The European Citizens’ Consultations (ECCs) were a project aiming to engage citizens in a consultation about what Europe meant to them. It was formed of two strands; an online survey about the future of Europe, and a series of national consultation events organised by national governments and other organisations like NGOs, think tanks, and academic institutions. This was a new experiment to give European citizens the possibility to express and exchange their opinions about the Union and its future.
This project was the result of an idea initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron. Following his successful election, and with the support of the EU commission, his idea gained the buy-in of 27 member states of the EU, not including the UK.
A citizens’ panel was created to draft an online questionnaire, searching for citizens’ top-of-mind opinions on the future of Europe. This has run alongside a series offline sessions with groups of citizens across the 27 nations.
It was decided within a short timeframe, which limited the possibility for extensive planning and preparation. So, far from being a fully-fledged instrument to encourage public engagement with European affairs, the ECCs can be better understood as an experiment whose merits and future prospects can only be judged appropriately once the consultations have actually been conducted.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
This was the most wide-scale citizens’ consultation project in Europe, involving 27 of the member states and using a new form of development.
For the consultation events, nation states signed up to the ‘flexibility’ principle, which gave national governments freedom to organise consultations in whatever way they wanted, and showed the diversity of experience.
The survey on the future of Europe was developed via a Citizens’ Assembly by a representative group of EU residents – allowing citizens to not only engage with this project but fundamentally shape it. So far, over 65,000 citizens, from every participating country, have responded.
The originality of this process meant it worked better in some places than others, and delivered a wide range of results. In some countries, like France, over 1,000 events took place; in Germany there were around 100, and everywhere else in the EU there were less than that. On the other hand, it meant that the results avoided pre-defined principles and ideas.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The online survey on the future of Europe was designed by a representative group of EU citizens, through a Citizens’ Panel held in Brussels. This was organised by the EU Commission, the European Committee of the Regions and civil society organisations, including Democratic Society. The consultation events were run by the national governments of member states, in some cases in collaboration with civil society organisations in these countries. The concept for the project as a whole was inspired by the French President Emmanuel Macron.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The primary stakeholders in this project were the citizens who were given a chance to voice their thoughts, ideas and opinions on not only national issues but also those at the EU level. However, national governments and the EU also benefited from this, by hearing directly from citizens, and using the process to build further trust with them. In so far as this project was a piece of research, civil society organisations benefitted by seeing EU-wide citizen engagement in practice.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Whilst the project will not be complete until May 2019, there is a set of preliminary findings. However, national flexibility in implementing the ECCs has required flexibility in carrying out the research and analysis.
The European Policy Centre and Democratic Society have released an evaluation report of the process so far, including lessons learnt and a set of sixteen recommendations to capitalise on the current round of ECCs as well as maximise the success of similar work in the future.
When the online consultations have finished, it will be easier to measure and analyse the results as they are all responses to the same set of questions, many multiple choice – as of now no results have been made public.
Challenges and Failures
The first main challenge has been around communication. There needs to be strong advertisement of the process as it cannot fulfil its potential if there is low public awareness. There was also disconnect between the events taking place in each country and the central project, which made peer to peer learning during the project difficult.
Additionally, it was challenging to find a balance between focusing on national issues and EU level issues, to properly inform and engage citizens.
For the online survey and the national events, no demographic data was collected, so it is impossible to understand the representativeness of the participants.
Moreover, there is no direct feedback loop, so it is unclear what impact these consultations will have on anything.
This was an ambitious project to consult citizens across 27 member states in a meaningful way. In the adjustments and localisation in each country, and differences in the investments in this project by each member state, many key insights and best practices have emerged. In a next round, with a better balance between national autonomy and concerted approach, the ECC results can become be more robust and comparable.
Conditions for Success
• Supportive policy and regulatory environment
• Supportive culture and attitudes within institutions
• A values base that drives those cultures and values
• Strategic buy in from stakeholders who will drive the agenda and provide permission and encouragement
• To identify appropriate methods and standards
• Relevant skills and learning opportunities for those in institution, which can translate into a community of practice
• The tools, such as platforms
• Training and support for participants
• Citizen-centric design, towards a consciousness of circumstances that might hinder participation from individual
• Communication and information
• Capacity to deliver and deploy
The ECCs have not yet been replicated, and the project has not been fully completed. European Commission representatives have however been carefully positive about replicating this initiative, with adjustments. There is ample opportunity to recreate this model of engagement in the future, the lessons learnt and recommendations made so far are all easily applied to a project of this scale in the future. In general, the concepts are those that ring true for a citizen engagement project on any scale but given how ambitious and far reaching this one was it is not surprising that it did not run perfecting the first time. There should be efforts made to capitalise on this project in the time following its completion by using the awareness of citizen participation to encourage more projects with similar goals. The trust and interest built with the active citizens that have been involved so far can be used in other consultations at local, national or regional level.
For this round of ECCs:
• Member states and the Commission should ensure that the summary reports provide a detailed account of the consultations and are made public.
• Organisers of national consultations should use the momentum of the forthcoming European Parliament elections to strengthen the public debate, and the European Commission should invest more effort in promoting the questionnaire.
• The European Council should set a clear timeframe for the new leadership to follow up on reports, and EP candidates and civil society should ensure that attention is paid to the results.
• The current Commission should pass on the conclusions to the next Commission.
For future rounds of ECCs:
• The purpose of the exercise and its connection to the European level should be made clear.
• Citizens should be informed from the start about how the outcomes of the consultations will be used.
• The transnational dimension of the consultations should be enhanced.
• Organisers should make use of existing models of citizens’ participation.
• There should be a good balance between a common format and diverse national practices.
• National discussions should include issues that currently feature on the EU policy agenda.
• There should be a public synthesis of results, which should include independent voices.
• Another Citizens’ Panel should be held, with adjustments, as it did generate valuable insights and awareness of citizens’ concerns.
9 April 2018