The European Union has initiated a two-year process of meeting with European citizens to discuss and determine its future agenda and policies. Together with the King Baudouin Foundation and Open Society Foundations, we invited European Union politicians and other experts on democracy and European affairs to a Dinner Dialogue on
4 February 2020. The subject under discussion was the conceptual planning of the Conference on the Future of the European Union. Among the guests were the Vice-President of the European Commission, Dubravka Šuica, the Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, and the German Minister of State for Europe, Michael Roth.
Although the concept for the Future Conference has not yet been finalized, and clarification as to exactly how European citizens will be involved is still outstanding, planning is already in full swing. The European Parliament, the Commission and the EU Member States have already put forward their initial proposals. At our Dinner Dialogue on the Conference on the Future of Europe – How to get citizens’ participation right, experts from various EU Member States and EU institutions met to pool their thoughts on challenges and the required conditions for the success of this new EU initiative.
The round of talks opened with results from the Democracy and Participation in Europe project. According to Dominik Hierlemann and Anna Renkamp, five decisive principles of good citizens’ participation are the key to the success of the EU Future Conference: 1. Making an impact with participation, 2. Selecting topics with relevance for citizens and policymakers, 3. Representation of social diversity by the use of random selection of participating citizens, 4. Developing substantial citizens’ proposals through use of good deliberative processes, 5. Achieving acceptance by the general public by the use of visible, transparent and trustworthy processes.
The plenary discussion was opened with introductory remarks from high-level representatives from the three main EU institutions that are involved in designing and organising the Conference. The discussion covered many different aspects of the design and organisation of the Conference, especially the citizen participation dimension.
Ensuring meaningful participation for citizens
The central topic of the plenary discussion was how citizen participation in the Conference can be made meaningful: How can we make sure that it has a clear and visible impact on the Conference outcomes and recommendations, and ultimately on the future position and course of the European Union? A first point, made repeatedly, is the need for clear objectives. This concerns the overall Conference objectives, as well as the aspects of the Conference specifically related to citizen participation.
Another point that was brought up during the evening was to not pre-empt the Conference discussions. Citizens will only participate if they are confident that politicians are open to their input, as opposed to being driven by a preconception of the necessary outcome of the discussions. One concern that was raised is that citizens participation needs to be guided by concrete questions in order to deliver concrete recommendations that can be followed up on by policymakers.
Lastly, the discussion was about how to follow-up on the Conference output: Participants called for a clear feedback and follow-up mechanism. Unlike the European Citizens’ Consultations and Citizens’ Dialogues, citizen input must have a clear and visible impact on EU politics and policy. While treaty change is one possible option, it was argued, it is not a necessary outcome.
Five topics were then discussed in groups:
Topics: Top down or bottom up – what are the right topics and who decides on them?
Diversity: How to ensure inclusive and broad participation?
Transnational Processes: How to ensure good transnational and multi-lingual deliberation?
Visibility: How to communicate the Conference and use digital tools?
Follow-up – how to deal with the results?
The results of the plenary and group discussions can be found in the documentation here.
Promoting New Formats: Bringing Experts and Decision-Makers Together and Developing Ideas
The democracy programme brings participation pioneers in the EU together and puts forward proposals for strengthening EU democracy. Together with the King Baudouin Foundation and the Open Society Foundations, Bertelsmann Stiftung forms an alliance dedicated to integrating new participatory formats to the political system in the EU.
We contribute to the debate with concepts for the Conference on the Future of the European Union (Policy Brief 4/2019 - Conference Talk) and show examples of how good citizen participation can also be successful in a trans-national context with citizens from numerous EU Member States (New ways to increase citizens’ participation in Europe).