Strengthening Citizen Participation in the Future of Democracy – Civil Society Days ’23

Citizens having more room to guide the discussions and having more participation in decision-making processes are key aspects to ensure the future of participatory and deliberative democracy within the EU. In early March, during the EESC Civil Society Days, the Workshop Session on ‘The future of participatory and deliberative democracy’ took place in Brussels, co-organized by SOLIDAR, the European Movement International (EMI), and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB)to discuss the relevance of citizen’s participation to complement representative democracy in Europe.

The workshop brought together civil society representatives, policy makers and several participants from the Conference on the Future of Europe to discuss the relevance of citizens at the forefront of policy-making processes, an imperative to enhance representative democracy. Civil society plays a vital role in improving the democratic functioning of the EU, and improving the legitimacy, trust, and accountability of the democratic process.

By bringing together representatives from different initiatives and organisations to discuss the topic, the workshop identified important lessons to be learned from the CoFoE and how different tools can facilitate the inclusion of civil society and encourage citizen engagement in policy-making.

Representatives of European Institutions and Civil Society organizations made statements and contributions to the discussion. Ms Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, Director-General of the Directorate-General for Communication in the European Commission, presented actions from the European Commission to engage citizens’ civic participation.Ms Patrizia Heidegger, Deputy Secretary General of the European Environmental Bureau, underlined that the link between citizen participation and organised civil society should be strengthened.

Mr. Mikael Leyi, SOLIDAR Secretary General, made a strong point that:

’Democratic participation is intimately linked with structural factors such as inequalities, access to human rights and social rights, poverty and exclusion in different forms that will impede or foster participation, a sense of belonging, and trust. In Europe today we see how inequalities widen, poverty levels and exclusion persist, and access to rights are at risk or deteriorating. To adequately address these aspects of our societies and hold member states accountable as they slip backwards in either of these areas are one of the principal challenges for the EU and for fostering citizens’ engagement. The EU needs to prove that is it a force for good, for improving everyday lives of citizens, as well as capacitating them through access to education’’.

The panellists namely, Mr Christophe Lefevre member of the Economic and Social Committee, Ms Noemie Galland-Beaune, Project Manager of Mission Publiques, Mr Thomas Muller Board Member of the Citizen and Klimarat, and Mr Jelmer Hofkamp, Common Secretariat of the Conference on the Future of Europe in the European Parliament, contributed to the discussions. The panellists emphasised the importance of an organized civil society, the need to leave more space for citizens to steer the direction of discussions, considering their experiences and to empower the voice of citizens in Europe, in addition to the need to follow up with the recommendation made during CoFoE need to be implemented through the legislative process.

In general, the recommendations presented at the end of the workshop consisted of the need to strengthen the role of transnational citizen panels in the EU as well as consultations at local, regional and national levels to improve the democratic functioning of the EU. In addition to these panels and tools that encourage participatory democracy, the role of organized civil society, social partners and trade unions must be reinforced. Therefore, these organizations should provide expertise in order to increase the diversity of debates as well as be facilitators in the organisation and running of the panels.

Click here to read full report from the workshop.

Click here to find all recommendations from the Civil Society Days 2023.

Watch the recording of the workshop ” The Future of participatory and deliberative democracy”, as well as of all other sessions on the Civil Society Days 2023 on the EESC webpage.