European Citizens’ Assembly

European Citizens’ Assembly

In the light of the upcoming European elections of 2019 European capitals (and especially Brussels) are gripped by one fear in particular: will voter turnout continue its decline? Five years ago only 42,62% of the population cast their ballot, while in Slovakia only 13% decided to vote. This reflects a disconnection between citizens and the representatives of our people. Many ideas have emerged on how to increase participation, but most experts agree on the notion that the EU is perceived as distant and complicated. The odd headline-grabbing EU action often goes lost amid the vast avalanches of rhetoric coming from all sides, that portray “Brussels” as basically its own planet. This Cause aims at providing our European Union with a solution to this intractable problem.

Worth Knowing

Disconnection

Disconnection arises from many different but related reasons. We at Talos believe that it first arose out of the lack of understanding of the mechanisms and policies of our Union and by the absence of EU public relations campaigns about policies, citizens consultations and the failure to promote tools of direct participation that are already present.

Most secondary schools in the EU teach students the history of their country, its political system and election processes. After all, without this information, many would find themselves ignorant of how their own country works and would struggle to understand how impactful decisions are made. However, a similarly useful introduction into the EU is absent. In most schools, the EU is either only mentioned briefly during history lessons. At most its basic institutions e.g. the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council are mentioned.

While this may be true that decisions are made within these institutions, superficial teaching directly leads to the current lack of understanding of and interest in the EU. Many citizens are not even aware of the mission, composition and impact of their European Parliament.

Overall, the picture is disheartening. These problems are compounded by the use of simplistic communication techniques, such as the labelling of the EU, and everyone involved in it, as “Brussels”. Politicians and the media are both responsible for advancing these misleading and unhelpful labels. Such practices can lead to extremes outcomes.

A poll conducted by Medián in Hungary asked citizens what they fear the most. Interestingly, participants of the poll feared Brussels one and half times more than they did the EU. Hence, a great many people are simply not aware that Brussels is the equivalent of the EU. However, the foundational reason that leads citizens to abstain from casting their much-needed ballot is a lack of understanding of the EU and how it works.

The widespread perception that the EU doesn’t represent its citizens can also not be disregarded. The European Parliament currently consists of 751 MEPs, while according to Eurostat the current population of the Union as a whole is estimated to be 512 million.

Therefore, proportionally, one MEP represents 683 thousand people. In comparison, one MP in France represents 116 thousand, one in Germany 116 thousand, while in Hungary on does only represent 49 thousand. It seems that one MEP proportionally represents more people than any national MP would, but is there a difference with such high numbers?

Disconnection: an academic account

A more unusual but rather interesting analysis touching on the topic of disconnection was made by well-respected academic Giandomenico Majone who is an expert on regulatory governance within the EU. Majone argues that the EU is simply a regulatory state. It produces policy outcomes in areas in which decision-making has been delegated to the EU from member states, which is most notably true for the single market, and the harmonisation of health and safety rules and product standards. The EU simply regulates these areas, by achieving a Pareto efficient outcome, meaning, that some benefit, but nobody is made worse off. Following this reasoning, majoritarian decision-making would only produce outcomes, where the majority benefits, but the minority is made worse-off. Due to the regulatory character, the EU does not require a parliament. For these reasons, he defies the notion of a democratic deficit. Of course, this was a rather brief summary. If you are interested more in this topic we recommend you the read the following papers:

Giandomenico Majone: Europe’s ‘Democratic Deficit’: The Question of Standards (1998)

Giandomenico Majone: The rise of the regulatory state in Europe (2007)

Andreas Follesdal, Simon Hix: Why There is a Democratic Deficit in the EU: A
Response to Majone and Moravcsik (2006)

Disconnection: Talos' account

Talos is a firm believer in increasing the connection between citizens and institutions via direct participation in policy-making. We believe this initiative provides an innovative approach to tackling disconnection by bringing citizens directly to the table.

The idea itself has a predecessor which is currently used in Ireland. Tools of direct participation in EU policy-making already exist: the European Citizens’ Initiative or the European Parliamentary Initiative, allow citizens to submit ideas to the Commission or the Parliament respectively. Although these tools are available to all EU citizens, they are not very well known. The idea of a citizens’ assembly could be the ground-breaking mechanism we need to ensure the voice of the citizens is heard. To introduce the concept, let’s have a look at the Citizens’ Assembly of Ireland.

The Irish Citizens' Assembly

Established in 2016, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly is a body that discusses specific issues such as abortion law, ageing population, climate change, the procedure of referenda and fixed-term parliament. On each of these topics, the assembly invited submissions from the public and met for three days each month to listen to experts and deliberate about the agenda topic. The deliberations were broadcasted live and led to several democratically determined final reports. The reports by the citizens’ assembly carried much political weight and the government was obliged to respond to each of them.

In terms of the assembly’s makeup, it differed from its predecessor the “Constitutional Convention of Ireland” which was active from 2012 to 2016 and which initiated the referendum on same-sex marriage. The Constitutional Convention consisted of one chairperson, 33 members of Parliament and democratic parties and 66 randomly selected citizens. In contrast, the Citizens’ Assembly consists, except for the chairperson, only of ‘normal’ citizens, while the overall number of members did not change. The 99 citizens + 99 substitutes were citizens entitled to vote at a referendum in Ireland, randomly selected according to the representativeness criteria gender, age, location and social class. All citizens got refunded for their expenses. The total amount spent for the assembly amounted to about 1,5 million euros.

While most Irish people expressed broad approval of the citizens’ assembly, many have voiced doubts about its usefulness and legitimacy. Some described the assembly as a means to “kick the can down the road”, meaning that politicians push those issues on the assembly’s agenda that they don’t want to deal with, thus delaying political decisions and abdicating their responsibility. Also, when the citizens’ assembly proposed recommendations to the government, there was sometimes a lack of follow-up, especially in regards to the topic of climate change. Often, politicians tended to cherry-pick those recommendations they wanted to talk about, reducing the assembly’s effectiveness. Furthermore, the representativeness and competency of the citizens’ assembly was questioned. As assembly members have to commit to being present at every scheduled weekend, it is likely that the sample was biased towards those who do have time on the weekends and are willing to sacrifice their time to the political process. Besides the general doubt, if 99 citizens can represent the whole population, trust in the assembly was shaken when it emerged that seven assembly members were not randomly selected but instead friends of an employee of the company who did the polling.

Nevertheless, the citizens’ assembly received glowing reviews from the Irish public. It has recovered much of the trust in the political process that was lost during the financial crisis of 2008 when the Irish government had to request IMF assistance for saving its banks. Many viewed the citizens’ assembly as useful in itself since it often initiated public debates and influenced the views held in parliament. Participants’ ability to find solutions for controversial topics dunned politicians to deliberate with the same level of responsibility and respect. Through the experts that provided impartial information to the members of the citizens’ assembly, scientific knowledge was made accessible to everyone and streamed into parliament and society more broadly. Overall, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, messy as its beginnings may have been, was seen to reinvigorate democracy.

The European Citizens' Assembly

To foster direct participation in EU policy-making processes, the proponents of a European Citizens’ Assembly argue for a body similar to the Irish Citizens Assembly.

A certain number of EU citizens would be selected randomly on yearly basis to attend meetings. Recommendations and meetings are based on briefings prepared by personnel of European institutions, business and civil society.

While the issues of representativeness and effectiveness remain, Belgian author, van Reybrouck judges a European Citizens Assembly to be necessary for countering populism and reestablishing trust. It could establish a true dialogue between European publics.

What do you think?

Drive change on Talos

Cause We need a European Citizens’ Assembly with randomized selection to reconnect us Citizens to the EU!
Launcher Tobias Kopf

Hey there, if you agree with some of our points in this article we would like to invite you to look at the initiative launched on Talos to propose the European Citizens’ Assembly to the EU. As you have read this article, you are likely to agree that there is a need to improve direct participation of citizens in our union. Your specific suggestions may differ, but by signing the proposal we could ask the EU to discuss the matter, and openly consider all options. Also, please feel free to contact us through the comment section or the various social media sites to make your voice heard. We are keen on adopting new points!

Read more

The Irish Times (Why Ireland’s citizens’ assembly is a model for Europe)

European Citizens’ Assembly

In the light of the upcoming European elections of 2019 European capitals (and especially Brussels) are gripped by one fear in particular: will voter turnout continue its decline? Five years ago only 42,62% of the population cast their ballot, while in Slovakia only 13% decided to vote. This reflects a disconnection between citizens and the representatives of our people. Many ideas have emerged on how to increase participation, but most experts agree on the notion that the EU is perceived as distant and complicated. The odd headline-grabbing EU action often goes lost amid the vast avalanches of rhetoric coming from all sides, that portray “Brussels” as basically its own planet. This Cause aims at providing our European Union with a solution to this intractable problem.

Worth Knowing

Disconnection

Disconnection arises from many different but related reasons. We at Talos believe that it first arose out of the lack of understanding of the mechanisms and policies of our Union and by the absence of EU public relations campaigns about policies, citizens consultations and the failure to promote tools of direct participation that are already present.

Most secondary schools in the EU teach students the history of their country, its political system and election processes. After all, without this information, many would find themselves ignorant of how their own country works and would struggle to understand how impactful decisions are made. However, a similarly useful introduction into the EU is absent. In most schools, the EU is either only mentioned briefly during history lessons. At most its basic institutions e.g. the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council are mentioned.

While this may be true that decisions are made within these institutions, superficial teaching directly leads to the current lack of understanding of and interest in the EU. Many citizens are not even aware of the mission, composition and impact of their European Parliament.

Overall, the picture is disheartening. These problems are compounded by the use of simplistic communication techniques, such as the labelling of the EU, and everyone involved in it, as “Brussels”. Politicians and the media are both responsible for advancing these misleading and unhelpful labels. Such practices can lead to extremes outcomes.

A poll conducted by Medián in Hungary asked citizens what they fear the most. Interestingly, participants of the poll feared Brussels one and half times more than they did the EU. Hence, a great many people are simply not aware that Brussels is the equivalent of the EU. However, the foundational reason that leads citizens to abstain from casting their much-needed ballot is a lack of understanding of the EU and how it works.

The widespread perception that the EU doesn’t represent its citizens can also not be disregarded. The European Parliament currently consists of 751 MEPs, while according to Eurostat the current population of the Union as a whole is estimated to be 512 million.

Therefore, proportionally, one MEP represents 683 thousand people. In comparison, one MP in France represents 116 thousand, one in Germany 116 thousand, while in Hungary on does only represent 49 thousand. It seems that one MEP proportionally represents more people than any national MP would, but is there a difference with such high numbers?

Disconnection: an academic account

A more unusual but rather interesting analysis touching on the topic of disconnection was made by well-respected academic Giandomenico Majone who is an expert on regulatory governance within the EU. Majone argues that the EU is simply a regulatory state. It produces policy outcomes in areas in which decision-making has been delegated to the EU from member states, which is most notably true for the single market, and the harmonisation of health and safety rules and product standards. The EU simply regulates these areas, by achieving a Pareto efficient outcome, meaning, that some benefit, but nobody is made worse off. Following this reasoning, majoritarian decision-making would only produce outcomes, where the majority benefits, but the minority is made worse-off. Due to the regulatory character, the EU does not require a parliament. For these reasons, he defies the notion of a democratic deficit. Of course, this was a rather brief summary. If you are interested more in this topic we recommend you the read the following papers:

Giandomenico Majone: Europe’s ‘Democratic Deficit’: The Question of Standards (1998)

Giandomenico Majone: The rise of the regulatory state in Europe (2007)

Andreas Follesdal, Simon Hix: Why There is a Democratic Deficit in the EU: A
Response to Majone and Moravcsik (2006)

Disconnection: Talos' account

Talos is a firm believer in increasing the connection between citizens and institutions via direct participation in policy-making. We believe this initiative provides an innovative approach to tackling disconnection by bringing citizens directly to the table.

The idea itself has a predecessor which is currently used in Ireland. Tools of direct participation in EU policy-making already exist: the European Citizens’ Initiative or the European Parliamentary Initiative, allow citizens to submit ideas to the Commission or the Parliament respectively. Although these tools are available to all EU citizens, they are not very well known. The idea of a citizens’ assembly could be the ground-breaking mechanism we need to ensure the voice of the citizens is heard. To introduce the concept, let’s have a look at the Citizens’ Assembly of Ireland.

The Irish Citizens' Assembly

Established in 2016, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly is a body that discusses specific issues such as abortion law, ageing population, climate change, the procedure of referenda and fixed-term parliament. On each of these topics, the assembly invited submissions from the public and met for three days each month to listen to experts and deliberate about the agenda topic. The deliberations were broadcasted live and led to several democratically determined final reports. The reports by the citizens’ assembly carried much political weight and the government was obliged to respond to each of them.

In terms of the assembly’s makeup, it differed from its predecessor the “Constitutional Convention of Ireland” which was active from 2012 to 2016 and which initiated the referendum on same-sex marriage. The Constitutional Convention consisted of one chairperson, 33 members of Parliament and democratic parties and 66 randomly selected citizens. In contrast, the Citizens’ Assembly consists, except for the chairperson, only of ‘normal’ citizens, while the overall number of members did not change. The 99 citizens + 99 substitutes were citizens entitled to vote at a referendum in Ireland, randomly selected according to the representativeness criteria gender, age, location and social class. All citizens got refunded for their expenses. The total amount spent for the assembly amounted to about 1,5 million euros.

While most Irish people expressed broad approval of the citizens’ assembly, many have voiced doubts about its usefulness and legitimacy. Some described the assembly as a means to “kick the can down the road”, meaning that politicians push those issues on the assembly’s agenda that they don’t want to deal with, thus delaying political decisions and abdicating their responsibility. Also, when the citizens’ assembly proposed recommendations to the government, there was sometimes a lack of follow-up, especially in regards to the topic of climate change. Often, politicians tended to cherry-pick those recommendations they wanted to talk about, reducing the assembly’s effectiveness. Furthermore, the representativeness and competency of the citizens’ assembly was questioned. As assembly members have to commit to being present at every scheduled weekend, it is likely that the sample was biased towards those who do have time on the weekends and are willing to sacrifice their time to the political process. Besides the general doubt, if 99 citizens can represent the whole population, trust in the assembly was shaken when it emerged that seven assembly members were not randomly selected but instead friends of an employee of the company who did the polling.

Nevertheless, the citizens’ assembly received glowing reviews from the Irish public. It has recovered much of the trust in the political process that was lost during the financial crisis of 2008 when the Irish government had to request IMF assistance for saving its banks. Many viewed the citizens’ assembly as useful in itself since it often initiated public debates and influenced the views held in parliament. Participants’ ability to find solutions for controversial topics dunned politicians to deliberate with the same level of responsibility and respect. Through the experts that provided impartial information to the members of the citizens’ assembly, scientific knowledge was made accessible to everyone and streamed into parliament and society more broadly. Overall, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, messy as its beginnings may have been, was seen to reinvigorate democracy.

The European Citizens' Assembly

To foster direct participation in EU policy-making processes, the proponents of a European Citizens’ Assembly argue for a body similar to the Irish Citizens Assembly.

A certain number of EU citizens would be selected randomly on yearly basis to attend meetings. Recommendations and meetings are based on briefings prepared by personnel of European institutions, business and civil society.

While the issues of representativeness and effectiveness remain, Belgian author, van Reybrouck judges a European Citizens Assembly to be necessary for countering populism and reestablishing trust. It could establish a true dialogue between European publics.

What do you think?

Drive change on Talos

Cause We need a European Citizens’ Assembly with randomized selection to reconnect us Citizens to the EU!
Launcher Tobias Kopf

Hey there, if you agree with some of our points in this article we would like to invite you to look at the initiative launched on Talos to propose the European Citizens’ Assembly to the EU. As you have read this article, you are likely to agree that there is a need to improve direct participation of citizens in our union. Your specific suggestions may differ, but by signing the proposal we could ask the EU to discuss the matter, and openly consider all options. Also, please feel free to contact us through the comment section or the various social media sites to make your voice heard. We are keen on adopting new points!

Read more

The Irish Times (Why Ireland’s citizens’ assembly is a model for Europe)