Saturday 30 September 2017

Future of Europe: asking EU citizens

Serendipity is stumbling across a Facebook presentation of Mathew Lowry’s blog post The limits of public participation in policy. I had tried to explore how the future presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron started presenting and returning to the idea of democratic conventions and if president Macron’s Sorbonne speech had clarified the working of these democratic conventions.

Macron had painted the democratic conventions as an essential tool to relaunch the European project. However, they seemed to boil down to town hall meetings in willing member states, without democratic legitimacy but with potential for some interaction.

Lowry discussed if the participants in the ‘Future of Europe’ process influenced president Juncker’s State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech, as promised. His conclusion was clear: of course not.

The ‘Future of Europe process’ means the physical  Citizens’ Dialogues I described in a blog post, but also the online activities and votes Lowry took a special interest in.

He received no answer even to his one specific question on how the European Commission was processing thousands of contributions into a coherent whole for the promised impact on president Juncker’s State of the Union speech.

The promise was hardly seriously meant. Lowry went on to discuss success criteria for online public participation: specific, transparent, focused audience, resource credibility and institutional credibility.

The three presidents and their advisors have cause to read and reflect on taking EU citizens and ideas like democracy seriously: Emmanuel Macron who invented the democratic conventions, Jean-Claude Juncker who supported the proposal and promised to contribute with the Commission’s experiences from the Citizens’ Dialogues and Donald Tusk who has promised to present a leaders’ agenda [for the Future of Europe] within two weeks.

12 ideas for The Future of Europe

The other happy coincidence on Lowry’s Facebook post came from Richard Medic, who brought to my attention the publication 12 ideas for The Future of Europe - New narrative for Europe communications campaign (June 2017; 64 pages), about getting young people interested in European debates.

Nothing beats ownership for citizens in general, but let us study if the report offers food for thought regarding impact from voters and experts.

Ralf Grahn

Thursday 28 September 2017

Future of Europe: relaunch through democratic conventions?

In the latest blog post we saw that Emmanuel Macron proposed democratic conventions to relaunch Europe, at least from the start of the En marche ! movement. As we saw, he has returned to this idea a number of times, but the substance remained vague ahead of the president’s speech at the Sorbonne.

The lack of clarity impacts the possibilities to discuss many issues related to the initiative regarding the role of EU citizens, the “democratic conventions”, so our next job is to check if Macron’s speech made things any clearer.

Sovereign, united, democratic Europe

Tuesday, 26 September 2017, the French president Emmanuel Macron spoke at the Sorbonne about overhauling and and relaunching political Europe, based on a strategic vision, an Initiative for Europe: a sovereign, united, democratic Europe.

The text of the marathon speech is complemented by French and English four-page summaries of the proposals. The hashtags #InitiativeEurope and #FutureOfEurope provide opportunities to follow the ongoing discussion about our common future.

Despite a lot of French twists, rarely have the leaders of the member states offered the citizens of the European Union lucid analysis packed with as many practical steps to take as Macron presented in his speech, proposals the current EU27 leaders are going to hear this evening. With enthusiasm, Macron has made the right choice between Myopia and Utopia.  

Macron wants to make democracy the essence of the European project. He wants willing governments to launch “democratic conventions” as an open, free, transparent and European debate, in order to relaunch the European project, but he did not add much organisational clarity to his earlier speeches:

C’est pourquoi, si nous voulons avancer à nouveau, je souhaite que nous passions par des conventions démocratiques qui feront partie intégrante de la refondation européenne. Je souhaite qu’une fois que nous aurons défini des termes simples d’une feuille de route partagée par les principaux gouvernements qui seront prêts à aller dans ce sens, nous puissions, pendant six mois, l’année prochaine, dans tous les pays qui le souhaitent, organiser autour des mêmes questions un vaste débat pour identifier les priorités, les préoccupations, les idées qui nourriront notre feuille de route pour l’Europe de demain. Remettre les choses dans le bon ordre, au lieu de demander, en fin de course, perclus de fantasmes et d’incompréhension, si c’est oui ou si c’est non, sur un texte illisible, écrit dans le secret, organisons un débat ouvert, libre, transparent, européen pour construire ce projet qui donner enfin un contenu et un enjeu à nos élections européennes de 2019.  

The directly elected European Parliament should become the heart of the European project, in part through transnational lists.

The “democratic conventions”, without democratic legitimacy but with potential for some interaction, seem to boil down to town hall meetings in willing EU member states. However, the substantial reforms require a stronger democratic role for EU citizens through the European Parliament.

Ralf Grahn

Future of Europe: idea of democratic conventions

Our latest blog posts have looked at the citizens of the European Union as passengers or participants on the EU reform and Future of Europe bus.

In this article we are going to track the idea of democratic citizens’ conventions meant to rebuild political Europe, ahead of the informal discussion among EU27 heads of state or government this evening in Tallinn.

Democratic conventions?

In the State of the Union 2017 brochure section Letter on the Roadmap for a more united, stronger and more democratic Union (page 105), president Juncker addressed the presidents of the European Parliament and the European Council, as well as the leaders of the current and following presidency countries of the Council of the European Union until the elections to the European Parliament in June 2019: Estonia, Bulgaria, Austria and Romania.

Juncker recalled that he set out his intentions for the Commission Work Programme (CWP 2018) in his State of the Union 2017 speech, but also addressed the medium to long term of their Union. The leaders should use the current window of opportunity and engage in a broader reform of their Union, advancing like this:

I would like to work together with you to ensure that this Roadmap is discussed, developed and pursued jointly with all EU27 Heads of State or Government, all EU Institutions and the national Parliaments of our Member States. I support the idea of President Macron to organise democratic conventions across Europe in 2018 to accompany this important work on our common future. These democratic conventions could build on the experience of the Commission in organising more than 300 Citizens’ Dialogues over the past three years.

I would welcome an initial discussion on the future of Europe and on this concrete Roadmap at our informal dinner in Tallinn on 28 September. Additional EU27 meetings during 2018 and 2019 may also provide appropriate occasions for further deepening our common work.

En marche !

Le Monde reported generally on Emmanuel Macron’s launch 4 October 2016 of his En marche ! movement in Strasbourg, the French city with the aura of European institutions.  

In other words Macron had not yet become an official presidential candidate, but he already laid out plans to ‘bring European democracy to life’. For our own purposes,  we are better served by  Euractiv with an interest in European affairs; here a link to the original Euractiv story in French: Macron veut refonder la représentativité, y compris européenne.   

Macron’s proposals included offering the seats formerly occupied by the UK’s MEPs to members elected from a pan-European list. For him it was essential to bring European democracy to life, to give it a strong foundation and vitality. He wanted his followers to survey people door-to-door all over Europe. EU reform should not be decided behind closed doors, but by organising democratic conventions in every country in Europe to try to come up with a shared vision for Europe. Macron stressed the need for Europe to be built on new foundations (refondée) and for democratic participation.

Congrès de Versailles

Macron has returned to the theme of democratic conventions. Experiencing trouble with the search function on the Elysée website, I found that BFMTV provides us with the text of his address on the plans for his 5-year presidency to the joint session of both chambers of parliament on 3 July 2017: Le discours d’Emmanuel Macron au Congrès de Versailles, where he stressed the necessity of the European project for our future and the launch of democratic citizens’ conventions.

But what are these democratic conventions? tells us in the report Macron relance l’idée de conventions démocratiques en Europe (3 July 2017):

La formule de ces conventions devrait être très souple, en fonction des différents pays, l’idée étant de faire remonter des idées des Européens, comme le mouvement En Marche a pu le faire lors de sa propre campagne. Un marketing itinérant sur la base du porte à porte qui avait bien fonctionné en France.
In this video excerpt Macron argues that the remake of Europe shall begin through first principles and democratic conventions.

Pnyx hill in Athens  
In Athens on 7 September 2017 president Macron continued the theme of remaking Europe in a speech delivered in Athens:

Ceux qui aiment l'Europe doivent pouvoir la critiquer pour la refaire, pour la corriger, pour l'améliorer, pour la refonder !
Alors oui, c'est pour parler de ces espérances, de ces trois espérances, de souveraineté, de démocratie et de confiance que je suis là ce soir.

There is an English version of the speech after the French text; the translations come from there:

Those who love Europe should be able to criticize Europe to rebuild it, correct it, improve it, rebuild it!
Indeed, I am here tonight to talk about these hopes, these three hopes of sovereignty, democracy and confidence.

(Both refaire and refonder have been translated by rebuild in the same sentence.)

European sovereignty, democracy and confidence are necessary, they require institutional reform and Macron promised to present a roadmap during the coming weeks. This requires courage to regain the road of democracy:

Cela passera d'abord par une autre méthode pour refonder l'Europe, voilà pourquoi je souhaite que cette feuille de route que je veux proposer à l'ensemble des États membres de l'Union européenne, cette feuille de route pour construire l'avenir de notre Europe sur les dix années qui viennent, je ne propose pas que ce soit un traité négocié en catimini, que ce soit un texte discuté derrière des portes dans une salle obscure à Paris, Bruxelles ou Berlin, non je propose que nous essayons une méthode nouvelle, que d'ici la fin de l'année, nous puissions construire les grands principes de la démarche, ce vers où nous voulons emmener notre Europe, de définir nos objectifs de manière claire et que nous puissions à partir du début de l'année prochaine les soumettre aux peuples européens. Que partout où les dirigeants choisiront de suivre cette voie, et je le souhaite avec ardeur, dans chacun des Etats membres, nous puissions pendant six mois organiser des consultations, des conventions démocratiques qui seront le temps durant lequel partout dans nos pays nos peuples discuteront de l'Europe dont ils veulent.  
Alors oui par ces conventions démocratiques durant six mois, débattons de cette feuille de route que les gouvernements auront construite dans ses principes et retrouvons-nous six mois plus tard pour en faire la synthèse et sur cette base, débattue, partagée par des débats sur le terrain, par des débats numériques partout en Europe, construisons ce qui sera le fondement d'une réinvention de notre Europe pour les dix ans, les quinze ans, qui viennent, construisons les termes de ce que nous voulons vraiment ensemble. C'est cette ambition que je veux en méthode pour les mois qui viennent !

The English translation:

That will require, first and foremost, a new method to overhaul Europe. That is why I want this roadmap that I intend to propose to all EU Member States – this roadmap to build the future of our Europe over the next decade – not to involve a treaty negotiated sneakily behind closed doors in Paris, Brussels or Belin. No, I propose that we try a new method: that by the end of the year, we sketch out the major principles of our approach, where we want to take our Europe, and define our objectives clearly. We can then, at the beginning of next year, submit those principles and objectives to the peoples of Europe. I propose that wherever leaders choose to take this path – something I hope for most earnestly – in each of the Member States, we organize six months of consultations, democratic conventions that will be an opportunity for our peoples, throughout our countries, to discuss the Europe they want to see.
So yes, through these six months of democratic conventions, we should debate this roadmap, the principles for which the governments will have designed, and then we can meet again to reconcile them and, on that basis, after debate, including grassroots debate locally and digital debates across Europe. Then we can build what will be the foundations for an overhaul of Europe for the coming ten, fifteen years, we can build the terms of what we really want together. That is the ambition I want to see as a method in the coming months.

At this stage we see the contours of the idea: heads of state or government or  ministers agreeing this autumn on some sort of roadmap for EU reform discussion, followed by six months of national ‘democratic conventions’ plus an (EU-wide?) online debate about the future of Europe ten or fifteen years hence. Is it correct this far?

Next, we have to check if president Macron made any clarifications when he spoke at the Sorbonne.

Ralf Grahn

Wednesday 27 September 2017

State of the Union: openness and Democracy Package

After the latest State of the Union (SOTEU) 2017 blog posts looking at EU citizens, reform and future and Citizens’ Dialogues,  we recall that public opinion - despite the clunky Eurobarometer questions - seems to have been ahead of the EU27 heads of state or government, at least until the openings in the Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s SOTEU address SPEECH/17/3165 and the French president Emmanuel Macron’s Sorbonne speech (English summary) gave the leaders some impetus.

Openness (transparency)  

The European Commission has said very little about European level democracy, but at least in principle the Commission is open to input from citizens of the union. In addition to the Citizens’ Dialogues discussed earlier, we take note of the public consultations, even if most of the issues are of interest to specific business and consumer lobbies more than politically engaged EU citizens. On the State of the Union 2017 web page, we find the Commission’s button with an invitation to send our comments after the SOTEU address, although we do not know what, if anything, happens after the feedback  enters the black hole.
Through the State of the Union 2017 web page we can access a two-page factsheet on Better Regulation, with a focus on priorities offering European added value and improved enforcement. The leaflet is available in all the official EU languages. You can also consult my State of the Union blog post on better regulation and enforcement.
The SOTEU 2017 web page provides a link to a press release IP/17/3167 related to one aspect of transparency, namely a Code of Conduct for Members of the Commission. The press release - available in the official EU languages - leads us to the official document:
Draft Commission decision of 12.9.2017 on a Code of Conduct for the Members of the European Commission; Brussels, 12.9.2017 C(2017) 6200   

Democracy Package

The SOTEU 2017 web page offers us a link to the Commission’s so called Democracy Package IP/17/3187, with MEMO/17/3168, both available in 23 official EU languages. There is also a brief pastel coloured factsheet on the revision of the ECI Regulation.

One proposal wants to make the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) more user-friendly and the other revision wants to tighten the rules on funding for European political parties (Europarties) and their political foundations.

If you follow the link in the press release for the revision of the revision of the ECI Regulation, you find the materials - proposal, annex and Commission staff working document - plus an invitation to subscribe to get notifications and an invitation to provide feedback within eight weeks from publication. The same principles apply, if you follow the link to the amendment of the Regulation regarding European political parties and foundations.

The official documents comprise 161 pages in all, but let us post the details of the main proposals through Eur-Lex for future reference:

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the European citizens’ initiative; Brussels, 13.9.2017 COM(2017) 482 final; procedure  2017/0220 (COD)

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU, Euratom) No. 1141/2014 of the European Parliament and the Council of 22 October 2014 on the statute and funding of European political parties and European political foundations; Brussels, 13.9.2017 COM(2017) 481 final; procedure 2017/0219 (COD)  
The Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties) NGO - @LibertiesEU on Twitter - interviewed professor Alberto Alemanno - @alemannoEU -  about president Juncker’s SOTEU speech and these positive but modest Democracy Package steps towards strengthening democracy in the European Union.

Ralf Grahn

State of the Union: Citizens’ Dialogues

The blog post State of the Union: EU citizens, reform and future offered enlightened and responsible EU citizens references to the substance of the discussion about areas of EU reform and visions for the future of Europe. But we are hardly done with the European Commission’s State of the Union 2017 web page, or even the State of the Union 2017 brochure, where the pages from 97 to 101 offer a superficial glance at Citizens’ Dialogues.
The Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker launched a Roadmap for a More United, Stronger and More Democratic Union.

However, there can hardly be more EU democracy without EU citizens, or much more EU capability without added or more effective EU powers. Competences commensurate with the global and internal challenges must emanate from a sovereign people - in this case the citizens of the European Union - something increasingly important to understand due to global risks, as well as dangers to the standards of democracy, fundamental rights, the rule of law and human progress.

Citizens’ Dialogues

Accessible through the State of the Union 2017 web page, the Commission has published a brochure in pastel colours (instead of readable black on white) called Citizens’ Dialogues on the Future of Europe (32 pages). In English only, the leaflet starts by telling us that the EU27 decide on their union, but that the Commission encourages citizens’ participation.

The brochure mentions the White Paper and the five reflection papers about the future of Europe, and it displays a selection of pictures of commissioners and questions or comments from various Citizens’ Dialogue events.
If the brochure can inspire EU citizens to participate in upcoming Citizens’ Dialogues, or follow them online, it has served a purpose.
In an article in Social Europe, To Build Europe We Need Citizen Lobbyists, professor Alberto Alemanno, the author of Lobbying for Change, posed questions about democracy and participation:  

While public sentiment about the European project has rebounded, Europeans remain largely dissatisfied with whether their voices and concerns count in Brussels. Despite recurrent calls for radically reforming the European Union to ensure a greater involvement of EU citizens, little is expected to change between now and the next 2019 European Parliament (EP) elections. The 2017 White Paper on the Future of Europe is noticeably silent on the issue. And it won’t be the thousands of citizens’ dialogues orchestrated by the EU Commission across Europe over the summer that will re-engage EU citizens with Europe.

The Good Lobby  - @TheGoodLobby - wondered on Twitter what I would make of the Citizens’ Dialogues.

The European Commission shows good will. While nothing can replace democratic government based on free and fair elections - the European level as a real democracy - I think it is commendable that members of the European Commission, representing the general interest, use their trips to the member states for direct contact with citizens interested enough to show up at a Citizens’ Dialogue event.

These contacts bring a small breath of fresh air into opinion silos created by national media and politicians, even those covering or participating in Council meetings. The influence is minuscule both ways, but we can ask what the alternatives are, as long as the citizens of the union lack ownership.

The EU’s intelligibility deficit is a question of cause and effect. Ownership - becoming the prime mover - gives EU citizens’ understanding a chance. Democracy would  simplify the structures and raise the stakes: living with the effects of own collective choices.

Ralf Grahn