Representation and participation: two faces of a strong democracy

07 February 2022 | Future of Europe


As the third COFOE plenary took place end of January, we want to draw on and amplify some key takeaways from the citizens panels, namely that the EU must change in order to deliver social, economic, environmental and democratic integration! That policies should be people-centred and people-powered!

Putting people in the driving seat of such a transformation requires institutions creating the conditions and the channels for people to exercise their citizenship, not only individually, but also collectively, at all levels of policy making.
Direct democracy is often seen by institutions as competing with representative democracy, or replacing the participation of civil society and social partners in policy making. We believe that these three pillars of democracy are complementary and should be each strengthened both at EU and national level:
– we must strengthen the role of parliaments, as main spaces for democratic debate and decisions
– we should create permanent spaces for deliberation with citizens on major choices that EU takes for its present, not only for its future
– we must provide space for citizens associations and organisations to participate in the full cycle of policy making

As representative democracy relies on political parties, collective organizing is crucial to participatory democracy to leverage people’s voice and make it heard by the decision-makers. Democracy is strengthened when people organise in associations, charities, trade unions, to engage in community life, help other people, protect their rights, watch institutions and hold them to account.

At least 1 out of 5 Europeans engage or volunteer in associations in Europe – that is over 100 million people!
20% of French, 32% of Germans, 8% of Italians, 22% Latvians, 3% of Spanish! CSOs are the 3rd largest employer in Europe. 10% of the work force in private sector in France and Germany!

These are considerable forces in Europe that believe in and enact solidarity, equality and inclusion, that strive every day to ensure no one is left behind.

Yet, too many governments disregard, or fear independently organised civil society. The European institutions often neglect its role as relevant mediator between the individual and the state, as key player between the states and the market.
The French EU Presidency has the responsibility to conclude the COFOE and make sure that these recommendations of citizens, civil society and social partners are taken seriously and followed-up with concrete and immediate action and policy proposals.

We don’t need treaty change for civil dialogue to happen, we have a legal base in the EU Treaty, article 11 that poses an obligation for institutions to maintain “an open, transparent and regular dialogue with civil society and representative associations”. We have some good and bad institutional practices. What we need now is a structured framework for civil dialogue – a charter, an inter-institutional agreement to guide the institutions to interact in an efficient manner with civil society all along the policy cycle.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”” align=”center”][/vc_column][/vc_row]