Direct citizen participation: a challenge or an added value to representative democracy?

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The AFCO Committee held a hearing on the issue of EU participatory and deliberative democracy mechanisms on 25 January based on a study by Alberto Alemanno, Jean Monnet Professor of European Law at HEC Paris. For any organisation dealing regularly with the EU or involved with training or European citizenship education, this study is required reading. The study brings together, for the first time, an analysis of the pros and cons of the different channels of communication citizens have to support their claims with the EU Institutions: access to documents; complaints, petitions, the European Ombudsman, consultations, citizens’ initiatives. The main theme is that despite reforms, insufficient use of these instruments reflects structural limitations: low level of user literacy; fragmentation of the participatory infrastructure; dependency on external cooperation to produce results; limited buy-in. The study recommends one reform which should be considered in the follow-up to the CoFoE and making its online platform permanent: creating a one-stop shop for access to the different channels. ECIT has come to a similar conclusion in the context of an Erasmus+ project called European Democracy Rally and is developing a tool to show how different possibilities such as complaints and petitions can be used in combination. The study by Alberto Alemanno is also recommending a permanent Citizens’ Assembly to oversee the use of these instruments and to put more life in them. In their responses, MEPs did show some doubts about this last proposal, but also a determination to make progress with European level democracy by bringing together its participatory and representative features.

To find out more, please take a look at Martina Rubino’s report below, or consult the European Parliament’s dedicated website to watch the whole debate and get more information about it.