Recent EU initiatives to connect with citizens “probably failed”, but recent calls from the European Parliament for a structured dialogue between the EU institutions and civil society are “a very positive sign,” Social Platform President Conny Reuter told EURACTIV in an interview.
Reuter said a recent Parliament report, drafted by Polish MEP Genowefa Grabowska and approved this month (EURACTIV 14/01/09) “demonstrates that MEPs – the representatives of European citizens – are taking the strengthening of civil dialogue very seriously”.
The fact remains, however, that previous and current attempts by the EU to connect with citizens, particularly the European Commission’s Plan D, have not fired the imagination of European citizens, said the president of the Social Platform, a network of European social NGOs.
“Look at the expected turnout at the European elections, which many are saying will be low. There’s an argument there to suggest that these initiatives have probably failed,” he argued.
According to Reuter, the EU institutions’ priority must be to engage in dialogue with ‘active’ citizens, meaning those who have decided to offer their free time to help improve society. In other words, to preach to the choir. “These citizens have formed grassroots associations [and] assembled into national coalitions or platforms that then come together at European level in transnational networks such as the Social Platform. They are not here to make money or increase shareholder profits. They are here to improve people’s lives, to fight for social justice or climate change, for a Europe that is built on solidarity and human rights. So why not involve them in European debates?”
Ratification of the Lisbon Treaty would be a key step towards stronger social dialogue, said Reuter. For the first time, an EU treaty would recognise that the involvement of citizens beyond traditional representative democracy is an important democratic principle.
Elements of the treaty, such as the citizens’ initiative, will “make people feel that the EU cares about what they have to say and what they want,” he insisted.
Funding more comprehensive European civil dialogue need not break the bank, according to the Social Platform president. “Investing in proper civil dialogue means making fewer mistakes in implementing policies, which in turn translates into money saved.”
Moreover, Reuter argued, “we’re not talking about finding millions here. Let’s look at how much the Commission (or the Parliament) spends on consultancies to give them studies, reports and recommendations. Some of this money could also be invested in talking to people and citizens’ organisations”.
The Parliament must now “push for the changes that are proposed in the report,” he concluded.