What do European citizens expect of the European Union? As the elections officially began in the UK and the Netherlands on 23 May, EURACTIV spoke to Guillaume Klossa, president of the Civico Europa citizen movement, which launched the WeEuropeans consultation in 27 European Union countries.
Between February 4 and March 15, WeEuropeans conducted the largest civic consultation ever in Europe, based on the Make.org platform. The question was how to reinvent Europe, in concrete terms?
More than 1.7 million citizens responded and made proposals (30,000) or voted for the ones they liked. In each country, the top 10 proposals were selected. In a second step, they were brought together and submitted to a transnational vote to designate the 10 flagship measures for all Europeans.
Klossa, who is also a special advisor to European Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, spoke to EURACTIV Germany bureau chief Claire Stam.
What is your conclusion of the European Civic Consultation?
The citizens’ consultation showed the willingness of European citizens to participate in a continuous way in the European decision-making process and this willingness was reflected in a more or less equivalent way in all member states. They want more democracy. They have shown a strong will to move Europe forward, to make things change, and this at a time when we have also felt a strong distrust on their part towards the European institutions.
The consultation asked how to reinvent Europe in concrete terms. And the citizens responded by bringing very concrete ideas and proposals, and that is very interesting. Now it is a question of how to institutionalise these kinds of proposals.
What were the main proposals that emerged?
We felt a tremendous dynamic in everything that has to do with the quality of life, the environment, climate. Sustainable development in the broadest sense has become one of the European Union’s fundamental values. The second concern is the democratic issue and the control of elected representatives, both national and European, as well as information.
It transpired that citizens do not feel sufficiently well informed. This is a real concern, the feeling of not being informed and not understanding what is happening in Brussels. This is not normal.
The third issue is a little more disparate, it is the social dimension with a real questioning on the future prospects especially in terms of health and retirement. The fourth dynamic is the notion of tax justice, particularly between small and medium-sized enterprises and transnational corporations. What is surprising is that there have been few proposals related to security and immigration.
What about the impact of Brexit?
It has been observed that there was increasing support for, increased awareness of the European idea in some member states since Brexit. It shows that there was much more to lose than to gain by leaving Europe.
Is there a common matrix for all these proposals?
We felt that there was a crisis of local representative democracy and at the same time that there was a democratic gap at the European level. This leads us to think that European democracy is in fact divided into 28 national silos. The challenge is then to articulate the national and European dimension in order to create a real European public space. And this articulation becomes possible thanks to new technologies and the latest developments in Big Data, artificial intelligence and machine translation.
New technologies also mean digital. However, we see the weight of social networks in the perception, or misperception, of Europe and its institutions.
In a digital age where everything is transparent, citizens feel that their word is worth as much as that of the expert, if not more. At the same time, there is a mistrust of other citizen’s word. I think a real reflection is needed on what I call information sensors amid the backdrop of the erosion of the local press. This is a real concern because, for the citizen, the local press is the place where trust is established with the media as he can verify the information himself.
If the local press disappears or weakens or becomes of lower quality, it puts a distance between the citizens and the political sphere, meaning that mistrust is then prevailing over the whole system. And from the moment the basic information is incomplete, the political decision necessarily becomes of lower quality since the political world is less informed. And that is a tragedy for our democracy.
Also, it is necessary to better listen to and hear what is coming from the field. We need to be better connected, in a much more sustained fashion, to the problems of European citizens. What’s going on today? There is a whole section of the population that does not feel concerned by Europe, even with the right to vote. However, the consultation showed that citizens can be carriers of ideas. And it is important because it gives back its political nobility to the citizen. The people who made the proposals did not come from the Brussels bubble at all.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]