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Preparing for the Conference on the Future of Europe: The ‘known knowns’ of citizens’ participation

Future of Europe / DISCUSSION PAPER
Corina Stratulat , Johannes Greubel

Date: 02/03/2020
This publication was written in collaboration with the King Baudouin Foundation.

The EU does not need to reinvent the wheel to successfully involve citizens in the Conference on the Future of Europe. 
There are plenty of past experiences to draw from. 

With less than three months to prepare and still no formal position from the Council, the Conference on the Future of Europe is set to launch without much clarity about the precise organisation, execution or even purpose of the exercise.

But instead of focusing on the ‘unknowns’, the Conference organisers should look to the past and learn from earlier exercises in which citizens were invited to participate in policymaking, at the national and EU level. These events can already tell us what works and what doesn’t:

  • Purpose. To manage people’s expectations effectively, the goal of organising citizens’ consultations in the context of the Conference should be stated at the outset. Do these events intend to collect people’s ideas and proposals about specific EU-related topics (participatory objective)? Or do they aim to increase awareness and explain the EU and what it does (communication objective)?

  • Process. The goal defines the means. Knowing the objective of the citizens’ participation instruments will help to align the available resources with the desired outcomes.

    The size of the funding that needs to underpin the proper organisation of multiple transnational deliberations, such as the Parliament’s proposed Citizens and Youth Agoras, for example, should not be underestimated.

  • Follow-up. If people participate but cannot see how their contribution is taken up by politicians or reflected in decision-making, their trust in these exercises – and in their political representatives – will probably decrease even further. This has been a fundamental weakness of past initiatives. 

    That is why in the anticipated Joint Declaration for the Conference, all institutions should commit to giving citizens a proper response to reflect their participation throughout the Conference. And it should be much more than just a one-line reference in the European Council’s Conclusions, as was the case with the European Citizens’ Consultations (2018).

If the Conference on the Future of Europe is to be more than democratic window-dressing, we need clarity on all three fronts. But luckily, organisers needn’t start from scratch. There’s already a wealth of know-how on how to involve citizens in political decision-making successfully. It would be a shame to let all that knowledge and experience go to waste. 

Read the full paper here
Photo credits:
European Commission, 2014

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