In the run-up to the 2009 Euro-elections, the European Citizens’ Consultations 2009 (ECC 2009) gave citizens a voice in the debate over how to respond to the current economic and financial crisis, by providing a platform for pan-European dialogue on the challenges facing the EU. The 2009 ECC centered around the issues taking the heaviest toll on EU citizens, given the approach of the 2009 European elections, namely, “What can the EU do to determine our economic and social future in a globalized world?”
An Online Debate
Between December 3, 2008, and March 2009, all citizens were invited to take part in an online debate and to come up with proposals for our economic and social future. These proposals were then directly introduced within the framework of the Romanian European Citizens’ Consultations, as discussion material.
27 Identical Conferences
A total of 1,530 randomly selected citizens took part in the European Citizens’ Consultations held across the 27 Member States. The participants’ selection reflected the demographics of their respective countries. These identical conferences, held simultaneously over three weekends, in nine countries at a time, in the month of March 2009, represented the core of the consultation process. They allowed citizens to discuss shared issues, elaborate suggestions and debate them with the pivotal political decision-makers, at both a national and a European level.
Between April and May 2009, the recommendations formulated after the 27 national consultations were voted on by all participants in the consultations. Audiences were once again invited to online debates on the final recommendation list.
A European Citizens’ Summit
Between May 10-11, 2009, a European Citizens’ Summit was held in Brussels. It was attended by 150 of the participants to the 27 consultations. They handed over and discussed these recommendations with top EU policy-makers, including the European Commission and Parliament Presidents and the EU Presidency.
As well as feeding into the debate over how to respond to the global economic crisis, ECC 2009 provided timely and relevant input for policy-makers as the EU institutions begin work on a post-2010 successor to the Lisbon Agenda. Additional regional outreach activities have been planned for the autumn, with a particular focus on the MEPs newly elected in June 2009, to ensure that the results of the consultations were disseminated and debated more widely.
ECC 2009 was part of an ongoing process to further develop citizen participation and consultation mechanisms. It was built on the success of ECC 2007, which established a new model for citizen participation through the first pan-European participatory project to involve citizens from all 27 Member States of the EU in the debate on the future of Europe.
At the heart of the ECC process were randomly-selected participants, representing the diversity of the population, providing valuable qualitative input into the EU debate by discussing the issues and generating ideas for action themselves. This complemented and added to the information provided by traditional opinion polls, consultation processes with organised stakeholder groups etc.
ECC 2009 had 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.
The European Citizens’ Consultations were conducted by a unique consortium of more than 40 European partner oganisations, led by the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF), and co-funded by the European Commission under its “Debate Europe” programme, and foundations including the King Baudouin Foundation, Compagnia di San Paolo, the Robert Bosch Foundation, ING and funders at national level. They have been organised under the patronage of the European Parliament.
SAR was the project’s Romanian partner. Its activity, conjoined with the activity of the other 26 national partners, was supported by the aforementioned consortium of European organizations, which provided information and assistance with the project.