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Under Construction - Citizen Participation in the European Union

Democracy / REPORT
Corina Stratulat , Janis A. Emmanouilidis , Paul Butcher , Dominik Hierlemann , Maarten de Groot , Stefan Roch

Date: 09/05/2022
In response to criticisms about the European Union's lack of democratic legitimacy, the Union has tried to develop ways to make citizens feel heard and included in the decision-making. The Conference on the Future of Europe, which has now ended, was one such attempt intended to amplify EU citizens' voices.

The Conference is hardly the only game in town. In fact, the EU already offers a patchwork of citizen participation instruments. A new joint study by the European Policy Centre and the Bertelsmann Stiftung examines all these tools in-depth and finds that, although they have a lot of potential, most are unknown, ineffective and underused.

The study, therefore, argues in favour of building a comprehensive participation infrastructure for EU decision-making through the following five actions:

  1. Cultural change: Citizen participation must become an integral feature of EU democracy, rather than simply being a "nice to have" element in Brussels and the national capitals.
  2. Strategy: The EU's institutions and the member states must develop and agree upon a common strategy for citizen participation. This will require a shared vision and understanding of the meaning, purpose and benefits of the European Union's participation infrastructure. The study identifies several criteria for effective participation, including visibility, accessibility, representation, transnationality, deliberativeness and impact.
  3. More visibility: Joint communication efforts are needed to make the participation infrastructure visible to the general public. Citizens across Europe need to know more about how they can get involved in European policymaking.
  4. A central online hub for EU citizen participation: An EU participation infrastructure needs a central, user-friendly and clearly explained online platform for all its participation instruments. A hub of this kind could provide networking opportunities, facilitate effective communication and offer civic education on the issue of EU citizen participation.
  5. Digital potential and new participation formats: Modern citizen participation also needs more robust digital components. Digital mechanisms can increase the visibility and effectiveness of existing instruments by allowing them to reach new audiences. In addition, new formats should be used more often. 
In the absence of a comprehensive reform of citizen participation at the European level, these instruments will continue to have a patchwork nature. This could lead to citizens taking less and less interest in European politics over time, further expanding the gap between policymakers and citizens. More and better citizen participation is an absolute must if we are to protect and strengthen liberal democracy at the EU level. 

Summary Policy Brief by Janis A. Emmanouilidis and Dominik Hierlemann (PDF).

Read the full paper here.
Photo credits:
Bertelsmann Stiftung

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