Wednesday 27 September 2017

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

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