European citizens’ consultations: Do EU leaders care?

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Representatives of the European Citizens Consultations project handed over the final report of their deliberations to Vice-President Margot Wallström and MEPs on 10 May. But will their hard work have any influence on EU leaders who are ‘diplomatically’ resurrecting the failed Constitution? 

At an event in the European Parliament on 10 May 2007, three citizens who had participated in the Consultations met with Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström, Parliament Vice-President Gérard  Onesta and Belgian MEP (and former prime minister and Convention Bureau member) Jean-Luc Dehaene to hand over the consultation wish-list of the project.

Three policy priorities for EU leaders have been put forward by the citizens during their national consultations:

  • The EU should play a stronger role in family and social welfare policies and ensure basic minimum standards;
  • the EU needs to find a common response to immigration and integration issues, and;
  • it needs to be given stronger powers to develop a common energy policy.

In her response to the report, Vice-President Wallström expressed her admiration for the “hard work” undertaken by the citizens. “The success of the dialogue with the citizens ultimately depends on the EU’s capacity and willingness to listen, and to consequently deliver better policy results,” said the commissioner. 

MEP Gérard Onesta expressed the Parliament’s support for the citizens’ consultation and promised that the Parliament will in future organise more hearing exercises in the form of European Citizens’ Agora. Jean-Luc Dehaene who was in responsible for dialogue with citizens during the Convention leading up to the draft Constitution, said that the process had been more involving “NGO technocracy” than citizens as such, and called the European Citizens Consultations a “milestone in the way we link to the people”.

During the press conference with Wallström, several citizens enquired as to what will happen now with the results of the public consultation, but received no concrete answer, save vague promises "that we will report back to you in the future" and that there will be some "mechanisms for follow-up". When asked by EURACTIV why no representative of the German Presidency was present for the handover, the project organisers answered that the Germans had "provided great support organising the Germany event".

It is indeed questionable whether these valuable experiments in radical democratisation are really being taken seriously by EU leaders. During another debate on the June 2007 road map one day earlier (9 May) organised by the Union of European Federalists and SpeakUpEurope (another one of the six Plan D projects), Danish MEP Jens-Peter Bonde and UEF Secretary-General Friedhelm Frischenschlager criticised the "cynicism" of the German Presidency, which is "returning to methods from the past, behind closed doors" to revive the Constitution as a Treaty and to make sure that no member state submits it again to its citizens for a referendum. 

During the same UEF debate, 
Raymond van Ermen
, member of the Permanent Forum of European Civil Society, pointed to the lack of visionary perspective in the EU's constitutional crisis discussion. According to van Ermen, the EU is confronted with three new challenges: climate change, energy security and the rise of the economic superpowers (India, China, Brazil, South Africa) and needs to develop a new "sustainability" vision to answer these challenges.

 

Over the past six months, more than 1,800 citizens of 27 EU member states took part in a series of national consultations on the future of the EU. The "European Citizens' Consultation" project was one of six similar 'listening to citizens' exercises that the Commission financed as part of its "period of reflection", following the 'No' votes on the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands.

  • An informal meeting between the German Presidency and two future EU Presidencies (Portugal and Slovenia), the Commission (President José Manuel Barroso) and the Parliament (President Hans-Gert Pöttering) will take place in Sintra, Portugal, from 12-13 May;
  • EU leaders are expected to adopt a road map for the Constitutional Treaty during their June Summit.

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