European citizens divided on nuclear in EU democracy experiment

Conference on the Future of Europe - Panel 3 Climate change, environment health in Natolin, Warsaw [European Parliament]

A citizens’ panel dedicated to the environment, climate change, and health, held in Warsaw in January, found no agreement for a recommendation on nuclear energy, despite being one of the most debated issues.

The panel is part of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE), the EU deliberative democracy experiment where 800 citizens, elected randomly, elaborate recommendations for EU lawmakers. The event in Warsaw was the third of the four planned thematic panels.

“The value of the process are not recommendations themselves, but thanks to the CoFoE, you can see what citizens are more worried about. However, recommendations approved are sensible, citizens are wiser than I expected,” Jaroslaw Pietras, a visiting professor at the European Economic Studies Department in the Bruges campus, told EURACTIV. Pietras was one of the experts of Warsaw’s panel.

He said that although citizens are not experts, “they are maturing during this process, and they are studying and reading about subjects they might never read before”.

The 51 approved recommendations concern better ways of living, protecting the environment and health, redirecting our economy and consumption, and living in a more sustainable society. Others dealt with increasing food quality, informing the public on nutrition, reducing plastic, and making waste management more efficient.

Some recommendations overlap with current EU legislation or laws in the process of being approved, while others contradict each other.

“I don’t think it is a problem that some recommendations overlap or contradict each other because they reflect citizens’ preoccupations… We should not expect that inexperienced people would come up with precise recommendations,” Pietras added.

Asked about the role of experts, he said that “as experts, we only gave support when asked, we didn’t participate in the elaboration of recommendations in the same way as citizens. Otherwise, they would be citizens/experts’ recommendations, which is not the case”.

Nuclear divides at a state and citizen level

But citizens failed to find common ground on the issue of nuclear power, somewhat echoing the sentiments found across the bloc.

Pietras said the debate over nuclear energy “divided citizens because, for instance, some of them said it is not good for the environment. Others said that coal is even worse. Thus, opinions were particularly different. More in general, people tended to be less in favour of nuclear energy, but then there were others worried about a further increase of energy costs with a possible lack of nuclear”.

Alexandra Csizmadia, a young participant from Hungary, told EURACTIV that “all groups made a fantastic work. It would be a dream for me if certain recommendations were to come true. I am not sure how scientists will deal with them; I hope they will find a good implementation method”.

Asked about her priorities, she said that “considering that I am Hungarian, I really want a minimum wage in the EU”, which is recommendation 39.

On the nuclear issue, she said, “there were too many different views on this. By the way, I am more in favour of renewable sources of energy”.

Similarly, 33-year-old Jens Fors from Sweden told EURACTIV he was satisfied with the final results but added that he felt “the process itself was a little backwards”.

“I would’ve preferred if everyone could talk about as many problems and solutions as possible during the first meeting. The second meeting should’ve been about narrowing down and fact-checking, and the last meeting we should’ve just been honing”.

Fors referred to the three stages of the panels: They met for the first time in Strasbourg to launch the process, then they met online to identify issues and positions, and then they held the final meeting in Warsaw, in the case of this panel, to finalise recommendations.

Asked about which recommendations he cares more the most, Fors said: “The 9th, which recommends incentives for renewable energy, without specifically banning the nuclear power. We really stood far apart on this. I’m very satisfied with the final result. If it doesn’t pass in the European Parliament, I’ll be heartbroken”.

At the weekend (21-23 January), this panel, with the second one on democracy, will discuss the approved recommendations with the Conference’s plenary, composed of 198 representatives from the European parliament, 54 from the Council, 3 from the European Commission, 108 from national Parliaments and 108 citizens.

After this, it will be clearer how the follow-up process will be managed.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/ Alice Taylor]


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