Democratic reform instead of citizen-washing

2023 Dec 21st

On 12 December, the General Affairs Council stated that the “overwhelming majority of the conference proposals and measures [of the Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFE)] have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented”.

The Council, but equally so the European Parliament and the European Commission, are engaging in “citizen-washing”: the institutions spent more time and energy in claiming follow-up to the CoFE than actually implementing the citizens’ recommendations.

There are more dimensions to citizen washing.[1] The citizens have repeatedly called for transparency in follow-up. However, one crucial instrument of evaluation of the Conference process, the final report of the official evaluator of the Conference, the Democratic Society, has never been published.

And most importantly, while the institutions claim to have implemented an “overwhelming majority of proposals”, in reality a number of the most central proposals of the CoFE have silently disappeared.

The European Union institutions overlook the fact that the 49 recommendations are not all of the same weight in terms of implications for policy and institutional change. In fact, they fail to mention that some of the core concerns of the citizens with regard to EU democracy have been ignored. This includes the call for “Holding Citizens’ assemblies periodically, on the basis of legally binding EU law, hence turning the citizens’ panels into an institutionalized right (36.7). Also, the call for an EU-wide referendum (38.2) was part of the original report of the Parliament’s Commission of Constitutional Affairs, but has been deleted from the final resolution adopted by the Parliament on 22 November. Finally, the citizens’ wish to re-open the European constitutional debate (39.7) and give citizens a prominent role in the process has been replaced – once again – by a purely inter-institutional game.

Admittedly, the European Parliament has adopted a fair number of proposals for Treaty amendment and, for over a year, has called for a Convention. Hence, Citizens Take Over Europe (CTOE) – a coalition of more than 70 NGOs from all over Europe believes that it is high time that the core demands relating to EU democratisation are made central to the process of Treaty reform. This means that a future Convention should include robust forms of citizen and civil society participation. It should address the core citizen demand for an institutionalised Citizens’ Assembly (see also our CTOE proposal for a permanent European Citizens’ Assembly). And the call for an EU referendum should be reintroduced into the debate.

CTOE demands that the Council as well as the other institutions should ensure a proper, transparent and full implementation of citizen recommendations.

At a time when the European Union emphasises the importance of defending democracy, and in the run up to European elections where trust in the process is essential, it is vitally important that the EU is not hypocritical in its relations with citizens, and that it follows up in an accountable and meaningful way to the recommendations it has been given.


[1] Beyond the scope of the CoFE, but equally relevant for citizen participation in European democracy, is the lack of follow-up to successful European Citizens’ Initiatives.