Dear President of the European Parliament, President of the Council of the EU and President of the European Commission,
As you meet at the Jean Monnet House in Bazoches, France, to discuss Europe’s political challenges and the Conference on the future of Europe, we would like to share with you and your closest advisors some reflections on this forthcoming major democratic exercise.
We are a community of academics coming from different disciplines united by our commitment to constructively contribute to the European project and its future. Having not only personally witnessed, but also closely studied and contributed to previous (failed) institutional attempts (including the 2002-03 Convention, the 2006-7 European Citizens Consultations, the 2009-10 Reflection group) to rethink the EU institutional asset, we take the liberty to express our deepest concerns about the many unintended consequences stemming from the imminent launch of the Conference on the future of Europe.
There is a tangible risk that by raising expectations it cannot easily deliver on, the Conference may erode citizens’ trust at a time when the demand for public engagement is at record highs across the continent. Europe and your political leadership can hardly afford that.
Due to its top-down approach, the proposed blueprint of the Conference defies its own purpose: to be “a bottom-up exercise where European citizens are listened to and their voices contribute to the debates on the future of Europe”.
Here is why:
First, neither the blueprint put forward by the Parliament nor that proposed by the Commission foresee the participation of civil society organizations with the only exception of the European trade unions and the employers’ BusinessEurope. Yet without unleashing the mobilizing potential of European civil society the Conference will never be owned and felt by citizens. This goes quite against the positive experience of involving civil society organisations in promoting turnout in the European elections: if the European institutions think that civil society will be happy only to act as promoters of a Conference they have no say in, the institutions risk an unpleasant surprise.
Second, the only participatory dimension of the Conference comes from six citizens’ assemblies – called agoras in the Parliament’s proposal – which will deliberate on a set of predefined policy areas, from the climate crisis the digital revolution to the redrafting of EU electoral law. It remains unclear how the agoras – which have been downgraded to citizen’s dialogues in the Commission’s blueprint – will actually be run and moderated, and, more importantly, how their conclusions will feed into the work and final conclusions of the Conference, and crucially how feedback between decision-makers and citizens participating in the assemblies actually takes place, and how disagreements are resolved. Moreover, in this approach citizens are not involved in agenda setting.
Third, although in the Parliament proposal young people are given a dedicated agora, there is a danger that this is perceived as ‘youth-washing’ and treating young people as an accessory rather than empowering young people as the future of the European Union.
Fourth, the methodological vagueness and improvisation characterizing the first blueprints of the Conference contrasts with the countless and well-established democratic innovations already taking shape across the continent, from the Irish citizens’ Constitutional Convention, which reviewed the constitution, to the Ostbelgien Citizens’ Council in the German-speaking community in eastern Belgium – a permanent mechanism and the first of its kind, letting randomly chosen ordinary citizens take part with parliamentarians in developing recommendations for the local parliament. Even the EU’s own democratic innovation in the form of Citizens’ Initiatives is not included in the blueprint.
Fifth, there is a thriving literature on the state of European democracy and some of its possible fixes. Yet the current proposals for – and debate surrounding – the Conference seem to blissfully neglect such a wealth of analysis. No democratic construction will succeed in the absence of an architecture informed and designed by its best constitutional architects and experienced carpenters.
Sixth, the ultimate success of the Conference will be defined by its durability. Europe needs to devise an effective mechanism capable of capturing the most relevant and promising proposals coming from the citizens and turn it into a permanent method feeding the day-to-day EU decision-making. Citizen participation needs institutionalization, not on-off or ad hoc processes.
Time has come to invest into our own European democracy, far from the day-to-day political bickering, through close cooperation with those citizens who invest their lives, as activists and advocates in our common future.
Europe, and your new, yet already contested, political leadership can hardly afford to be associated with an initiative that might soon be perceived as top-down, unauthentic, outdated and out-of-touch with EU citizens’ daily lives.
For the Conference to succeed, the three most powerful EU institutions should lead by example, by stepping back and carving out a meaningful and effective role for citizens’ input within the forthcoming Conference so as to be able to constantly co-create the future the EU deserves. Specifically, following from the deficiencies of the current models discussed, our concrete recommendations would be:
– Give civil society a leading role in the Conference, by giving it a voting seat at the plenary table, alongside the social partners.
– Ensure that the process is built in such a way that real deliberation can take place between citizens, and between citizens and elected decision makers and governments: this means enabling citizens to set the agenda on equal terms to governments (as it is the case within the Open Government Partnership), and allowing contradictory debate and compromise to take place over the course of the democratic exercise.
– Give young people a decisive role in the Conference, by empowering them in the plenary, and ensuring young people are in the Presidium or other governing bodies of the Conference itself.
– Take the time to involve practitioners, academics and specialists in civil society participation in the design and running of the Conference.
Finally, at the outset of the exercise commit that this is a decisive and long-term evolution in the way European democracy works, and not a one-off exercise.
A French version of this letter can be found here.
Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of EU Law, HEC Paris and founder of The Good Lobby
Kalypso Nicolaïdis, Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford
Niccolò Milanese, founding director of European Alternatives
Nadia Urbinati, Professor of Political Theory, Columbia University
Ulrike Guerot, Professor of European Policy and the Study of Democracy, Danube University Krems
Sergio Fabbrini, Dean of the Political Science Department and Professor of Political Science, LUISS Guido Carli
Gráinne de Búrca, Professor of Law, New York University
Vivian Schmidt, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration, Boston University
Daniel Innerarity, Professor of Political and Social Philosophy, University of Basque Country
Neil Walker, Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations, The University of Edinburgh
Claire Kilpatrick, Professor of International and European Labour and Social Law, EUI
Rui Tavares, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, former MEP
Albena Azmanova, University of Kent
Alvaro Oleart, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Amandine Garde, University of Liverpool
Andreas Fischer-Lescano, Bremen University
Anita Seprenyi, Alliance Europa
Anna Loretoni, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna
Anna Rurka, University Paris Nanterre
Anne Meuwese, Tilburg University
Annelies van Rijen, Studio Europa Maastricht
Antoine Vauchez, CNRS – Université Paris 1-Sorbonne
Arnaud Van Wayenberghe, HEC Paris
Asteris Huliaras, University of the Peloponnese
Beata Zwierzynska, University of Lower Silesia, Poland
Benjamin Bodson, Université catholique de Louvain (BE)
Bernard Steunenberg, Leiden University
Bernd Marin, European Bureau for Policy Consultation and Social
Carlo Cappa, Università degli Studi di Roma „Tor Vergata“
Caterina Di Fazio, Maastricht University
Cormac Mac Amhlaigh, University of Edinburgh
Danai Petropoulou Ionescu, Maastricht university
Daniela Caruso, Boston University
Daniela Vancic, Democracy International
Daniele Archibugi, IRPPS-Italian National Research Council
Daniele Conversi, University of the Basque country
Denis Cenusa, JLU University
Denise Prevost, Maastricht University
Dimitry Kochenov, University of Groningen
Dominik Kirchdorfer, EFF – European Future Forum
Carlotta Alfonsi, OECD
Edoardo Traversa, UCLouvain
Eldriona Daci, Link campus university
Ellen Hey, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Emmanuelle Bribosia, Université Libre de Bruxelles
Endrius Cocciolo, Universitat Rovira i Virgili
Fernanda Nicola, American University Washington DC
François Balate, European Youth Forum
Franziska Maier, University of Stuttgart
Giuseppe Martinico, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa
Grigorij Mesežnikov, Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), Slovakia
Hartmut Mayer, University of Oxford
Heidi Maurer, University of Oxford
Helen Xanthaki, UCL
Helene Landemore, Yale University
Herwig C.H. Hofmann, University of Luxembourg
Hugo Alexandre de Araujo, IAC – Instituto de Apoio a Crianca
Ida Musiałkowska, Poznań University of Economics and Business
Isuf Halimi, European Center for Human Rights
James Organ, University of Liverpool
Jean F. Crombois, American University in Bulgaria
Jean-Bernard Auby, Sciences po Paris
Johannes Kiess, University of Siegen
John Morijn, University of Groningen
Joseph Lacey, University College Dublin
Jowanka Jakubek-Lalik, University of Warsaw
Judith Clifton, University of Cantabria
Krzysztof Izdebski, ePaństwo Foundation
Liav Orgad, European University Institute
Luis Bouza Garcia, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Lukas Schnermann, Extinction Rebellion Germany
Luke Cooper, Another Europe Is Possible, LSE
Manuela Brillat, Plaider les Droits de l’Homme
Marco Borraccetti, University of Bologna
Marco Bronckers, Leiden University
Mariam Hofmarcher Holzhacker, Austrian Health Academy
Marta Cillero Manzano, European Alternatives
Martin Pairet, European Alternatives
Mathieu Segers, Maastricht University
Mathilde Brunet, University of Geneva
Matthijs Pontier, Piratenpartij, PhD
Mic Marin, EUROCEF
Michael Zürn, WZB Berlin Social Science Center
Michele Fiorillo, Scuola Normale Superiore / CIVICO Europa
Mike Cosgrave, University College Cork
Paolo Acunzo, Movimento Federalista Europeo
Patrycja Dabrowska-Klosinska, Queen’s University Belfast & Warsaw University of Technology
Paul Blokker, University of Bologna
Paul Gragl Queen Mary, University of London
Pier Virgilio Dastoli, European Movement
David Farrell, University College Dublin
Laurent Pech, Middlesex University
Rainer Forst, Goethe Universität Frankfurt/Main
Raymond Frenken, Euronomics
Richard Youngs, Carnegie Europe
Robert Grzeszczak, University of Warsaw
Sébastien Platon, University of Bordeaux
Sejal Parmar, Central European University
Silke Beck, UFZ Leipzig
Stijn Smismans, Cardiff University
Suzana Carp, Sandbag Climate Campaign
Tetty Havinga, Radboud University
Thomas Perroud, Université Panthéon-Assas (Paris 2)
Tina Magazzini, European University Institute
Tom Theuns, Leiden University
Ulrich Stege, International University College of Turin (IUC)
Vera Kempe, Abertay University
Vincent Bellinkx, University of Antwerp Law School
Yves Sintomer, University of Paris 8