New forms of democratic participation are gaining ground rapidly. The EU has reacted to its citizens’ increasing demands for participation. Citizens can take an active part in policymaking at the European level, for example by participating in the European Citizens’ Initiative, online consultations by the Commission, or European Citizens’ Dialogues.
A wide range of different citizens’ consultations began in spring 2018 on the instigation of the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, with the support of the other European heads of state and government and the European Commission. As part of this debate, the European Commission supported by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and other organisations created the "The Citizens’ Panel on the future of Europe".
The Citizens' Panel on the future of Europe, which took place between 4 and 6 May 2018, brought together 100 citizens from all 27 EU Member States to discuss the future of Europe. Participants from all over Europe were selected at random in order to represent the diversity of the EU and its citizens. The Bertelsmann Stiftung acted as an academic partner and was responsible for evaluating the event.
The aim of the Citizens' Panel was to develop 12 questions for an online survey on the future of Europe – created by EU citizens for EU citizens. The online survey was launched in all EU languages on 6 May 2018. Initial results are scheduled for discussion by heads of state and government in December 2018. A definitive report will be submitted on 9 May 2019 during the EU27 Summit in Sibiu, Romania.
Dialogue-based forms of participation require courage both from participants, as they are entering unknown territory, and from politicians, because every participatory process develops its own dynamics. But it is worth the effort. The first European Citizens' Panel delivered convincing proof that new forms of dialogue-based democracy can be used successfully at the European level and in EU institutions. The results of the evaluation demonstrate the added benefits of this type of event for participating citizens and policymakers in Brussels alike. The Citizens' Panel strengthened the citizens' identification with the EU, while European institutions gained meaningful insights into public opinion resulting from the intensive discussions and reflections of a cross-section of European citizens.
More than 85 percent rated the event as either "excellent" or "good". This is a strong rating, even in comparison with other participation processes. Overall, the event was a full success in the opinion of the participants. It is worth mentioning that the overall rating of the Citizens' Panel was almost entirely positive, irrespective of national borders.
An overwhelming majority of participants would recommend the event to friends and relatives. The success of the event is not least that participants were able to gain a better insight into the EU and its many benefits. In combination with the impressively positive evaluation of the process, the participants have also become ambassadors for successful participation at the EU level, and ultimately in the EU itself.
The evaluation of the discussions and results clearly shows that language differences are not automatically an obstacle to successful participation. Participants considered the fact that the discussions were enriched by the presence of diverse points of view from different countries and cultures particularly praiseworthy.
The results achieved by joint efforts are at the core of every participation process. Participants were deeply satisfied with the questions they created, which again underlines the success of the event.
Participatory formats by themselves are not enough to resolve the fundamental problem of giving citizens a greater participatory say in European policymaking. However, they are one of many possible ways of preventing the further disconnect of citizens from European politics and policymaking. It is a matter of shifting the question from "How do we improve the EU's communication (and its success)?" to "How else can we enable citizens to participate further in policymaking?" To be successful, participatory formats demand a good expectation management – based on more knowledge about participation. To have an impact and to build trust they must be embedded in existing institutional arrangements.