Written by Silvia Kotanidis.
What sort of European Union do we want to see in the future? What is working well in the EU and what could be improved? These are just two examples of the kind of questions that the European citizens’ panels, part of the Conference on the Future of Europe, will have to answer. The Conference on the Future of Europe marks the first time in the history of the EU that citizens have been included in a consultative process in such a structural and innovative manner. The conference, first announced by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in 2019, is now entering its key phase, with the first European citizens’ panel meeting taking place on 17 September 2021.
The widening gap between citizens and institutions is a known pattern, not only at EU level but also at national level in many countries. Against this backdrop, some forms of participatory democracy – such as citizens’ assemblies – already successful in Ireland and elsewhere in recent years, promise to provide a format that allows an open exchange of views in a collaborative environment.
The citizens’ panels were proposed and designed to give a voice to citizens in the most inclusive way possible. As such, the panels’ key requirement is that they represent the EU population faithfully. The result is that 800 EU citizens, equally distributed into four citizens’ panels, will be called upon to discuss issues and concerns that they may themselves identify. The debate is supported by a multilingual digital platform, the main hub of the conference. The citizens’ panels are not meant to replace representative democracy however, but rather to complement it.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is a complex democratic exercise in which the multilingual digital platform gathers ideas from citizens and civil society, citizens’ panels give recommendations, and the conference plenary makes proposals on the basis of which the executive board of the Conference will draft the final report. The contribution of the citizens’ panels will feed into the proposals of the conference plenary and, ultimately, into the final report of the conference that the executive board will present at the end of the conference for the institutions to follow up.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Citizens’ engagement and expectations of the Conference on the Future of Europe‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.