Programme: DG COMM No. 2008-Q68100-020; Plan D
BUILDING ON THE SUCCESSFUL DIALOGUE OF 2007
In the run-up to the 2009 Euro-elections, the European Citizens’ Consultations 2009 (ECC 2009) will bring together randomly selected citizens from all 27 EU Member States to discuss key challenges facing the EU with each other, and then with policy-makers. ECC 2009 will focus on the issues currently of greatest concern to EU citizens, seeking to answer the question: “What can the EU do to shape our economic and social future in a globalised world?”
‘Family and social welfare’ were among the topics chosen by citizens for in-depth discussion at ECC 2007 and the latest Eurobarometer opinion poll shows that social and economic issues remain high on the public’s agenda. As the EU institutions begin work on a post-2010 successor to the Lisbon Agenda for economic growth and competitiveness, ECC 2009 will also provide timely and relevant input for decision-makers.
ECC 2009 has six objectives:
- Promoting interaction between citizens and policy-makers: fostering debate between citizens and policy-makers in the run-up to – and after – the European elections;
- Citizens as policy advisors: feeding citizens’ opinions into the political debate at both European and national levels;
- Citizen participation as a policy instrument of the future: mainstreaming trend-setting and long-term oriented citizen consultations at the European level;
- Closing the gap between the EU and its citizens: bringing the EU closer to citizens and citizens closer to the EU;
- Increasing the general public’s interest in the EU: generating substantial media coverage of the dialogue between the EU and its citizens;
- Partnerships in participation: deepening European co-operation within existing civil society networks and their respective partner networks, as well as e-participation providers
1,500 randomly selected citizens reflecting their country’s demographic composition will attend National Citizens’ Consultations in all EU’s 27 Member States in March 2009. These identical conferences, held simultaneously over three weekends, are the heart of the ECC process, enabling citizens to discuss issues of common concern with each other, and with key national policy-makers. A European Citizens’ Summit, with 150 participants from the National Consultations, will be held in Brussels in May 2009 to finalise a set of European recommendations and present them to EU decision-makers. Throughout the process, the general public will be able to participate in the discussions via national websites, giving an unprecedented number of citizens the opportunity to get involved in the debate on Europe’s future. The citizens’ recommendations will also be discussed with many more stakeholders, decision-makers and civil society at regional events in autumn 2009.
A unique consortium of more than 40 independent European partners including foundations, NGOs, universities and think-tanks will implement the project, with co-funding support from the European Commission under its “Debate Europe” programme.
What are the European Citizens’ Consultations?
ECC 2009 is not merely a repetition of ECC 2007. It aims to use the momentum generated by the first series of pan-European citizen participation projects to develop more structured and long-term citizen involvement in EU decision-making processes. New elements have been added to the project, further enhancing its scope, reach and potential:
- An online debate, involving the general public, on the issues to be discussed at the National Consultations;
- An internal online forum for participants in the National Consultations;
- A focused debate, with the aim of developing comparable European recommendations which can be succinctly summarised and communicated more effectively to policy-makers;
- Greater involvement of policy-makers in the debates at national and European level, with a particular focus on the MEPs newly elected in June 2009;
- A larger final European event, with more citizens participating, to maximise its impact;
- Additional regional outreach activities in Phase II of the project, to ensure that the results of the consultations are disseminated and debated more widely.
WHAT HAS ECC ACHIEVED SO FAR?
- Added public and political value: ECC was the largest of the Plan D initiatives, and involved several Heads of States, Ministers, European Commissioners, members of European and national parliaments, plus observers and volunteers in all 27 Member States. ECCs are organised by the King Baudouin Foundation (Belgium) in collaboration with a network of operative partners (weblink to list) and funders (weblink to list) from all EU Member States. They do not compete with representative institutions or seek to replace opinion polls or expert recommendations.
- More than an opinion survey: ECC 2007 proved that in-depth deliberation with citizens can provide significant added value, going beyond and different from that provided by opinion polls. Instead of recording a static snapshop of individual opinions, ECCs inspire participants to explore opinions, weigh trade-offs, and, ultimately, find common ground, generating important information for policymakers by showing how opinions develop in the course of a policy debate and highlighting areas of potential societal consensus.
- Beyond the usual suspects: 1,800 citizens representing the diversity of the population were randomly selected using professional opinion research methodologies. All opinions in society were represented in the debates, and thus there is no reason to believe the outcome would be significantly different with more participants. The participants also showed an extraordinary level of engagement, with 97% saying they would participate in similar dialogues again.
- Beats traditional PR for cost-effectiveness: €3.8m for 31 professionally facilitated dialogue events with VIP guests, observer programmes, additional follow-up activities, excellent print media response at EU/national/regional level, TV/radio coverage, 500,000 hits on the project website per month, and several academic research initiatives.
- Giving citizens a better understanding of the EU: the evaluation of ECC 2007 showed that citizens felt more European after participating in the process, gained a better understanding of EU policies and institutions, and were more interested in European affairs afterwards.
- Civil society network in all Member States: ECC 2007 brought together the largest ever operating network of independent foundations and civil society organisations in all 27 Member States, capable of implementing large-scale pan-European deliberation processes and involving decision-makers at all levels. The Network of European Foundations for Innovative Cooperation, NEF, is at the heart of the funding coalition.
- A responsive policy tool for the future: ECC 2007 was tailored to the specific context of Plan D but adaptable to any European policy debate. With 27 national events in six weeks, it showed that large-scale deliberation processes can add value to political decision-making processes within a very short timeframe.
- Impact on EU communication policy: in its latest Communication on Debate Europe, the European Commission supports future “pan-European participatory democracy projects holding citizen’s consultations in each Member State and establishing a common set of conclusions at European level”.
ECC 2007 pictures Brussels
ECC 2007 pictures Malta