April 23, 2008
Author : ecas
The ‘no – votes’ in France and the Netherlands sparked realisation of the lack of faith shown in the EU institutions and a need to reduce the democratic deficit. The direct outcome of this concern was Plan D denoting Democracy, Dialogue, and Debate. Six trans-national projects were conducted in order to test innovative consultation methods asking citizens to debate on the future of the EU; an innovative, pragmatic response to the concern of the democratic deficit, something that does what is says in the tin; asks citizens what they want.
Around 40,000 citizens representative of the EU as a whole were selected as participants for specific projects and hundreds of thousands participated in new online forums. After the selected participants had answered questions, consulted experts, learnt a wealth of new information on the EU, and taken time out of ‘their life at home’, they can only have felt involved and empowered by the EU. Now back at home, they were and are understandably keen to see what their contributions, time and efforts achieved. The new report on Plan D (there is also a shorter, simpler version for citizens) says that participants were ‘anxious to receive feedback from decision-makers, in particular EU institutions and bodies’. The EU responded by gathering participants from all six Plan D projects and providing them with an opportunity to synthesize their wishes, the outcome of which was an open letter that was submitted to the European institutions and published online for the world to see.
The ‘letter’ was transmitted to anyone and everyone who was or could be interested. Political leaders at both the European and national levels had encouragement at the highest level to listen and make the most of this invaluable information that they now possessed. There was encouragement to address these recommendations in their programmes, discuss and engage citizens further on the matters, and keep up the good work by continuing to encourage active European citizenship. This is where things start to go pear shaped, after the innovation and leaps over mountains made so far, the EU falls short of making a few final, finishing steps.
Assumingly the result of this letter has been that some or many politicians have used this information and advice at varying degrees; it is regrettable that the word ‘assumingly’ is used to denote this. The only apparent achievement of the 40,000 participating citizens is hidden in the mist of politics at both national and European level.
‘When governments consult citizens, they create expectations, it is important to follow up these expectations otherwise citizens may be more reluctant to spend their precious time again’
Before conducting more innovative Plan D projects that engage and empower citizens, the EU should focus on creating a channel of feedback towards the citizens and creating a real dialogue. There is a convincing argument in saying that the feedback and effects of what these citizens have achieved for us all should be seen at our own local level, but that is theory and whilst this theory may hold true in the future, very little can be traced now. In the meantime perhaps EU officials and national governments should take some of their time out from their daily commitments, just as the participating citizens did, and compile a response to the open letter, answering the question of what their efforts have achieved. It would be a small token towards genuine dialogue. Indeed it may be difficult to trace what has actually been done in response to the open letter, re-arrange agendas and bring everyone together. However, the project has been difficult from the beginning, and the biggest hurdle has been overcome. If the EU wants to engage citizens in a two way dialogue, it must ensure a two way dialogue in a way that suits citizens as well as themselves.
Author: Kirsty Wright
Europe – building on the experience of Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate COM (2008) 158/4. Ibid, 1 para 6. The Future of
Europe – The Citizens’ Agenda. OECD Handbook