From Uppsala in Sweden, Cork in Ireland and Bucharest in Romania - the interest was great: 170 mayors, deputies and young politicians from 22 member states and more than 60 European regions, cities and municipalities discussed among themselves and with the Vice-President of the European Commission Dubravka Šuica, the Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions, Apostolos Tzitzikostas and members of the European Parliament such as Daniel Freund and Lukas Mandl about new ways to strengthen citizen participation. As different as the conditions on the ground may be, they were all driven by the question of how to better involve citizens in political decisions across all European levels.
A new chapter for participatory democracy in Europe
How can we adapt to climate change? What systems do we need to avoid food waste? What will the mobility of the future look like? The opinions of European citizens are important when it comes to European policy-making. Supporting politicians in involving citizens in political decision-making is at the heart of the Stiftungs "New Democracy" project and the joint initiative "A new chapter for participatory democracy" launched by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the European Committee of the Regions on 9 March in Brussels.
A new chapter for participatory democracy in the EU
Major transformation processes such as adaptation to climate change can only succeed with the commitment of a large majority of European citizens. Increasingly, it is becoming essential for politicians to integrate the voices of citizens into the political decision-making process.
One thing is clear: the challenges the EU is facing require strong democratic legitimacy at regional and local level. Cities and regions are important for the EU and vice versa. They are the laboratories for innovative participation mechanisms. Citizen participation can help municipalities, cities and regions to develop and implement policies. This is where the initiative of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the European Committee of the Regions comes in. The event on 9 March was the starting point to support local politicians to better organise citizen participation, to involve it more effectively in their decision-making and to better link the different political levels up to the EU.
Great demand for support and networking
What are the needs of regions, cities and municipalities in Europe? What support and capacity building do they need to implement citizen participation projects? How can the circle of citizens involved be widened - beyond the usual suspects? How can we effectively transfer the results into the political structures - both regionally and at EU level? The aim of the kick-off conference was to sharpen the initiative's offer to municipalities, cities and regions to build up capacity for citizen participation. To this end, the 170 participants discussed together in small and large groups their experiences with citizen participation, the challenges that need to be overcome and which European issues are important for local citizens and politicians.
Capacity building for European municipalities, cities and regions
The initiative aims at providing the capacity of regions, municipalities and cities that are needed on the ground to carry out good citizen participation. In order to be able to offer this in a tailor-made way, the participants exchanged their experiences and concrete support wishes in small and large groups.
Whether competence building for concrete projects, training courses for young politicians to become participation experts or practice-oriented handouts: With concrete assistance, the initiative contributes to bringing good citizen participation to the region as well as to creating generally applicable quality principles and a permanent mechanism for citizen participation. We enable regions to broaden their experience and capacity in participatory democracy, to apply their knowledge and to plan and implement high-quality citizen participation.
About the initiative
Building on the "From local to European" project from 2021 and in the run-up to the 2024 European elections, the European Committee of the Regions and the Bertelsmann Stiftung have launched a new initiative. The aim is to promote citizen participation with modern and innovative concepts, especially on EU-relevant topics such as energy, climate or health. The initiative, which was launched on 9 March at a kick-off conference, supports regional and local politicians in building up skills for the implementation of citizen participation projects. A special focus is on the young generation of politicians.