The European Citizens’ Consultations were launched by French President Emmanuel Macron in April 2018. These participatory debates and events are taking place in 27 EU Member States until October 2018, following the overall goal to restore the link between Europe’s peoples and European integration and to give citizens a platform to voice their opinion towards EU policy makers, on the European issues that matter to them. The outcomes will be presented when EU leaders gather in December for European Council. In addition, an online consultation was set up to reach as many citizens as possible.
The European Movement welcomes new and innovative formats for discussions that constructively engage citizens in the debate around Europe’s future. Through its national and local branches, the European Movement is actively involved in shaping to a certain extent the citizen consultations across Europe, and can ensure follow-up discussions in the autumn. However, in order for these debates to be of an added value to European democracy, it is essential that they follow the same key principles, such as transparency, inclusiveness and accessibility – no matter in which Member State they take place.
Following the example of the European Movement Germany, the European Movement network has gathered a number of joint criteria that we believe the European Citizen Consultations should fulfil in order to serve as a constructive and representative tool within European democracy. In addition, follow-up discussions in the Autumn can help reflect on the outcomes and would enable organisers and further stakeholders to draw lessons for future citizen participation tools.
The consultations, no matter whether they take place in Germany, Ireland or France, must follow the same principles, be consistent in their structure, and must produce comparable results.
The consultations must gather a diverse and balanced group of European citizens, representative of the respective Member States’ society, and should also be open to citizens that are not entitled to vote in their current country of residence. Pro-European as much as EU-critical voices should be equally invited to join.
A bottom-up approach is crucial for the planning and implementation of the consultations. The choice of topics to be addressed during the discussions must be developed in coordination with organisations that are close to citizens, like municipalities and regions, trade unions, youth organisations, universities, environmental NGOs. The consultations should not be held just in the capital of each member state but also in smaller towns and rural areas.
The consultations must be carried out by not-for-profit and politically independent organisations, experienced in dealing with participatory and democratic processes not only on a transnational level and whose own organisational structures are of diverse and democratic nature. Additional analysts and experts can be consulted to receive further input.
The debates should be inclusive, giving all participants the chance and time to freely express their views and opinions. Ideally, the events should contain as few speeches and panel discussions as possible, leaving more time for interventions from participants. The moderator should be neutral and facilitate the discussion in the most inclusive manner possible.
The consultations must focus on EU-wide issues, so they don’t turn into debates about national or regional questions. They should discuss issues that concern Europeans across the continent, where national remedies alone cannot provide the answers to the challenges facing citizens today.
The consultations should involve not only individual citizens, but also organised civil society, political parties, trade unions, entrepreneurs, local governments and further stakeholders concerned by the debate around the future of Europe.
The implementation and follow-up of the consultations need to be transparent, in order to increase the trust of citizens. Participants need to be informed about the various steps of the consultation process and must be able to find out how their remarks fed into the discussions among political leaders.
To connect the different consultations taking place across Europe, the discussions must have a clear objective and share a red line and a target audience set out in advance. Aside from ensuring a follow-up and publicising the results, EU leaders must commit to a follow-up of the outcome of the consultations, laying out which remarks of citizens were taken into account for which reasons.
National governments should ensure that the consultations are advertised widely, including national as well as European media and striving for media coverage that is of transnational nature, so citizens in one country are aware of the debates in another.
It would be preferable to assign the planning of citizen dialogues to organisations which can themselves demonstrate democratic structures and who encompass organisations that represent the whole spectrum of society.