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2023 | OriginalPaper | Buchkapitel

2. EU Citizen Participation ‘in the Union’s Democratic Life’: A Policy and Legal Analysis

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Abstract

There is a striking paradox in EU democracy. The EU is the first jurisdiction to expressly embrace participation as an autonomous, complementary, source of legitimacy. Yet its day-to-day operations remain broadly closed to participation. By building on the extensive scholarship on democracy in the EU, this chapter evaluates the state of EU participatory democracy a decade after its inclusion in the EU treaties, by shedding some light on both its normative and practical realities. Section 2 briefly reconstructs the genesis and evolution of participatory democracy in the EU. Section 3 maps out and systematizes the many participatory mechanisms available to EU citizens—from petitions to the EU Parliament, complaints to the European Ombudsman, to European Citizens’ Initiatives—and illustrates how participatory democracy has been elevated to become one of the foundations of democracy in the EU. Section 4 examines the realities of participation by unveiling how current practices are characterized by unequal access, limited representativeness, and ultimately the disparate influence of participants. Section 5 puts forward some recommendations on how to unleash the democratic potential of EU participatory democracy in light of the Conference on the Future of Europe, an unprecedented, institutionally short-lived democratic exercise, but whose consequences should not be underestimated.

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Fußnoten
1
The European Parliament’s Post-Election Eurobarometer in September 2019 unveiled a positive mutual dynamic, whereby a greater motivation and sense of empowerment among EU citizens helped increase voter turnout, which then in turn reinforces the sense of empowerment.
 
2
Article 10(3) TEU (“Every citizen shall have the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union”).
 
3
On whether participation results in increased democratic legitimacy, see Acar Kutay (2015, pp. 803–818).
 
4
For a detailed, historical reconstruction of the EU participatory practices and rationale, see J. Mendes (2011).
 
5
On whether such a right of participation is limited to EU citizens, see Annette Schrauwen (2008)
 
6
JP Mueller argues that insulation from popular pressures and, more broadly, a deep distrust of popular sovereignty, underlay not just the beginnings of European integration, but the political reconstruction of Western Europe after 1945 in general (Mueller, 2016).
 
7
Article 6(1) TEU as amended by the Amsterdam Treaty.
 
8
In the draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TECE), presented to the European Council in Thessaloniki on 20 June 2003 this was originally titled ‘The Democratic Life of the Union’ (Closa, 2007).
 
9
In normative theory, participatory democracy involves the multiplication of opportunities for citizens’ participation beyond elections (Della Porta, 2012).
 
10
In Schönberger, where it recognized the right to petition as an ‘instrument of participation of citizens to the European Union democratic life. It is one of the channels for direct dialogue between Union citizens and their representatives’. Case C-261/13 P, Schönberger v. European Parliament, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2423.
 
11
Besides these formal mechanisms of participation, there exists more channels of communication that are available to EU citizens, such as letters and complaints that can be addressed to the EU institutions and bodies any time, and that have not been formalised under EU primary or secondary law.
 
12
Since the Lisbon Treaty, the Union derives its democratic legitimacy not only from representative democracy—which remains its founding democratic principle (German Constitutional Court in its judgement of June 30, 2009, BVerfG, 2 be 2/08)—but also from participatory democracy (Kutay, 2015, p. 814).
 
13
Approximately 63% of EU citizens have little or no knowledge of their EU rights (Standard Eurobarometer 89, 2018).
 
14
One of the most notable exceptions was the response to the consultation on the functioning of the existing EU summertime arrangements in July 2018. It received more than 4.6 million responses, mostly from citizens but mainly from Germany whose participation rate as a country was approximately 4% of its entire population (European Commission, 2021).
 
15
See https://​futureu.​europa.​eu/​, the digital platform acting as the hub of the Conference.
 
16
‘Ban Glyphosate and Protect People and the Environment from Toxic Pesticides’ was the fourth European Citizens’ Initiative to have met the requirements set out in Regulation (EU) No. 211/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Citizens’ Initiative.
 
17
See Commission Regulation 2017/2324 of December 12, 2017, renewing the approval of the active substance glyphosate in accordance with Commission Regulation 1107/2009, O.J. (L 309), and amending annex to Implementing Regulation 540/2011 O.J. (L 153).
 
18
The purpose of the Conference is, according to the March 2021 Joint Declaration, to ‘open a new space for debate with citizens to address Europe’s challenges and priorities’.
 
19
See on this point Federico Fabbrini who qualifies the Conference on the Future of Europe as an ‘out-of-the-box initiative’ analogous to the Conference of Messina and the Convention on the Future of Europe (Fabbrini, 2021). One may also add the 1952 Ad Hoc Assembly tasked to work out the text of the never-ratified European Political Community (EPC).
 
20
The Council clearly stated that ‘the Conference does not fall within the scope of Article 48 TEU’ in order to rule out Treaty reform.
 
21
The 2001–2003 Convention on the Future of Europe, modelled on the prior successful experiment of the Convention that drafted a Charter of Fundamental Rights, was also preparatory in nature, but was constitutionally bound being institutionally tied to Treaty Reform.
 
22
Joint Declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe, 2020.
 
23
The G1000 emerged as a Belgian crowd-funded citizens’ assembly initiative, founded as a result of a manifesto published in five national newspapers in 2011, and run by volunteers. It took a multi-level—local, regional, and national—approach to citizen assemblies, with the aim of providing recommendations on economic and sociopolitical themes in Belgium during the government crisis (2011–2012). The assembly’s final report listed a number of recommendations aimed at various audiences, including parliamentary commissions, local and provincial governments, regional and federal parliaments and governments, political parties, social partners, citizens, the European Union, and the Council of Europe.
 
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Metadaten
Titel
EU Citizen Participation ‘in the Union’s Democratic Life’: A Policy and Legal Analysis
verfasst von
Alberto Alemanno
Copyright-Jahr
2023
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-12338-2_2

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