Sunday

20th Jan 2019

Opinion

A 'citizen scenario' for the future of Europe

  • Latest Eurobarometer survey shows 52 percent believe their voice does not count in the EU. (Photo: Lorie Shaull)

At the beginning of this year's state of the union address, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, spoke of a "window of opportunity … to build a more united, stronger and more democratic Europe for 2025."

Revisiting the debate he started in March with the "Five scenarios for Europe by 2025", he set out his own "scenario six" for the future of Europe, combining elements of each of the original scenarios.

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  • President Juncker delivered his state of the union speech on 13 September. (Photo: European Commission)

Setting out a vision of freedom, equality and rule of law, president Juncker had positive words for the harmony, stability and democracy that would be welcome to a renewal of the European project, but missed out the key ingredient that is essential to the EU's legitimacy and sustainability - its citizens.

In fact, citizens have been missing from the future of Europe debate from the very beginning, despite the aim of the debate to "advance our project in the interests of our citizens".

Yet, digital technologies and platforms present a unique opportunity to transform the relationship between governors and the governed into more of a partnership and to build mechanisms of participatory democracy. For Europe, this means that the EU can become a collaborative project in which everyone has a voice.

Digital democracy has great potential to enhance the existing participatory mechanisms by drawing on the "wisdom of the crowd", tapping into hidden expertise and engaging those groups who participate least in democratic society - most notably young people.

Existing methods of e-participation in Europe - the European Citizens' Initiative, online public consultations and petitions to the European Parliament - are insufficient and must be improved.

In addition, the EU needs to learn from the plethora of e-participation and crowdsourcing methods being developed and implemented around the world.

If Paris can crowdsource part of its budget, Finland can implement successful citizens' initiatives and Latvia can regularly consult its citizens through a platform of Open Government, then why can't the EU?

Furthermore, the EU needs to build on the strong words president Juncker had for the significance of the rule of law in the EU.

The rights that are conferred onto EU citizens by their EU citizenship need to be effectively enforced and properly implemented.

Free movement of people is supported by 81 percent of EU citizens, according to the latest Eurobarometer survey, yet free movement rights are either being challenged or inadequately implemented across the EU.

President Juncker hinted at the need for a stronger connection between the policies, decisions and strategies that are formulated at EU level and the ideas, concerns and interests of EU citizens.

But undefined "democratic conventions" and transnational MEP lists in European elections, for which he expressed "support" and "sympathy" respectively are not enough.

The change in language is welcome, but the substance is not yet there.

Likewise, strong words on the rule of law need to be backed up by actions that guarantee EU citizens the rights they are entitled to by law.

As the latest Eurobarometer survey shows, trust in the EU stands at only 42 percent, 58 percent of Europeans have a negative view of it and 52 percent believe their voice does not count in the EU.

For these reasons, the future of Europe debate needs a 'citizen scenario' - a vision of a future in which the EU is truly a Union of its citizens.

European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) is an NGO empowering citizens and civil society within the European Union to exercise their rights and promoting open and inclusive decision-making.

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