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A push for European Identity in Europe´s cities and regions

Citizens start thinking and feeling more European, politicians start making decisions that are closer to citizens´ needs. This is what happens when citizen participation is well organised. Experiences of Citizens Participation all over the EU were discussed at the working conference of the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the European Committee of the Regions on 27 June in Brussels. 

Contact Person:

Anna Renkamp
Senior Project Manager
Foto Dominik Hierlemann
Dr. Dominik Hierlemann
Senior Advisor

Content

Together with around 70 invited politicians, citizens and experts from local and regional governments as well as from EU institutions and bodies, we discussed and drafted recommendations for the future design of citizen participation in Europe. Following up on the landmark European democracy experiment “Conference on the Future of Europe” and its recommendations on a permanent European Citizens´ Assembly, the working conference focused on how the views of ordinary citizens from all parts of Europe can be better incorporated into European policy-making to make citizens´ participation a permanent reality. The following questions were discussed:

  • What are the lessons learned from the Conference on the Future of Europe for a better link between participatory and representative democracy and citizens’ assemblies?
  • How should we connect local citizens’ assemblies to EU-level debates?
  • What do regions and cities need to advance citizen participation in an EU context? How can the European Committee of the Regions contribute to this process?

Picture Gallery

In the opening debate, Christophe Rouillon, Mayor of Coulaines, France, President of the PES group in the CoR said: "The Conference on the Future of Europe sent a clear message: we have to dare more democracy! This means strengthening both representative and participatory democracy. We, European cities and regions, are best qualified to prepare citizens for a stronger say on social, environmental and health policies. We can build on our experiences with citizens' participation and also be the labs of democratic experimentation. We are ready and motivated to get the European democratic project to a new stage!"

In three parallel workshops the participants discussed in a world café format the benefits of citizens´ participation at different levels of democracy, the involvement of regions and cities in a European participatory process, and capacity building and networking for citizens’ participation. Here are the main recommendations from the workshops.

Workshop results

WS 1: Benefits of citizens´ participation at different levels of democracy

- The EU should become more comprehensive: this can be achieved via translating European priorities into policy goals and plans that are clear and understandable for citizens at local levels, facilitating access to EU information and making information about the EU and its policy priorities easily accessible.

- Tackle the lack of European identity by bridge-building between EU politicians and the daily life of EU citizens and bringing citizens in direct contact with local and European decision-makers.

- Ensure inclusivity and representativeness in the formats of citizen participation: organise Citizens´ Assemblies with randomly selected citizens. This gives ordinary citizens the chance to present their views. The diversity of the citizens leads to well-balanced consensus solutions even on controversial issues.

- Make a one-stop platform available on participation and transparency; lower the language barrier and facilitate access to EU information.

WS 2: How to involve regions and cities in a European participatory process?

 

- Cities and regions should play an active role in explaining the added value of the EU by bringing European topics closer to citizens, nurture bottom-up approaches, enhance local initiatives on issues of local or even European scope, and receive training on EU issues and in particular on participatory schemes.

- The CoR should build a network of actors who work on the widening of citizen participation and gather knowledge on experiences and best practices of various participatory formats.

- Interactive online formats should be further exploited when it comes to connecting people, young people should be mobilized.

- Citizen participation at the regional and local levels can be a good instrument of building and strengthening common European identity.

WS 3: How to do capacity-building and networking on citizens participation?

- The role of networks is to exchange ideas, connect government levels, and share good practices. Networks should include experts, practitioners, administrations, and citizens. Networks should provide a safe space for exchange and the possibility to reflect on failures as well.

- Capacity-building can be done through providing training and guidance on quality standards and processes for citizens participation, including for politicians, sharing positive outcomes, linking the wider public including civil society and media, offering mentoring and coaching also among peers to share best practices and to provide for transnational learning opportunities.

Conclusion and looking to the future following the working conference

Vasco Alves Cordeiro, First Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions concluded the working conference. The Vice-President emphasized that the Conference on the Future of Europe showed us the necessity to get out of the ‘legitimacy trap’, namely, to stop thinking that representative and participatory democracy are inherently contradictory and cannot exist next to each other. Elected representatives and citizens who participate via other mechanisms are not in opposition but are working together via different means towards the same goals. However, at the present time, in order to advance citizen participation and increase its acceptance, all levels of democracy should tackle three major challenges: The right conditions to motivate people to participate need to be created; it should be clear from the beginning of the process to the citizens how far they are empowered;  processes must be accountable of what to do with the citizens´ recommendations citizens need to have a clear idea of what will happen with their suggestions and recommendations; and it is the primary task for politicians to clearly communicate this.

He closed by stating that local and regional authorities already have an interesting record in citizens´ participation and will play a key role in addressing these challenges.

About the project

“From local to European”: a project by the CoR and the Bertelsmann Stiftung

Between April 2021 and February 2022, the project the “From local to European” was carried out by the CoR and the Bertelsmann Stiftung – together with 23 cooperation partnerships from 67 European cities and regions. The latter conducted citizens’ dialogues with around 200 politicians and 2 000 citizens, which contributed to the Conference on the Future of Europe with more than 400 concrete proposals on the future of Europe. The five key results of the project are:

  1. The project led to high-quality citizens’ dialogues. Over 90% of the citizens and over 90% of the organisers rated the citizens’ dialogues as very good or good. All initiators stated that the support provided by the project had improved their own Citizens’ Dialogues.
  2. Expertise for good citizen participation was firmly established. All initiators rated the quality principles as useful, regardless of their previous knowledge of citizen participation. They were applied in practice. It was only random selection, as a little-known instrument, that had some implementation issues.
  3. Participatory democracy in the cities and regions has been given a lasting boost. All project partners stated that they would apply the quality principles again in the future. In addition, all events were supported by about a total of 200 politicians, who discussed with the citizens their proposals and promised to take concrete action.
  4. Citizens want to be more involved in European issues. The evaluation of the citizens’ assessments and the approx. 400 proposals made by citizens clearly show that European citizens want more citizen participation at the European level.
  5. United in diversity: the proposals of European citizens are similar. Around 400 developed proposals show: European citizens want more out of Europe and more unified solutions at EU level. Furthermore, it is evident that citizens not only often discuss the same issues, but also often arrive at similar proposals for the future of Europe although these concern different countries.

Further information