Challenges for Civic Participation in European Democratic Governance

Session 1: EU Governance

Session 1: EU Governance

Dr. Janis A. Emmanouilidis was the person who was in charge to start the first of the four sessions of the Second Plus Europe Conference. He started with the question: How citizens can be more active in this complex multilevel framework we have in the EU? No better way to start this conference that really pointing out the pivotal issue in the session. One of the first arguments to begin to answer and analyse the question was to focus on the increasing disinterest the European citizens have on European elections.

Thus, Mr. Emmanouilidis acknowledged that it was necessary to have a debate on EU governance. This was in part necessary as EU seemed to be a bureaucratic organ where the poorer countries had an increasing feeling of disappointment with the policies that the last years the so-called troika and IMF have been conditioning in such countries. These kinds of necessary policy adjustments had undoubtedly increased the democratic deficit. In this sense, the moderator admitted that this problem could only be solved with more dialogue between citizens and governments and an increasing, new and better governance from the EU.

After this introduction to the debate, Prof. Jan Wouters started his intervention by pointing out that increasing citizens’ engagement is something key but also controversial in this heterogeneous EU. For instance, he noted that half of the European citizens would like that EU had a more prominent role for international affairs, while the other half still wanted it under nations’ control. Additionally, he said that public opinion could change a lot when we moved from general to concrete issues where the people tend to divide more.

Jan Wouters pointed out that increasing citizens’ engagement is something key but also controversial in this heterogeneous EU
Therefore, the big question that arises is: How citizens can have more participation? How citizens can increase their engagement? It was clear that the EU wants more implication from the citizens. It has been working for that since the Maastricht Treaty. However, Prof. Wouters argued that States are still resistant to prioritise this objective and this resistance to transfer sovereignty is one of the most important points to explain why there has not arisen a European citizenship feeling.

Above all, the EU has not given up achieving this goal. In the Lisbon Treaty was introduced a new channel to increase citizens engagement thought the acceptance of citizens proposals to make new and better laws where the EU can legislate. Prof. Wouters said that these efforts were positive to overcome this big challenge and that there was a big room to improve, especially if the EU gets more and more competences to legislate.

European citizenship feeling

Mr. Janis A. Emmanouilidis took profit then to conclude the intervention of the first speaker asking two pivotal questions: Are States really interested in arising a European citizenship feeling? Are the citizens also interested in doing it?

The second lecturer, Ms. Elena Flores, started her speech by asking also a significant question: How citizens can get involved in a crisis context? She argued that a key issue was the public budget as it is, in some way, the core of democratic choices. Ms. Flores pointed out that the majority of this public budget is still nowadays under national control. She explained that national governments have a considerable responsibility on the bad management of the crisis. Insufficient reforms or short-term horizon policies were some of the possible explanations.

Elena Flores highlighted that the majority of this public budget is still nowadays under national control
Above all, Ms. Flores commented that all these previous events show that we need a more supranational mechanism to respond adequately to any external shocks. Consequently, a more coordinated ex-ante approach to prevent future crisis is a key issue and hence, we need to work more closely to foment an integrated surveillance. In the same direction, Ms. Flores agreed that all these changes could only be achieved by an increasing role of the European Parliament as the representative of the EU citizens that helps to increase the democratic legitimacy. This last point had been improving over the last decades where the European Parliament had reached new levels to legislate and decide with the procedure of co-decision. However, under in her point of view, we still have a long distance to improve, for instance, including more involvement to financial issues.

Ms. Flores also put emphasis on the idea that we should be aware of the different levels of responsibility the European institutions and national governments have on the economic crisis. In this sense, it is important to first talk about goals and tasks before talking about institutions. Finally, Ms. Flores admitted that it is a challenge to increase the economic dialogue at European level. This dialogue between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament should be done more frequently in order to discuss and give explanations to the latter. The last point put prominence to the idea to review the European 2020 strategy.

EU governance crisis

The third participant of the session, Prof. Jaap W. de Zwaan started his speech with the statement: It is not the European Union who is in crisis of governance. To explain that, he reminded us that in the current EU, member states were the ones who decided and put the rules of the game. So within this context, the EU is not in governance crisis, but member states are. According to him, to overcome the situation it is necessary for member states to negotiate and reach majority agreements. He also argued that the current economic crisis could not be qualified as a Euro-crisis, because the debt crisis was inside the member states so they are the ones who have the responsibility to solve the situation. Due to political reasons, the responsibility for economic policy remains essentially a domestic issue so they are now the ones who must deal with this crisis.

Jaap W. de Zwaan reminded that the EU is not in governance crisis, but member states are
According to Prof. de Zwaan, another problem that is said to have the EU is Euroscepticism, but following the same logic than the preceding, he believed that part of the problem was the national politicians’ fault. They used the EU as an excuse to not having to accept their own mistakes. However, Prof. de Zwaan also recognised that throughout the last decades more procedures by co-decision have been made and hence, the democratisation of the EU is every day more real although we still can improve it.

The last point of his speech was focused on the possibilities for Europeans to participate in the EU arena. He said that the most effective option was to encourage debate among citizens, setting up specialised discussions using chambers of commerce, NGOs…; or another option is lobbying at European level. In relation to the latter, he identified the European Citizen Initiative put in place by the Lisbon treaty, but he admitted that it is an artificial mechanism.

The EU integration paradox

The last lecturer of the first session, Prof. José M. Areilza Carvajal, started his intervention underlining an existent paradox in EU integration: European integration is a success but it is also a victim of his success, since enlargement did not work. He believed that integration is a utopia that in this moment is already achieved (mainly peace and security goals), so we needed to forward a new utopia to have a successful EU. He thought that the final utopia will never be reached but we needed intermediate utopias in order to be able to progress.

European integration is a success but it is also a victim of his success, since enlargement did not work, according to José M. Areilza Carvajal
For him, the current EU crisis put us in the risk of disintegration and we need solutions. He believed that these solutions had to come from the EU because even if it was the problem and victim of his success, it is also the solution. To renew the European ideal in order to achieve the new utopia, Prof. Areilza proposed a limitation of the powers of the European Union, a politicisation and democratisation of the decision-making and to constitute the EU as a global actor.

He argued that currently, the EU cannot aspire to increase its powers; the EU had to have a power that went in line with national democracies in order to emphasise democracy and politicisation of the EU in a positive sense. Citizens should feel part of Europe and for these we need to democratize decision-making process and balance the powers inside the EU, but also to take more seriously the European elections. The third proposition to renew European utopia is that if we want to have a more active EU in the world, we should take our place as a global actor.

Rapporteurs: Andrea María Gutiérrez-Hap (Autonomous University of Barcelona) & Roger Fernández Urbano (University of Barcelona). Edited by the Plus Europe Association.