15 November 2012
EESC: "Effective participatory democracy is needed to restore credibility to the EU"
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has called for the full implementation of Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty as a means to strengthening the democratic legitimacy of the EU and avoiding the rise of extremism in Europe. Investing in Article 11 will help bring citizens closer to the EU project and provide the platform for the institutions to listen and better take into account the views of its citizens. The EESC should be a key player in this process.
As early as March 2010, the Committee asked the Commission to publish a green paper on the implementation of the principle of participatory democracy as enshrined in Article 11 of the Lisbon Treaty. The Committee notes that since then a considerable amount of work has been done to encourage citizens' participation, notably with the regulation on the European citizens' initiative. However, as an opinion drafted by Luca Jahier (president of the Various Interests Group) makes clear, much remains to be done on the issue of civil dialogue.
The EESC believes that the legitimacy crisis of the EU institutions can be solved only by them opening their doors to civil society, citizens and citizen organisations, thereby establishing ongoing dialogue that can bridge the existing gap. The EESC can draw on its experience as a catalyst for the needs of European civil society and should play a key role, working together with the other EU institutions in a coordinated and consistent strategy to implement the objectives of the article more effectively.
"More transparency and more participation are the two key elements in defending democracy and fighting extremism" said Mr Jahier when he presented the opinion. He referred to a number of best practice approaches to structured civil dialogue that have been used in the Committee, in the other EU institutions and in the Member States, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each. In light of previous experience, he stressed the need for the Commission to launch a study to assess existing cooperation with civil society, identify the current problems and establish what is actually needed to secure more appropriate, wider participation. The study should identify joint practices and guidelines for all institutions so as to put in place a clear, effective, inclusive and transparent process for the systematic participation of civil society.
Mr Jahier argued that a starting point to assessing the extent of civil dialogue is to compile a database of contacts, competences and organisations involved in existing consultations and dialogue with the institutions. The Committee also asks that the Transparency Register be extended to the European Council, and that the Council do more to involve civil society in its policies, with the help of the EESC. Finally, the opinion suggests that a major annual event be held to collate European civil society contributions and provide input into the Commission's annual programme and into the priorities of the various institutions.
The opinion was put to the vote and adopted at the EESC's 484th plenary session, after a debate with Isabelle Durant, vice-president of the European Parliament, and Diogo Pinto, representative of the EESC's organised civil society Liaison Group. Ms Durant pointed out that we should not be afraid of participatory democracy and citizens' opinions, recalling the importance of citizens' monitoring of EU policy-makers and the positive influence that citizens' legislative initiatives and petitions can have on policies. In his statement, Mr Pinto supported the Committee's idea of an annual event, stressing the inherent richness that such an exchange of views and experiences could bring to the European agenda.
EESC president Staffan Nilsson concluded the debate with these words: "It is necessary to reflect on the issues of representativeness and participation, and explore all the tools and existing platforms – including social media and the online networking – to reach out to citizens and organisations in Europe and actively contribute to building the future of the European project".
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