For a future EU of the citizens, for the citizens, with the citizens

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Elisa Bruno [ECAS]

The recently published Better Regulation Agenda is rightly committed to “consulting more, listening better” using ICT and Web 2.0 technologies but raises certain concerns, says Elisa Bruno.

Elisa Bruno is EU Policies and Outreach Manager of the European Citizen Action Service.

“Rebuild bridges in Europe after the crisis, restore European citizens’ confidence and strengthen democratic legitimacy on the basis of the Community method,” are the key tasks that have been outlined for the new European Commission by its new President, Jean-Claude Juncker at the end of last year.

Last month, the Commission published its Better Regulation Agenda, rightly committing to “consulting more, listening better” using ICT and Web 2.0 technologies. Although the proposed package raises certain concerns with regard to the complexity of some procedures and the concrete mechanisms of their implementation, it also shows a welcome commitment to further build on the minimum standards for consultations to:

  • Enable stakeholders to express their views on the entire lifecycle of a policy.
  • Extend it to draft text of delegated and implementing acts to be made available for feedback.
  • Bind other decision-makers to observe the better regulation standards and coordinate their legislative activities.

The Better Regulation Agenda envisages consulting both the organised interests and citizens. It does not, however, suggest differentiated mechanisms for doing that. A relevant question therefore is “would one size fit all” policy work for diverse target groups. The experience with the citizens’ participation in consultations so far indicate the opposite – individual citizens’ contributions are rare as most of the consultations are largely unknown to the general public, use technical language, and are available predominantly in English or in 2-3 other languages in the best case scenario.

There are strong arguments in favour of adopting a tailor-made approach for engaging citizens separate from consultations. Consultations with the organised groups, including civil society associations, aim at gaining opinions based on the expertise and representativeness of such groups. A more sophisticated framework for civic dialogue has been developed by civil society organisations, members of the Liaison group of the European Economic and Social Committee and adopted at the NGO Forum in Riga in the form of a Roadmap for EU civil dialogue and involvement of citizens for better policymaking.

The modus operandi for citizens on the other hand, should aim at ensuring inclusiveness: “engaging the unengaged” and making sure that minority voices are heard; look for innovative ideas based on the so called “wisdom of the crowd”; and create “learning moments” for citizens, thus raising public awareness and strengthening civic education.

There are plenty of opportunities provided by the modern communication methods – the aformnetioned use of ICT and Web 2.0 tools – to go beyond the traditional methods into more of a deliberative – collaborative mode of engagement with the citizens. By now, Iceland has crowdsourced its Constitution, Finland is co-legislating with its citizens, Paris is implementing participatory budgeting. Similarly, if NASA is also crowdsourcing its decisions, there is no reason for the EU decision-makers to shy away from adopting a more targeted and rigorous approach in engaging EU citizens in the policy-making process. There are already examples and lessons to learn from and recommendations on how to do it. Experienced civil society actors are also ready to support the process.

The Civil Society Day 2015, taking place today, will act as an important platform for further discussing possible models of inclusive EU policy-making process that can bridge the gap between Europe and its citizens.

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