Bridging the gap – Connecting citizens and the EU
On 1 March 2018, the European Movement International held a debate in Brussels to discuss how organised civil society can bring citizens and the EU closer.
The discussion kicked off with Luc Van den Brande, author of the European Commission report “Reaching out to citizens – Seizing the opportunity”. Mr Van den Brande’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion with representatives from civil society such as Anna Widegren, Secretary General, European Youth Forum, Kélig Puyet, Director, Social Platfom and Stephen Boucher, Author of the book ‘Little manual of political creativity’ and CEO of consoGlobe.com.
Europe is in the midst of an intense debate about the EU’s future direction but citizens are feeling left behind. Low turnout in elections only intensifies the sense of disconnect. With an eye towards the European elections in 2019, stakeholders from across society can play a crucial role if we are to innovate new ways of engaging EU citizens and to bridge the gap between voters and EU decision-making.
Identifying practical ways to empower EU citizens and looking for opportunities where there are challenges w/ Luc van den Brande and representatives from civil society pic.twitter.com/5XHuWeBlZI
— Anastasiia Pravedna (@anapravedna) March 1, 2018
During his kick-off speech, Mr Van de Brande outlined the proposals presented in the report, which takes stock of the EU’s engagement and communication with citizens. The report contains a range of suggestions, calling for measures to increase democratic participation in the EU by strengthening the dialogue between citizens and the EU, ensuring a more innovative communication and outreach and increasing efforts around partnerships on the local and regional level. Mr Van den Brande stressed the fact that the EU was not just a rational project but also one that came with emotional ties. With citizen’s trust in the European projects and its institutions steadily eroding, there seemed to be a need for a dialogue with more substance.
Kélig Puyet, Director at the Social Platform and the first from the panel to comment on the Commission’s report, confirmed the lack of citizens’ trust in Brussels and remarked that the EU needed to not only deliver and communicate, but also make citizens feel more European by fostering dialogue around issues that mattered to citizens, such as social equality and solidarity. Moreover, the European Commission was well-advised to further exploit the knowledge of civil society.
Young people don’t feel heard because they are not represented in politics and therefore not represented in policies says @AnnaWidegren. It is essential for the EU to engage with #youth organisations pic.twitter.com/eMhWD6QwBn
— European Movement (@EMInternational) March 1, 2018
Anna Widegren, Secretary General at the European Youth Forum, mentioned that citizens, and especially the young generation, needed a bigger say in the decision-making processes and more choices, while being given the right tools to participate. Young people want to have a say in Europe’s future and therefore politicians were well-advised to ask young people what issues they care about.
Stephen Boucher, author and researcher on topics such as citizens’ participation and creativity in politics, gave examples of how to tackle the lack of citizens’ trust and civic engagement in the EU. One suggestion involves establishing a new ‘Committee for the future’ in the European Parliament, consisting of citizens from across Europe. In light of the discussion around EU’s future budget plans, a participatory budgeting could be another solution, by allowing civil society to determine spending priorities of the EU.
Participants raised further issues, such as the lack of transparency in the decision-making process of the institutions, on the one hand, and the apparent lack of trust of the European institutions in citizens, on the other hand. Another issue brought up during the Q&A was the question of national leaders’ responsibilities in conveying a European spirit.
Mr Van den Brande concluded the discussion by confirming his intention to ensure the follow-up of the Commission’s efforts in implementing the proposals in the report.
You can find more information on the engagement of citizens in our policy positions on “Citizens’ participation in the digital age: e-democracy” and “Citizen’s participation and transparency: closing the gap“.
Take a look at the photos from the event: