Citizens’ consultation to shape an EU of democracy, fundamental rights and participation
Wednesday May 8th 2013, 17:30-20:30
Europe House, 32 Smith Square, SW1P 3EU LondonFind out more information about the Citizens Manifesto and about the London consultation.
Table Discussions: Issues Discussed and Key Proposals Put Forth
The proposals numbered below were elaborated through discussions using the World Café methodology and reflect the positions of the majority of participants to the citizens’ consultation, even though ideas and positions were diverse and sometimes in disagreement. Some of the proposals (e.g. regarding education or powers of the European Parliament) were raised on different tables but were merged here for the purpose of clarity. If you’d like to react to or comment a proposal or put forward other ideas, please use the “comment” box at the bottom of the page.
Your rights – who is the best protector of them?
Moderator: Emma Fenelon, AIRE Centre
The protection of your rights is guaranteed at a number of levels, be they local, national, European or international.What are the rights that the European Union (EU) grants to its citizens and what are the responsibilities attached to these rights? How could citizens know better about them? What are the obstacles to the full enjoyment of these rights and how could they be overcome?
2. Need to counter-act an increasingly migrant-hostile culture in which people are being encouraged to turn on one another following increasing levels of inequality in financial crisis. Currently there is a lack of provision of language lessons with services being severely cut back. We witness a phenomenon of ‘white flight’ from certain areas in London.
3. Children should be taught about diversity and this should be included in civic studies curricula. Young people’s need should be taken into account more, the lack of proper jobs plan for young people in UK is a challenge
The EU, its citizens, its denizens: discussing migrants’ rights in the European Union
Moderator: Don Flynn, Migrant Rights NetworkIf the European Union is to be more than a single market of free movement for goods and capitals and if we refuse a dual system where some people would have more “freedom to move” than others, then the question of migration in the EU is fundamental. Any form of political union poses the fundamental question of how we want to welcome difference and live together. As proved by the enflamed rhetoric of UKIP and by ministers’ plans of negative campaigns for Bulgarians and Romanians, the debate on whether the UK should stay in the EU or not opened the door to an outbidding against migrants (from other EU member states or not) as causing a drain on the Welfare State.
Faced to the risk of identitarian closure that a possible withdrawal of the UK from the EU could provoke, how can migrants be prevented from becoming the scapegoats in this crisis?
What should be the basic rights guaranteed for migrants everywhere in Europe? To what extent can Europe, with its commitment to ‘unity in diversity’ and its variable geographies, offer an alternative model for integration in a community? How can the securitarian discourse be deconstructed in relation to the migration issue? How does the institutional framework of the migration and asylum policy, linked to security issues rather than human rights, affect people’s perception of the matter?
5.Improve legal advice in the field of immigration (bad legal advice in large part due to lack of expertise)
6. Acknowledge studies and research available on migrationin the discourses, notably the evidence that migrants follow jobs, not benefits, and regional variances of migration.
What do we want from Europe?
Moderator: Aneta Kubala, British Youth CouncilThe Second World War ended on May 8th 1945, a day celebrated as the “Victory in Europe Day”; the idea of a European Union then started to make its way around the will to maintain peace in Europe. Almost 70 years later, what is our project for Europe? Earlier this year, a poll by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and by the Fabiansshowed that there is a strong generational divide in the UK in terms of attitudes towards the EU, with a majority of young people (67% for the 18-34) in favour of the UK staying in the EU, against a 23-point lead amongst the 60+ and a 35-point lead amongst those aged 40-59 to to leave the EU. The future of the EU belongs to its youth: what is the EU we want to live in? Is a single market enough? Can a new shared vision for the European project emerge from the current economic, social and political crisis?
8. Invest more in people not capitaland focus on young people: the Youth Guaranteeseems an interesting idea but not many people know about it. Similarly, there is also a lack of awareness about the European Job centre (Eures).
9. Simplify the language and the funding processes for EU programmes for young people.Great participation tools for young people are available in the EU such as Youth in Action, Erasmus, European Citizens Initiative – however there is little awareness of them. Youth in Action is very bureaucratic and complicated and not youth friendly. EVS is a great initiative however there needs to great recognition of the programme. The “Youth Pass” is not widely recognised.
10. Raise stakes for the European elections, having real alternatives for Europe proposed, so that voters feel that their vote can bring about change. Means can be campaigns and debates (e.g. on TV) between candidates or institutional reforms (see below).
A more democratic EU
Moderator: Jonathan Birdwel, Demos
The current institutional architecture of the EU is felt by many to be undemocratic. This discussion will explore how the EU currently works, and how could it be improved.
What are some creative and ambitious reforms to EU institutions that could help make it more democratic? What is the current balance between the legislative, executive and judiciary powers? Can this balance be improved? What could be done to ensure more transparency of decision-making processes? Should there be a stronger relationship between the EU and national parliaments? Should the EU include more ‘direct democracy’ approaches to decision-making? Additionally, what can the EU do to protect democracy in member states and prevent ‘backsliding’ on democratic commitments?
12. More transparency for the Council of the EU (Council of Ministers): there should be more checks and balances to even out the power imbalances. One possible approach is to increase transparency about decisions and negotiations taking place in the Council.
13. Greater powers for the European Parliament (EP): certain countries in the European Council hold the most power, while the EP has too few powers. The EP should be given the power to initiate legislation, as there is a lack of direct control, with members of Parliament (MEPs) not feeding directly into the process of creating a government or drafting laws. Another form of heightened direct control over the Commission would be to have elected commissioners
14. Need for a directly elected European Head of Unionwho can speak with a single voice, is a strong personality / politician, enacting a vision that is recognizable and analogous to national level political divides. This person should function as the Prime Minister and head of the European Commission – which could be renamed, the European ‘Government’. A directly elected head of Europe, or head of the European Commission, would increase accountability and be a welcome change.
16. Reform European political parties to make them clearer about the policies and vision they would enact if they were elected. It was felt that people are used to the clear left and right political distinctions at the national level, and get confused when it comes to the EU. Citizens need to know what a representative (even the member state in the EC) stands for.
17. The EU needs to develop a mandate that has more consensus and a common narrative.It was agreed that this should include a responsibility for the EU to monitor democratic commitments (i.e. the Charter of Fundamental Rights) among member states and hold them to account. It was also felt that there was more consensus on foreign policy issues, for instance in the Middle East. Also, the economic benefits of EU membership need to be communicated to Europeans. All attendants agree that there is a narrative, which is not told or communicated: together we are all better off than on our own. One of the reasons for lacking a single narrative is that there is no ‘European’ journalism. There should be common medias as well as a common narrative.
18. EU decisions should be connected to the local level, giving MEPs a budget for their local area which they can be accountable to the electorate for.
19. Have only one location for the European Parliament(Brussels and not Strasbourg)
Elections and accountability
Moderators: Darren Hughes, Chris Terry, Electoral Reform Society
The “representativity” of representative democracy is criticized at all levels, in particular at the European level. Out of the two legislators at EU level, the Parliament only is directly elected by European citizens. What is more, it does not have the power to initiate law. Since 1979, when the EP was elected directly for the first time, until 2009, participate rates in the elections have gradually dropped, from 62% to 43% at EU level – going as far as 34% for UK voters.
How could democratic governance at the EU level be improved? Could the voting system be changed to ensure better representation of EU citizens? Finally, as the principle behind representative democracy is that elected representatives are held accountable by their electorate, what are the mechanisms in place to hold MEPs accountable? How can they be improved?
21. Reduce the barriers for independent candidates to run, which many felt were too high. In Romania for instance, the requirement is to have 100,000 signatures to get on the ballot, which makes it impossible. It is not necessarily much easier for new parties in Romania, which need to collect 200,000 signatures.
22. Parties should run under their Europarty labels: the process of representation is confusing as MEPs campaign under their national parties for elections and then sit within Europarty groups in the EP. It was suggested that parties should run under their Europarty colours and that TV debates are organised between representatives of these Europarties.
23. Rethink EU electoral rules. Ideas discussed included the creation of transnational lists for EP elections(proposed notably by MEP Andrew Duff), compulsory voting, voting thresholds, the possibility of holding primary elections to select candidates and the inclusion of a “none of the above” option on ballots.
More bottom-up citizens’ participation in EU decision-making processes
Moderator: Matt Ryan, Participedia
Apart from the elections of the European Parliament every five years, what are the existing tools for citizens’ voices to be not only heard (such as in consultations of civil society), but also to be turned into policies at the EU level? How could bottom-up citizens’ participation be fostered and how can their voices impact decisions at the highest level? Many EU citizens are at best apathetic and at worst hostile towards participation in European politics. Is this healthy or damaging for democracy? We also know that certain important social groups participate in European politics a lot less than others.
Could and should we design innovations to engage the disengaged rather than the ‘usual suspects’? What new tools could we imagine? What initiatives taken at the local level could be scaled up at EU level, perhaps to shape a new model for EU decision-making structures?
What needs to be done to make sure innovative approaches are successful and can be sustained over time? The focus of discussion at this table was on designing institutions for collective decision-making across Europe in a way that allows meaningful participation of ordinary citizens.
25.European spaces of discussion: when groups participate in decision-making it is imperative that they are given information and allowed the experience of deliberating with fellow EU citizens from different walks of life. The EU should more actively create these spaces throughout the public sphere.
26. Fund European mobility for exchanges of persons in all types of employment, mirroring the Erasmus programme but expanding it. It was felt that Erasmus has been the single most successful policy in fostering a pan-European transnational identity. Citizens often end up living happily and becoming connected to cities they would otherwise never have heard of. However it is restricted to those in Higher Education. The EU could for instance start by funding an exchange programme for government workers (not one that sends them all to Brussels but all over Europe).
27. The EU to legislate that multinational corporations employing workers across European borders must have a democratic structure in order to enjoy the economic benefits of European markets. This means that workers across countries must have power over significant decisions made by these companies, engendering transnational workplace democracy.
28. MEPs should be a lot more vocal and active in promoting and giving voice to ideas like electoral reform, decisions made by citizen’s assemblies of stratified random samples of the European population, citizen’s initiatives and opportunities for citizen’s to have a say on capital infrastructure projects built with EU money. If they claim they are already doing some of the things we are asking for then could they show us and promote them please!
29. The EU needs to be active in building civil society as a countervailing power particularly in newer member states where corruption is still a barrier to effective democracy. They could do this by funding an exchange programme for community organisers.
European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)
Moderator: Anna Lodeserto, European Alternatives and European coordinator of the Media Pluralism Initiative, with the participation of Bruno Kaufmann, President of the Initiative and Referendum Institute Europe and author of the “European Citizens’ Initiative Pocket Guide“It’s direct, it’s transnational, it’s digital – at the very same time. It is the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the very first participatory tool in world history transcending national borders. In fact, the ECI is the EU citizens right equal to (majority of) the European Parliament or the Council (member states) to put a substantive issue on the EU agenda. For this you need to gather at least one million signatures from at least seven member states within one year.
What was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty as a fundamental right and implemented by a procedural law in 2011 now has become practice. Since April 2012 more than 25 ECI’s has been registered with the European Commission, 14 out of them are currently gathering statements of support, covering a broad spectrum of issues including the Right to Water (right2water.eu), the end of tests on animals (stopvivisection.eu) and the promotion of Media pluralism (mediainitiative.eu). However, in spite of this kick-start into new direct democratic territory many challenges and hurdles are ahead: very few people actually know about the ECI and the procedures of conducting an ECI are far from citizens-friendly yet. Finally, we do not know yet, how a successful ECI will be honoured by the institutions. So join us for a introduction and debate on the promises and perils of the youngest member in the transnational people power toolkit.
How much of a boost really is this new instrument for democracy and citizens’ participation? Is the new instrument concretely available as a tool for grassroots groups or mainly for large well-funded organisations only? How can European citizens themselves participate in the decision-making process also in order to overcome these problems experienced by pioneer ECIs organisers? How could ECIs be made better and more participatory?
31. Simplify the requirements of the ECI: the need for both direct and transnational democracy is even more urgent now after that the political and economic integration of Europe has been carried forward without democratic consultation or accountability. But the European Citizens Initiative needs reform, as conditions are extremely tough to meet, especially for citizens that are not already part of organised networks.
32. Inform on and promote the ECI: this tool could be strong but the EU failed to explain what it is. It should be like for a very fundamental right: the European Commission should inform everyone on the continent about the existence of the ECI, so that it doesn’t involve people in the so-called “Brussels bubble”. Promotion and advertisement on the ECI could also lead mass media to follow ECIs more closely.
33. The EU should help more the ECI organisers, from a financial point of view as through supporting offices, undertaking all efforts to ensure the functioning and the success of this instrument that can combine the local level with the transnational one, contributing to the emergence of a European public space and strengthening the sense of ownership for EU policy making among European citizens.
34. Technical improvements of the ECI: make current online collection software bearable and preferably hosted or embedded on the ECI organisers’ campaign websites and on other social media pages. Remove CAPTCHA from the online collection software for user friendliness (to be replaced with something else). Include the possibility to ask e-mail or other personal information after / before the online signature procedure.
A number of tools exist for citizens to make their voice heard and even influence EU policy. As discussed on some of the other tables, we have, for example, the ECIs and the European Parliament Elections. However, most ECIs have so far received very few signatures, and the turnout at the EP elections is alarmingly low. How can we mobilize the civil society and increase democratic participation? How can we unite the many civil society and pan-European organizations to work towards common projects and campaigns?
We are rightfully lobbying the EU to introduce further opportunities for democratic participation, however when they are implemented how can we motivate the citizens outside of the “Brussels bubble” to participate in them?
36. Support and foster civil activism, debates and education: assemblies, events, debates and social media are some of the means to go towards the empowerment of EU citizens and a politicization of the EU. A good example of tools is the European Citizens’ Initiative, but there is little funding for its promotion so very few people have even heard of it.
37. “CSOs of all countries, unite!”: in order to achieve a greater reach, and to spread a united message, the many civil society organisations need to collaborate and work on creating a common vision and common campaigns, around which many organizations, initiatives, and individuals can gather (while maintaining complete independence of their organisations).