Next level citizen participation in the EU

27. June 2022
EP / Mathieu Cugnot

In a report published on 24 June 2022, the Bertelsmann Foundation presented a model for permanent citizen participation in EU decision-making. This is to be done through citizens' assemblies.

On 17 June 2022, the European Commission presented a plan on how to follow up on the results of the conference on the future of Europe, which ended on 9 May 2022, and how to translate its proposals into legislative measures. Among other things, the Commission had proposed to give citizens' assemblies the opportunity to discuss and make recommendations on certain important proposals.

Proposal of a citizens' panel taken up

The EU Commission has thus taken up a proposal of a randomly selected EU Citizens' Panel, which took place within the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The conference plenary had endorsed this proposal on 30 April 2022. According to this proposal, citizens' assemblies in the EU should be given a legally binding framework.

According to a recent study conducted jointly by the Bertelsmann Foundation and the European Policy Centre (EPC), the EU lacks a functioning infrastructure for citizens' political participation.

Institutionalise citizens' assemblies

“It’s good to see that the Commission has decided to use Citizens’ Assemblies more often - especially with key legislative proposals,” said Dr Dominik Hierlemann, an expert on citizen participation at the Bertelsmann Foundation and co-author of the study, in an interview with The Brussels Times.

In its new report on a permanent mechanism for citizens’ participation, the Bertelsmann Foundation proposes a model for the institutionalisation of European Citizens’ Assemblies. It would make the EU a frontrunner in innovative citizen participation and reduce the often-quoted gap between Brussels and its citizens, according to the report.

"Our model is citizen-centred"

"Our model is citizen-centred. It describes how European Citizens’ Assemblies can be directly connected to the EU’s policy-making. We even drafted an Interinstitutional Agreement that EU institutions just would have to sign", Hierlemann said.

The model does not require legal EU treaty or institutional change. European Citizens’ Assemblies would become a permanent mechanism of the EU policy-making with links to the annual budget cycle and the state of the union address by the European Commission president.

Citizens' Assemblies meet annually

EU Citizens' Assemblies are to meet annually. The assemblies are to consist of 204 members from all EU member states, who will develop their recommendations in five to eight meetings.

Proposals for topics for the European Citizens' Assemblies should come from the EU institutions or from the population. The topics to be discussed should directly affect European citizens, be topical and future-oriented, and relate to conflict-prone issues.

Citizens' Board selects topics

A Citizens' Board, as a permanent body, is to select the topics to be discussed and formulate questions for the Citizens' Assembly deliberations. The Citizens' Board is to be composed of 54 randomly selected members - two from each EU member state - who have already participated in EU Citizens' Assemblies.

The Citizens' Board is also to determine the procedure of each Citizens' Assembly, monitor the response of the EU institutions to the results and follow up on the implementation of the policy recommendations developed.

High standards

EU Citizens' Assemblies would be subject to the usual standards for such procedures: clear purpose and mandate, good organisation, sufficient resources and time to consult with citizens, availability of high quality expertise and relevant information, simultaneous translation and transparency.

Citizens' Assembly proceedings would be conducted by a professional participation company. The decisions of the citizens' assembly on its recommendations should be based on consensus or supported by at least 75 per cent of the assembly members. Minority opinions are also to be documented.

EU institutions must respond

At the end of the deliberations, the Citizens' Assembly Secretariat would prepare an official report summarising the recommendations developed by citizens. The report would be approved by the Citizens' Assembly, published and sent to the EU institutions.

As with other citizens' assemblies, there would be no legal obligation for the EU to implement the recommendations of European citizens' assemblies. "However, each EU institutions would have to reply to the assembly. Especially the institutions would be obliged to develop a joint action plan. A Citizens’ Board will oversee this process and can give feedback. This would ensure transparency and accountability," Hierlemann explains.

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