The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by James Organ, Lecturer at the University of Liverpool and researcher of the legal framework for citizen participation through instruments of direct democracy, particularly the European Citizens Initiative and UK referenda.

This weekend a group of citizens will meet in Berlin, Rome and Budapest to discuss how they can make Europe a more citizen-led democracy. Is it enough to vote in national and European elections every few years? Or is it time to change and bring citizen participation regularly in to the heart of EUpolitical decision-making?

Criticism of EU democracy has persisted for many years: citizens are too distant from EU institutions, decision-making is too technocratic, the European Parliament is too weak – and hardly anyone votes anyway! The 2007 Lisbon Treaty introduced a range of policy changes to address these and other aspects of the EU’s democratic deficit. The European Parliament is stronger now, regular consultations are carried out, and a first step towards citizen led democracy was taken with the European Citizens initiative. EU democracy has made progress, but more needs to be done as the EU impacts on our lives in so many important policy areas: the environment, employment rights, free movement, and so on.

These citizens meeting next week, who come from all walk of lives, call Europe their home. They come together, sharing the belief that the EU is worth continuing with as a positive political project. They also believe that the answer to a more just and equitable Europe can be found in a stronger involvement of citizens in the EU policy-making process.

This is the challenge that the “CARE for the Future of Europe” project aims to address. CARE is funded by the ‘Europe for Citizens Programme’ and represents a strong collaboration between academic and civil society partners from Germany (WeMove), Hungary (DemNet), Romania (De-Clic), Italy (European Alternatives) and the UK (University of Liverpool).

This ‘Citizens‘ Assembly’ is a model for public engagement that has been used successfully in other contexts before, and that the CARE project aims to test in a new format at EU level. Geographically dispersed meetings will take place in four Member States to consider a common question: how can we increase effective citizen engagement in debates about the future of Europe, and influence EU policy?

Over the two days of the Assemblies, and also online, these citizens will listen to experts proposing changes to citizen participation – EU wide referendums, an EU citizens’ assembly, enhanced public consultations, legislative crowdsourcing and citizen lobbying. They will debate options with each other, look at strengths and weaknesses to form their opinions, and evaluate the options.

At the second round of Assemblies in June, the same group of citizens will meet to assess the most popular proposals to change EU citizen participation in more detail. At the end, they will propose how to make citizens‘ voices more relevant for EU policy-making. We will present the final proposals to the European institutions and decisions-makers.

Citizens want to participate in informed deliberation about the complex questions facing Europe in a balanced and constructive way. We believe our project will demonstrate that there is a real appetite for ‘doing politics differently’.

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