Friday

26th Apr 2019

Opinion

Debate Europe!

  • "We want to break the often artificial divide between national and European issues". (Photo: European Commission)

"Associating citizens to the European construction is more than ever a fundamental issue. If we do not want the citizens to desert once more the European elections in 2009, political leaders need to regain citizens' trust and confidence in the European project and show they care about citizens' involvement in the decision-making machine."

These are the words of 250 EU citizens in an open letter to the EU Heads of State and government, the national parliaments, the EU institutions and the European political parties after a conference in Brussels in December last year.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

In the same letter, they called on the European political parties to address 27 recommendations made by them, ranging from social issues to climate change and the EU's role in the world, and to discuss them in view of the elections to the European Parliament in 2009.

I attended this conference, the purpose of which was to draw conclusions from six EU-wide participatory democracy projects that the European Commission co-funded in 2006 and 2007, as a part of its 'Plan D', for democracy, dialogue and debate.

Indeed, as Vice-President of the Commission I was one of the 'decision-makers' to whom the conclusions were addressed.

The Plan D projects experimented with different approaches to trans-national deliberative consultation and polling, as well as ways of organising face to face and on-line debating events and collecting feed-back from the participants.

Altogether, 40.000 randomly selected EU citizens participated in the six projects and hundreds of thousands were estimated to have participated virtually via the Internet.

Plan D confirmed for me what I already felt to be true: That when they are consulted on complex political issues citizens will not only respond but they will demand more.

It showed clearly and concretely the importance of empowering citizens by giving them access to information so that they are in a position to hold an informed debate on EU affairs. It showed that European democracy should and could be founded on an active European citizenship.

Follow-up actions to Plan D

The European Commission has now decided on the follow-up actions to Plan D. We call these next steps "Debate Europe", because we want trans-national consultation of citizens to become a permanent feature of EU democracy.

With "Debate Europe" we want to change the perception that EU matters are too abstract and disconnected from the national public debate to be of interest to citizens. And we want to break the often artificial divide between national and European issues.

The policies of the EU affect everyone's lives, whether through its Regulations on subjects such as mobile phone roaming charges or through the free movement of people or goods or any other of the EU's many achievements.

EU policies therefore need to be fully anchored in the political parties, in the national democratic traditions, and in the daily political dialogue. They need to be discussed and debated, whether in the town hall, in regional assemblies, national parliaments, on television shows or on the internet.

Politicians have to make EU policies understandable and relevant to citizens. We have to listen and to deliver. We have to make the EU institutions accountable and reliable to those they serve. We need to debate and discuss together what initiatives and decisions the EU should take.

Only then can we achieve good and sustainable political results. Public support for the EU will come only through a lively and open debate, and by getting citizens actively involved in designing the European project.

And remember, the EU is not "Brussels" – it is 27 Member States with 500 million citizens, their governments and elected representatives at all levels. If politicians are serious about making change happen, then all politicians have to play their part!

The challenge

It is only by standing on the solid ground of knowledge that you can form rational opinions and take a stand.

That is a necessary condition for a well functioning and stable democracy. So it automatically also becomes a necessary condition for the future of the EU and the European model: delivering prosperity while protecting the environment and preserving social justice and inclusiveness – embracing globalisation within a framework of solidarity and sustainable development that ensures the security of Europe's citizens, including future generations.

The challenge now is to act on what we hear – to ensure that citizens' views are fed into the policy-making process.

The results of what the European Commission has done since it launched Plan D in October 2005 confirms that there is clear demand for measures to strengthen and expand political dialogue on European issues.

And it has been made clear that deliberative and participatory democracy can usefully supplement representative democracy.

A true citizens' EU is perhaps not just around the corner, but the process has started and there is no turning back.

Margot Wallström is Vice President of the European Commission, responsible for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy

Brussels in new drive to seduce EU citizens

The European Commission on Wednesday presented a new plan aiming to involve citizens more in the decision making process of the EU, as well as to make the bloc more popular amongst the larger public.

Closer EU-Caribbean ties mean greater prosperity for all

The foreign affairs minister of Haiti calls for the replacement EU-Africa, Caribbean, Pacific 'Cotonou' agreement of 2000 to be updated to take account climate change, infrastructure and tourism to help the country transition away from aid-dependence.

'Next Juncker' must fix EU's corporate power problem

The time for genuine lobby regulation and a stop to the risk of corporate capture of EU policy-making is now. It is a question of survival and must be a priority for the next head of the European Commission.

How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament

British plans to - maybe - take part in EU elections risk legal chaos in the next European Parliament, which could be resolved only by treaty change - an unlikely prospect.

News in Brief

  1. Talks to merge Germany's two largest banks collapse
  2. EU and Japan back Iran nuclear deal despite US
  3. China addresses EU concerns on belt and road plan
  4. EU: Russian citizenship plan 'attacks' Ukraine sovereignty
  5. Deutsche Bank hands over Trump loan documents
  6. UN: Europe is badly prepared for new refugee crisis
  7. Macron to set out 'Yellow vest' counter measures
  8. Italy requests EU action plan for new Libya migrant wave

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Migration and climate are EU's top priorities, Macron says
  2. Greens commit to air quality 'super commissioner'
  3. Far-right Facebook networks removed before Spain election
  4. EU and Japan in delicate trade talks
  5. Closer EU-Caribbean ties mean greater prosperity for all
  6. Details of EU Brexit talks with Blair and Soros kept secret
  7. Weber vows to block Nord Stream 2 amid 'sue' threat
  8. 'Next Juncker' must fix EU's corporate power problem

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us