the EU institutions and express their opinions on important EU matters and legislative proposals. The platform is also to enable online voting.

The EU should also involve organised civil society and regional and local authorities, as well as existing structures such as the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee of the Regions (CoR) in the process of citizen participation. In addition, a system of local EU councillors is to be created to reduce the distance between the EU institutions and European citizens.

Focus on the young generation

Civil society should not only be involved in EU policies, but also supported financially and through other measures. This should apply in particular to the young generation. The Conference suggests helping local authorities to set up local youth councils. A "youth check" is to be introduced in the context of legislation, which includes both an impact assessment and a consultation process with representatives of young people if legislation is deemed to have an impact on young people. Children aged 10-16 should be involved through citizens' panels in schools.

It is further recommended to strengthen cooperation between EU legislators and civil society organisations. All elements of citizen participation should be summarised in an EU Charter for Citizen Participation in EU Affairs.

Proposals from citizens' panels, events and online platform

The proposals are based on recommendations from the European citizens' panels, national citizens' panels and events, as well as ideas submitted via the conference's online platform.

They were formulated in nine working groups involving citizens, members of the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission and national parliaments, as well as representatives of other EU institutions, regional and local authorities, social partners and civil society.

"Citizens will be involved"

There are high hopes associated with the involvement of citizens: "I think this could have a lot of influence. We have said to ourselves that democracy in Europe will change after this. We will not only have a representative democracy, citizens will be involved," said Aoife O'Leary, a young participant from Ireland.

As Vice-President of the EU Commission, Dubravka Šuica said: "I am sure that the institutions will take this seriously and the citizens will hold us accountable if we do not implement anything. That is why I am sure we will follow up. We will do our best to take into account citizens' ideas, hopes and concerns."

"Citizen participation is needed in modern democracy"

The Belgian Liberal Guy Verhofstadt, as co-chair of the conference, thanked the participants of the citizens' panels. He said that they had shown that citizens were more than the European Parliament with its divisions into left and right or north and south.

His conclusion from the Conference on the Future of Europe: "I don't believe anymore in a democracy that is only a election in five years without involvement of the citizens. We need to make from this system a permanent system in our democracy in Europe and in the member states of the European Union. There is no contradiction between representative democracy and participative democracy. You have proofed that both are coming together and are needed together in a modern democracy." He sees citizens as inherently more united than the European Parliament with its division into left and right or north and south.

What's next?

The collected proposals were handed over to the leadership of the European institutions - French President Emmanuel Macron for the Council, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Parliament President Roberta Metsola - on 9 May 2022.

How things will then proceed in concrete terms is open. The European Parliament wants to push for the reforms to be adopted as quickly as possible. To ensure that the proposals are not simply shelved, the Conservatives, Social Democrats, Greens, Liberals and Left have tabled a resolution that found a broad majority in Parliament on 4 May 2022. It provides for the convening of a reform assembly to discuss and prepare the necessary changes. If the EU Commission and the European Council also approve this motion, the door will be open for a reform of the European Union.

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