On April 21, we participated in the Hearing of the EESC related to the Opinion on Citizens Panels that the Committee foresees adopting in July, under the leadership of Christophe Quarez as Rapporteur.
SOLIDAR, represented by Elisa Gambardella, commended the decision of the Committee to include diverse perspectives in this hearing, and the commitment of the EESC to enhance the participatory dimension of EU democracy. This Committee has been the main advocate among EU bodies and institutions, to make sure that citizens are given meaningful opportunities for participating in the debate and that proposals such as the Citizens Panels aren't regarded with a tokenistic approach.
In this sense, we seized the opportunity of this Hearing to remind the difficulties encountered during the Conference for the Future of Europe for the meaningful participation of citizens, as well as the importance of identifying the exact function and mission of Citizens Panels for the future. Citizens should indeed be given as many opportunities as possible to contribute to the democratic debate at the EU level, but we should not forget that many residents in Europe already gather in Civil Society Organisations and therefore, the role that a properly implemented Civil Dialogue can and should play to this end. In this regard, we commend and support indeed the Resolution "United in Democracy", adopted by the EESC as a follow-up on the latest edition of the Civil Society Days and calling for the implementation of the Civil Dialogue along the Social one.
Further, we stressed that Citizens Panels as organised in the CoFoE served the function of Focus Groups rather than democratically debated opinions able to contribute on an equal footing to a discussion otherwise animated by organised groups (institutions, political parties and groups, social partners, and civil society). We shouldn't overlook the participation in such Panels either, as the semi-randomised selection used for the CoFoE resulted in a limited representation of the diversity existing in European societies, besides excluding residents in Europe without citizenship status. Based on this, we constructively encouraged the EESC to consider the role, composition, and function of Citizens Panels if they are to be adopted in the future as a working method. They can't be a way for ticking the box of participatory democracy, especially if they are not conducive to awareness raising, to learning opportunities for active citizenship at the EU level, and especially if they are not affecting communities but only a few selected individuals. We won't achieve a truly empowering, comprehensive, representative, and inclusive participatory democracy unless we also support the capacity of Civil Society Organisations, that are able to represent the aspirations, needs, and visions of those most in need in our societies. The link between social justice and democracy can't be stressed enough!
We look forward to seeing the results of this debate in the coming Resolution by the EESC, and in the meantime, we support and campaign for the implementation of a Civil Dialogue along the Social Dialogue, the adoption of a European Strategy for Civil Society, and the support of Civil Society Organisations.