Citizens Take Over Europe statement on the European Citizens’ Panels
On Sunday 12 February 2023, the second generation of the European Citizens’ Panels (ECP) concluded its work on the topic of food waste.
The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) allowed for new forms of European deliberative democracy, above all, the introduction of the ECPs to allow ‘ordinary citizens’ to have a say on the future of Europe.
The continuation of the ECPs is a highly welcome step in bringing citizens closer to EU decision-making processes, and it is the most clear and concrete follow up to a Conference proposal since the Conference concluded on 9 May 2022. However, the implementation of the new generation of ECPs largely has had the same pitfalls as the previous rounds.
Members of the Citizens Take Over Europe coalition have observed the ECP on food waste. Based on our 10+1 guidelines for EU citizens’ assemblies, the current generation of the ECPs have not been adapted to the lessons learned. We observe the following critiques and recommend the following changes:
- Lack of a public sphere perspective. As in the case of the CoFoE, the ECPs were designed as a bubble that had no feedback loop with ongoing public debates. Beyond the small community of people following the citizen panels, there was little public attention to it nor debate about it. Thus, the citizen panel did not contribute to expanding the EU debate on food waste.
- Topic selection was top-down. Instead, it should be chosen by or with citizens themselves, such as on successful European citizens’ initiatives. The topic appears to have been selected on the basis of what policy dossiers were at the ‘right’ policy stage, rather than on topics that are in the public debate. While this might be an argument to put ‘food waste’ on the political agenda, it missed the mark.
- Expert selection process. The ‘knowledge committee’ that informed the process was set up by the same institution that is supposed to follow up on the outcome. In consequence, most of the experts that provided input were broadly aligned with the European Commission’s initial point of view. The outcome of the recommendations is highly coherent with the ‘individual responsibility’ framing of food waste put forward by the Commission during the first session, and thus a more systemic understanding of the issue was sidelined.
- Deliberation process does not allow for much contestation or debate, and all input and expertise is complementary. Instead, experts should introduce pro/con arguments or experts with diversified views should be offered. Participants could also be introduced to the views of European political groups on food waste.
- Inclusion of underrepresented groups. To ensure the voices of vulnerable groups are heard, a greater reach-out via NGOs that work with such groups is needed. Additionally, further criteria to include members of marginalized communities could be implemented in the recruitment process.
- The ‘knowledge committee’ filtered what the role of civil society was. The ‘civil society’ actors that were invited as experts provided participants with input oriented towards the Commission proposal, focused on the ‘individual responsibility’ of consumers. For instance, one of the ‘civil society’ actors that participated as experts suggested during the first day of the panel that consumers should go to stores with ‘shopping lists’ to avoid buying more things than they need. Hence, civil society that might provide more contestatory ideas to the Commission were absent from the process.
- Much of the debate was on campaigns to ‘raise awareness’ on food waste, rather than on setting targets, which is what the Commission is actually legislating on. In this sense, for instance there was a recent statement by a coalition of NGOs that was not introduced, nor these NGOs were invited to provide feedback (only WWF was invited on Friday of the first session, but they were unable to make it at the end).
The next rounds of European citizens’ panels on the topics of virtual worlds and learning mobility will take place in February and March 2023. Unfortunately this quick turnaround between panels does not allow for a proper learning phase so that new methods can be applied and implemented. There is a wealth of lessons and knowledge from the first generation of European Citizens’ Panels as well as lessons from around the world that could contribute to better embed citizen participation mechanisms in public debates.