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Florence School of Transnational Governance

Calling all MEPs: Support Europe’s Democratic Wave!

The Democratic Odyssey has aligned with an open letter to candidate Members of the European Parliament, stressing the vital role of citizen participation in bolstering democratic values within the EU.

10 May 2024

4 EU crisis

The letter urges elected MEPs to prioritise citizen empowerment in policy-making, strengthen democratic instruments, and enhance transparency and engagement within the EU.

The open letter:

Dear candidate Members of the European Parliament,

You are running for a seat in the European Parliament at a time of great democratic challenges. Increasingly, core democratic principles and values are being challenged from outside the Union, but also from the inside, with parties openly calling for a roll-back of democratic rights and values gaining strength. Safeguarding the integrity of elections and the accessibility to reliable and trustworthy news media are undisputable cornerstones of our democracies, but they are simply not enough. There will be no vibrant, engaged and resilient democracies if the period between elections is marked by “civic droughts”. Citizens should be more closely and qualitatively involved in politics, also at the European level. This is urgently needed to make our democracies more resilient and robust to anti-democratic challenges. We jointly call upon you, if elected, to commit yourself to showing democratic leadership in supporting reforms that will put citizens at the forefront of policy-making in the European Union.

The European institutions have taken strong steps in the past mandate to initiate or re-invigorate citizen participation processes, but much still needs to be done. The Conference on the Future of Europe, with its 4 panels, each consisting of 200 randomly selected citizens, has shown that a representative sample of citizens can develop high-quality recommendations on European policy. The subsequent Citizens’ Panels confirmed this on topics ranging from energy efficiency to hate speech, proving that citizens can discuss both highly technical topics as well as normatively difficult subjects. The increase in submissions for a European Citizens’ Initiative, where 1.000.000 Europeans sign a request for the European Commission to act on a topic, shows that there is a large appetite among citizens to get involved. In 2023, the European Parliament demonstrated its ambition with a resolution on citizen engagement. It is now your time to uphold this commitment during the coming legislature to forge a stronger democratic Europe.

Building on the progress made in the last few years, citizen participation needs to level up from “nice to have” to “essential” in the development of European policies. This entails increasing the ways in which citizens can get involved in the political life of the Union and guaranteeing the highest quality of those processes. In contrast with our electoral procedure, we have limited recognised standards for most participation forms. While this leaves a lot of freedom for policymakers to be creative in how they engage citizens, it also opens the door to poor participation processes, resulting in citizen-washing. That is, anti-democratic politicians instrumentalise “citizen participation” to claim their decisions are “validated by citizens”. Since citizen participation has become more prominent in policy-making, the EU should become a standard bearer of participation methods. Quality criteria from the Council of Europe and the OECD exist for deliberative processes and can be seen as an excellent starting point.

Consequential citizen participation requires resources, both in capacity and know-how, as well as in financial means. Governments do not expect trustworthy results from scarcely funded elections. Similarly, we can only achieve democratic renewal through well-resourced citizen engagement processes. While we have seen a number of high-quality citizen participation processes in Europe, such as the “Convention Citoyenne sur la fin de vie” in France or the Irish Citizens’ Assemblies, these required relevant investments from their respective governments. We need to avoid a Europe where the level and quality of engagement of a person’s commitment depends on the resources available at their residence. The European Parliament should advocate for enough funding so qualitative citizen engagement can also be delivered. An inspiration can be drawn from the campaign for a Democratic Action Fund.

Finally, we call for establishing a parliamentary intergroup on European Democracy for the next mandate. Intergroups are informal meeting grounds for EP members from different parties to exchange on a topic they find of utmost importance. The fact that among all existing intergroups, there is none devoted to democracy is a lacuna that needs to be solved. Creating this intergroup would not only send a strong symbolic message, it would also allow MEPs to exchange views on other important democratic issues alongside participation, such as transparency, disinformation and the rule of law. Their membership would also signal the importance of standing up against democratic backsliding.

European civil society and democracy NGOs all over Europe endorse the initiative taken by Democracy International and FIDE. We urge you to support our campaign and commit to the following when elected to the European Parliament:

  • empowering the European Parliament to advocate for citizen participation processes supported inter-institutionally, engaging parliaments of the Member States where needed.
  • advocate to strengthen the existing democratic instruments the EU has to engage its citizens, such as the European Citizens’ Initiative and the European Citizens’ Panels, to give them a greater political impact on EU policy-making
  • give the European Parliament a leading role as a standard bearer for the use of strong international quality standards and sufficient resources for citizen participation processes
  • support the establishment of the first-ever parliamentary intergroup on European democracy for the 2024-2029 mandate, recognizing its role as a platform for collaborative dialogue and addressing the aforementioned proposals.


Last update: 10 May 2024

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