Reconnecting citizens with EU decision-making is possible – and needs to happen now

Opinion piece by Anthony Zacharzewski: “Maybe it’s the Brexit effect, or perhaps the memories of the great recession are fading, but in poll after poll, Europe’s citizens are saying that they feel more European and strongly supportive of EU membership. …

While sighs of relief can be heard from Schuman to Strasbourg, after a decade where the EU has bounced from crisis to crisis, the new Parliament and Commission will inherit a fragile and fractious Europe this year. One of their most important tasks will immediately be to connect EU citizens more closely to the institutions and their decision making….

The new European Commission and Parliament have the chance to change that, by adopting an ambitious open government agenda that puts citizen participation in decision making at its heart.

There are three things on our wish list for doing this.

The first thing on our list is an EU-wide commitment to policy making “in the open.” Built on a renewed commitment to transparency, it would set a unified approach to consultation, as well as identifying major policy areas where citizen involvement is both valuable and where citizens are likely to want to be involved. This could include issues such as migration and climate change. Member states, particularly those who are in the Open Government Partnership, have already had a lot of good practice which can help to inform this while the Open Government Network for Europe, which brings together civil society and government voices, is ready to help.

Secondly, the connection to civil society and citizens also needs to be made beyond the European level, supporting and making use of the rapidly growing networks of democratic innovation at local level. We are seeing an increasing shift from citizen participation as one-off events into a part of the governing system, and as such, the European institutions need to listen to local conversations and support them with better information. Public Square, our own project run in partnership with mySociety and funded by Luminate, is a good example. It is working with local government and citizens to understand how meaningful citizen participation can become an everyday part of the way all local decision-making happens.

The last item on our wish list would be greater coherence between the institutions in Brussels and Strasbourg to better involve citizens. While the European Parliament, Commission and Council all have their different roles and prerogatives, without a co-ordinated approach, the attention and resources they have will be dissipated across multiple conversations. Most importantly, it will be harder to demonstrate to citizens that their contributions have made a difference….(More)”.