E-democracy in the EU: Reshaping citizens’ participation
In an increasingly digitalized world, the European Union has to adapt its democratic system to the technological progress in order to enhance citizens’ empowerment through different online activities, which can be headed under ‘e- democracy’. These activities include, amongst others, e-governance, e-deliberation, e-participation and e-voting. With the European Parliament debating its own-initiative report on e-democracy this Wednesday (15.03.2017) and the vote on it scheduled this Thursday (16.03.2017), we take a closer a look at the proposals in the Parliament draft report and the different elements of e-democracy in the European Union.
Acknowledging the fact that citizens disaffection with politics is rising, while voter turnout is declining and people are turning away from political decision making processes, the Parliament emphasizes that the democratic linkage between citizens and political institutions has to be enhanced. As stated in the European Movement Policy Position, using e-democracy tools for the creation of a European public sphere would significantly contribute to connect people across borders and shape a platform for debate. In addition, by introducing e-voting together with lists headed ‘Spitzenkandidaten’ and a real European election campaign, we argue that truly European elections can be fostered.
As the Parliament draft report points out, the functioning of democracy, legitimacy and accountability of each level of the multi-level governance structure of the EU has to be ensured. In order to regain citizens’ trust, e- democracy tools can help foster more active citizenship by improving participation, transparency and accountability in decision-making. However, the purpose of e-democracy is not to establish an alternative democratic system, nor does it alone ensure political participation. It serves as a tool to enable and widen citizens’ inclusion and facilitate democratic participation.
The European Movement believes that access to already existing tools should therefore be facilitated and awareness of their existence should be raised. This can indeed include the proposal in the Parliament report that digital platforms and other applications should be made compatible with mobile devices, but should also go beyond this.
The Parliament draft report calls on the Members States to provide educational and technical means to boost the democratic empowerment of citizens, and to improve ICT competences for all EU citizens in order to bridge the digital divide (e-inclusion). The focus should lay on integrating the acquisition of digital skills into school curricula, lifelong learning and training as well as building affordable and high-speed digital infrastructure. Recognising the risks of online voting, the Parliament draft report draws attention to the importance of protecting privacy and personal data when e- democracy tools are used. In this regard, the European Movement proposes that the involvement of the European Data Protection Supervisor in the development and implementation of e-democracy tools could ensure data security and citizens’ privacy.
When adopted, the Parliament draft report will be the first step towards a more inclusive European democratic process. However, in order to really seize the opportunity that technological progress offers, the report has to be followed by concrete proposals and action plans, coupled with a willingness to act from all EU institutions.