How Citizens Can Hack EU Democracy

Stephen Boucher at Carnegie Europe: “…To connect citizens with the EU’s decisionmaking center, European politicians will need to provide ways to effectively hack this complex system. These democratic hacks need to be visible and accessible, easily and immediately implementable, viable without requiring changes to existing European treaties, and capable of having a traceable impact on policy. Many such devices could be imagined around these principles. Here are three ideas to spur debate.

Hack 1: A Citizens’ Committee for the Future in the European Parliament

The European Parliament has proposed that twenty-seven of the seventy-three seats left vacant by Brexit should be redistributed among the remaining member states. According to one concept, the other forty-six unassigned seats could be used to recruit a contingent of ordinary citizens from around the EU to examine legislation from the long-term perspective of future generations. Such a “Committee for the Future” could be given the power to draft a response to a yearly report on the future produced by the president of the European Parliament, initiate debates on important political themes of their own choosing, make submissions on future-related issues to other committees, and be consulted by members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on longer-term matters.

MEPs could decide to use these forty-six vacant seats to invite this Committee for the Future to sit, at least on a trial basis, with yearly evaluations. This arrangement would have real benefits for EU politics, acting as an antidote to the union’s existential angst and helping the EU think systemically and for the longer term on matters such as artificial intelligence, biodiversity, climate concerns, demography, mobility, and energy.

Hack 2: An EU Participatory Budget

In 1989, the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, decided to cede control of a share of its annual budget for citizens to decide upon. This practice, known as participatory budgets, has since spread globally. As of 2015, over 1,500 instances of participatory budgets have been implemented across five continents. These processes generally have had a positive impact, with people proving that they take public spending matters seriously.

To replicate these experiences at the European level, the complex realities of EU budgeting would require specific features. First, participative spending probably would need to be both local and related to wider EU priorities in order to ensure that citizens see its relevance and its wider European implications. Second, significant resources would need to be allocated to help citizens come up with and promote projects. For instance, the city of Paris has ensured that each suggested project that meets the eligibility requirements has a desk officer within its administration to liaise with the idea’s promoters. It dedicates significant resources to reach out to citizens, in particular in the poorer neighborhoods of Paris, both online and face-to-face. Similar efforts would need to be deployed across Europe. And third, in order to overcome institutional complexities, the European Parliament would need to work with citizens as part of its role in negotiating the budget with the European Council.

Hack 3: An EU Collective Intelligence Forum

Many ideas have been put forward to address popular dissatisfaction with representative democracy by developing new forums such as policy labs, consensus conferences, and stakeholder facilitation groups. Yet many citizens still feel disenchanted with representative democracy, including at the EU level, where they also strongly distrust lobby groups. They need to be involved more purposefully in policy discussions.

A yearly Deliberative Poll could be run on a matter of significance, ahead of key EU summits and possibly around the president of the commission’s State of the Union address. On the model of the first EU-wide Deliberative Poll, Tomorrow’s Europe, this event would bring together in Brussels a random sample of citizens from all twenty-seven EU member states, and enable them to discuss various social, economic, and foreign policy issues affecting the EU and its member states. This concept would have a number of advantages in terms of promoting democratic participation in EU affairs. By inviting a truly representative sample of citizens to deliberate on complex EU matters over a weekend, within the premises of the European Parliament, the European Parliament would be the focus of a high-profile event that would draw media attention. This would be especially beneficial if—unlike Tomorrow’s Europe—the poll was not held at arm’s length by EU policymakers, but with high-level national officials attending to witness good-quality deliberation remolding citizens’ views….(More)”.