EU Citizens' Dialogue:
French Citzens' Panel on the future of Europe
In the framework of the Citizens' Consultations 52 citizens from across France meet from October 25 to 27, 2018 in Paris to talk about the future of Europe. The format was a premiere in France. The Bertelsmann Stiftung analysed and evaluated the French Citizens' Panel.
In May 2018, the European Commission organized a first panel in Brussels bringing together 100 citizens from all Member States in order to prepare an online questionnaire intended to collect the opinions of all European citizens on the Europe they want tomorrow.
The question "Which decisions should Europe take today, that would make our grandchildren proud?" resulting from the work of the European panel in May, guided the debates held in Paris on those three days.
The opinion written by the 52 French citizens, as well as all the contributions collected during the Citizens' Consultations—a French initiative supported by nearly all other Member States, held from April to October 2018—were analysed and summarized in a report that France and the 26 other participating Member States have brought to the attention of heads of state and the government at the European Council on December 13 and 14, 2018.
Very Different Citizens as Experts
For the French Citizens' Panel hold in Paris, the participants were selected according to different previously defined criteria in order to best represent the heterogeneity of the French population within a group of 50 people. In addition to the usual socio-demographic characteristics, targeted research was carried out to find people who represent a different position about the European Union, be it negative, neutral or pro-European.
The French Citizens' Panel led to a change of perspective. It was possible for the citizens to consult independent external experts during the panel to address specific topics, as is often the case in the process of "deliberative democracy". However the starting point is that politics is everybody's concern. Questions about the fundamental orientation of future European policy must ultimately be debated on the basis of facts but also on a normative basis. Citizens must then be able to contribute in order to become an expert themselves.
More than 82% of citizens rated the Citizens' Panel as "Very good" or "Good". All "Strongly agree" or "(Rather) agree" that it is a good thing that the European Commission and the association Particip-Action organized this event.
More than 98% of participants indicated that they "Strongly agree" or "(Rather) agree" that the participative approach of the workshop with the opportunity to get involved in the discussions is interesting. More than 86% would "Very likely" and "Most likely" encourage a friend or close relative to participate in another citizens' workshop like this one.
The participants particularly appreciated being able to meet and debate with citizens from very different backgrounds.
More than 98% of participants indicated that they "Strongly agree" or "(Rather) agree" that thanks to the diversity of participants discussions were interesting. More than 98% of citizens "Strongly agree" or "(Rather) agree" that the national or even transnational nature of the event is attractive.
When it came to the statement: "I now have a better understanding of EU democracy", more than 92% of citizens state that they "Strongly agree" or "(Rather) agree". As for the open questions at the end of the questionnaire, many participants mentioned having a better understanding of Europe and its modes of operation thanks to their participation at the panel.
More than 88% of citizens indicate that they "Strongly agree" or "(Rather) agree" on the positive contribution of the participation of experts and the politicians in the event. While nearly 59% of participants "Strongly agree" or "(Rather) agree" that their messages will be heard by French leaders and other European stakeholders, nearly 35% are more reserved and share their uncertainty.
The French Citizens' Panel has shown how much Europe's citizens, whether EU supporters or not, can be passionate about European politics and, more importantly, how they can be involved in the shaping of a future EU policy. The evaluation results attest to the added value of this event, both for the participating citizens, for French European policy and for European policy as a whole. This citizens' panel has strengthened citizens' support for the European Union, and a representative sample of the population has given its well-debated and thought-out opinion on European issues.