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Citizens consultations

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In September 2017, the French President called for « citizens consultation » to take place all over Europe. In April 2018, the first consultation happened in France, launching in its country of birth a process of dialogues on Europe with its citizens that the 27 members of the European Union committed to organise by the end of October 2018. This initiative aims at giving European citizens the opportunity to express their views on the European construction in each country of the EU. The Heads of State and Government should then discuss their analyses, during the December 2018 European Council, and find them some sort of translation in the Leaders’ agenda.

These citizens consultation are a great opportunity for all to give their opinion on the EU and its future, and for institutions, politicians and civil society organisations to listen and analyse these opinions, and take action upon them. Beyond the financing issues of the process, and the time constraint that make it a challenge to make the most of these consultation in six months, among which two months of holidays, they are facing three main challenges.

The first challenge is for these consultations to actually be European. If the 27 member states agreed to participate, they did so on the basis of a light bill of specifications and will organise them independently. These consultations will therefore be organised, supported, given visibility, brought to stakeholders, taken into account and analysed in 27 different manners. Though “diversity” is part of the European motto, and subsidiarity a principle, one can easily see how this intergovernmental process could fail to provide the Heads of State and Government with a European view on what European citizens think about the EU. In order to address this challenge, the organisation of transnational consultations should be incentivised, be it at the borders of each member states - territories where citizens on both sides have a very specific relationship with the EU - or anywhere in the EU, with citizens from other countries that are interested in the theme chosen by the organising structures. The European Commission is currently taking another path to “Europeanise” these consultations. At the beginning of May, it convened a consultation with European citizens whose discussion framed a common questionnaire to be spread in each participating countries. The European Commission has taken this European step quite efficiently, which should give way to a European framework in which to organise, analyse and take into account these consultations.

The second challenge, and perhaps the biggest, is for these consultations to actually give the floor to citizens. They have to allow for innovative ways of liberating the citizens’ voice about the EU by giving everyone an opportunity to speak up, but also by accompanying these consultations in order to build collective intelligence through facilitation methods and tools. Civil society organisations should push forward formats that take a step away from usual settings such as panels presenting their views to an audience and taking a few questions at the end of their speaking points. The more inclusive and interactive these consultations are, the more creative and deep the citizens’ diagnoses and ideas of and for Europe will be.

Last but not least, the third challenge is for these consultations to translate into action. Giving the citizens the opportunity to speak up means that decision makers have to take into account what will come out of the consultations. This means more than discussing them during the December Council: in order to meet the ambitions of the process, and not to give the impression to citizens that they gave them the chance to express their opinion without wanting to take action upon them, the Heads of State and Government will have to translate some ideas into action. Here, once again, civil society has a role to play. Not only can they remind the decision-makers about what European citizens said or asked for throughout the consultations, but they can also – and ought to - lobby on the themes that will be brought to light by European citizens, in a very European fashion since there is no doubt that a lot of issues and ideas will be cross borders.

Posted by Claire Versini

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