10 + 1 Guidelines for EU Citizens’ Assemblies

10 + 1 Guidelines for EU Citizens’ Assemblies

Over the past years, deliberative citizens’ assemblies selected by lot have increased their popularity and impact around the world. If introduced at European Union level, and aimed at developing recommendations on EU policy issues such first ever transnational citizens’ assemblies would be groundbreaking in advancing EU democratic reform. The Citizens Take Over Europe coalition recognizes the political urgency and democratic potential of such innovations of EU governance. We therefore call for the introduction of European citizens’ assemblies as a regular and permanent body for popular policy deliberation. In order for EU level citizens’ assemblies to work as an effective tool in further democratising EU decision-making, we have thoroughly examined preexisting exercises of deliberative democracy. The following 10 + 1 guidelines are based on best practices and lessons learned from national and local citizens’ assemblies across Europe. They have been designed in collaboration with leading experts. At present, these guidelines shall instruct the Conference on the Future of Europe on how to create the first experimental space for transnational citizens’ assemblies. But they are designed for future EU citizens’ assemblies as well.

1. Participatory prerequisites 

Strong participatory instruments are  a prerequisite for a democratic citizens’ assembly. Composed as a microcosm of the EU population with people selected by lot, the assembly workings must be participatory and allow all members to have a say, with proper professional moderation during the deliberative rounds. The assembly must fit the EU participatory pillar and connect to the existing tools of EU participatory democracy, for instance by deliberating on successful European citizens’ initiatives. 

The scope and structure of the citizens’ assembly should be designed in a participatory manner by the members of the assembly, starting with the first assembly meeting that will draft and adopt its rules of procedure and set its agenda.

Additional participatory instruments such as the possibility to submit online proposals  to the assembly on relevant topics should be included in order to facilitate the engagement of all citizens. Information about opportunities to get involved and participate in the citizens’ assembly proceedings must be attractive and accessible to ordinary citizens. 

2. Inclusive selection 

Members of a citizens’ assembly should be selected by lot in order to give all citizens and residents of Europe the same chance to be included. Lot based selection should  make the group of participants as representative of Europe’s diversity as possible. The recruitment through a civic lottery should follow a two-step selection process that includes stratification: First, a sufficiently large number of randomly selected citizens in the EU should receive an invitation to participate in the assembly. The invitations should reach citizens and residents in an unbiased way, e.g. through phone calls on random numbers, letter invitations to random households, or on-door recruitments at random addresses. Second, only a subset of individuals from those who respond positively to the initial invitation should be accepted as participants. This selection is designed to meet socio-demographic quotas, ensuring a representative cross-section of society. The relevant criteria for the quotas could include, but are not limited to: age, gender, ethnicity, religion, education, socio-economic status, EU member country of origin, urban or rural background, as well as behavioral or attitudinal aspects relevant to the context of the specific assembly’s agenda. Moreover, also different attitudes towards the EU, ranging from very positive to very negative, should be reflected in the sample in order to avoid one-sidedness. 

This two-step selection procedure is designed to actively encourage Individuals to participate in the assembly and thereby to minimise self-selection biases. Adequate remuneration should be offered to compensate for their time, as well as reimbursement of  expenses for travelling and accommodation in the case of a physical meetings and, if needed, for childcare. It will be necessary to actively follow up with invitees and to take extra care of socially vulnerable individuals by offering  additional support, such as by reserving 10% of seats for marginalized individuals and non-voters.

3. Impactful outcomes 

Citizens’ assemblies must be designed such that their outcomes will have clear impacts on EU policy-making. Before  the start of the citizens’ assembly, the EU institutions should commit themselves to an effective follow-up mechanism with respect to the resolutions adopted by the assembly. This requires the citizens’ assembly to discuss real EU policy issues and develop solutions  that are decided by the citizens themselves. 

If the citizens’ assembly becomes merely a consultative project that plays only a symbolic role without any policy impacts, this will be detrimental to the objective of involving citizens in governing Europe’s future. This would likely lead to further popular disenchantment with the European project. Therefore, it must be clear from the outset  that the citizens‘ assemblies are designed to meet after their recommendations have been turned over to the EU institutions and to check whether and how EU policy-makers have translated them into EU legislation. Such follow-up procedures will  raise public awareness and expectations towards the EU institutions, as a prerequisite for legislative and, if necessary, also legal follow-up.   

4. Bottom-up agenda setting  

The citizens’ assembly with its mechanisms for participation, inclusiveness and legislative follow-up and, especially, procedures for agenda setting, should be designed to reflect the concerns, suggestions and ideas from the complete spectrum of European society – from EU sceptics to friends of the EU. Across Europe, ordinary citizens should be invited to voice the most pressing and relevant topics concerning the EU and its future. This bottom-up design of the agenda setting process starts with a first phase that should be open to all citizens to voice their most pressing problems. The citizens’ assembly will then proceed to set the agenda by identifying the topics of highest relevance to European society. The EU institutions will not have the right to limit the range of topics. The citizens assembly should be ensured that their members have the freedom to come up with innovations. A digital deliberative crowdsourcing infrastructure could be put in place to build consensus on the priorities of the assembly’s work.

Albeit composed of only a few hundred citizens, the citizens assembly would stay connected with the broader society and ordinary citizens in all regions and member states. Moreover, over its whole duration it will interact also with the EU institutions. The legitimacy of the EU citizens’ assembly thus largely depends on its bottom-up procedures of agenda setting,  and its connectedness with the general public as well as with the EU institutions.

5. Deliberative methods

Deliberations should be informed discussions that allow for a wide range of viewpoints to nuance discourse and find common ground on which to draft the citizens’ assemblies’ recommendations. For each topic discussed, information sessions led by thematic experts are of vital importance to ensure that all participants have sufficient information that represent various perspectives. It also requires establishing a space in which participants feel safe to intervene and have the opportunity to speak, a mix of formats that alternates between small group discussions and larger plenaries, and skilled facilitation to ensure that participants feel heard. There is also the vital question of allowing for sufficient time so that participants can learn, deliberations can develop, and that the multiplicity of viewpoints can be expressed and considered. It is recommended to allow time for individual learning and reflection in between meetings. Deliberations must be independent of political timing and must not depend on the goodwill of current mandates to be taken seriously, especially regarding allocation of budget and proper follow up mechanisms.

6. Transnational exercise 

To  respond to  the unique cultural and linguistic nature of the European Union citizenry, it is critical that the citizens’ assembly be a visibly transnational exercise that fosters the cultural, geographical, and linguistic diversity of the EU. Opportunities for interaction, deliberation, and collaboration among the diverse members of the assembly need to be maximized. This will require an adequate infrastructure for translation, including live translation of deliberation rounds, translation of plenary discussions, and translation of all documents. Citizens from EU candidate countries should also be invited to attend as observers, as well as citizens from other areas of the world. 

An EU citizens’ assembly, always maintaining its transnational design, should be at the same time strongly interconnected with national and regional institutions and transregional institutions, including citizens’ assemblies taking place at those multiple levels. This could take diverse forms, such as that of an agenda-setting phase with inputs from national, regional and local citizens’ assemblies. 

The number of citizens in an EU citizens’ assembly needs to be high enough to sufficiently represent these diversities. No less than 300-350 citizens are recommended for this purpose, although more scientific research is needed for further evaluation. 

7. Transparency  

The structures and procedures  of the citizens’ assembly, the methods by which the recommendations are developed, as well as the information provided by experts, should be transparent, that is open and available to the public. All content released by the assembly should be archived and made easily accessible. The necessity of transparency results from the need for legitimacy and the ability of the public and of the mass media to know what has been discussed by  the assembly,  and with which outcomes. As a relatively new form of democratic governance, citizens’ assemblies need to stand apart from traditional lobbying activities and should rather be fitting a modern, transparent democratic political culture. This is especially critical in order to create social and public trust in the democratic process, also from an outsiders’ view.

Although the process, documents, and decisions that emerge from the citizens’ assembly must be transparent, its deliberations require a protected space. This is needed to encourage participants to speak from their heart, to openly discuss their thoughts on any point, and to change their minds without external interference. By contrast, full public transparency of assembly deliberations risk constraining deliberations making them respond to public sentiment, rather than to fact-based argumentation.

8. Accountability  

EU Institutions must be accountable to the citizens’ assembly by providing it with reasons and justifications for the decisions taken or not taken in following up with the recommendations of the citizens’ assembly. The institutions should explain in clear written feedback which recommendations they have fully or partially adopted, or rejected, and provide reasons for these decisions. Additionally, holding EU institutions to account requires a public space for citizens’ political dialogue on the basis of the feedback. At the end, to ensure accountability, the citizens’ assembly must be enabled to give a response to the decisions enacted by the EU institutions. 

An impartial coordinating body separate from the citizens’ assembly should oversee and decide if the response and follow-up by the institutions is deemed sufficient. The coordinating body would, for example, conduct anonymous surveys among the participants of the citizens’ assemblies to make sure there is integrity and coherence by contrasting the surveys with the assembly findings. It would also assess the follow-up response by the institutions and report its conclusions back to the citizens’ assembly. The citizens’ assembly should also be run by this independent coordinating team that oversees the assembly process. The coordinating body should exclude any members that are direct stakeholders of the assembly, or politicians or any citizen who may have a conflict of interest. 

9. Visibility  

For the citizens’ assembly to become publicly visible, local, regional, national, and EU institutions should actively generate outreach across Europe aimed at fostering media attention and engagement at all levels. Journalists, regional, and national institutions across the EU are invited to observe the assemblies and should be provided with welcome packets that include information about the structure and workings of the citizens’ assembly. A strong digital dimension is also critical for the visibility of the work of the assembly, for raising public trust in the assembly, and for ensuring that the assembly is accessible to the general public. 

10. Continuity 

To ensure the greatest democratic improvement for EU governance, deliberative transnational citizens’ assemblies should be established as a permanent body with proper resources within the European system. In exchange, the continuity of citizens’ assemblies will help complement representative democracy in the EU. 

By making the assemblies continuous, citizens will be given a permanent space to meet on a regular basis. Thereby,EU  institutions will benefit from unlocking the potentials of the independent citizens’ panels. Practical experiences have shown that  citizens’ deliberations can contribute to solving a great many tricky issues that have left party politicians in a political deadlock. Institutionalizing the citizens’ assemblies would be a proof that EU leaders have the political will and courage to not only bring citizens to the decision-making table, but also keep them there. 

+1 

Fun!

Lastly, while these ten guidelines outline incremental steps to making the European citizens’ assemblies a permanent success, it is important that all citizens be  motivated to participate. Therefore the assembly needs attractive incentives for citizens of all age groups and backgrounds that will engage them with following its progress. Such incentives will include  moments of enjoyment and sociability, from lunches and dinners, to entertainment and cultural events, such as concerts and performing arts. The deliberations of and events revolving around the citizens’ assembly should be memorable and meaningful, therefore both their digital and social dimensions must be wide-reaching, visible, and attractive. 

With contributions by:

  • Carsten Berg (The ECI Campaign)
  • Jacob Birkenhaeger (Buergerrat)
  • Oliver Escobar (University of Edinburgh)
  • Michele Fiorillo (CIVICO Europa – Scuola Normale Superiore)
  • Gerald-Christian Heintges (Friends of the European Republic)
  • Angela Jain (Technical University Berlin, Buergerrat and Planning Cells)
  • Ulrike Liebert (University of Bremen)
  • Jonathan Moskovic (G1000)
  • Alvaro Oleart (Studio Europa, Maastricht University)
  • Alba Requejo (Stand Up for Europe)
  • Fionna Saintraint (Parlement francophone bruxellois)
  • Pablo Sánchez Centellas (ECI Right2Water)
  • Amélie Snijders (The Good Lobby)
  • Daniela Vancic (Democracy International)
  • Philipp Verpoort (Sortition Foundation)
Press Release: The citizens open letter to Angela Merkel and petition to the European Parliament

Press Release: The citizens open letter to Angela Merkel and petition to the European Parliament

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The citizens open letter to Angela Merkel and petition to the European Parliament

08 October 2020 – The Citizens Take Over Europe coalition (CTOE) is addressing the EU institutions for the Conference on the Future of Europe through an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Presidents of the European Parliament and of the Commission and an official Petition to the European Parliament to open a co-creation process for the Conference on the Future of Europe.

As stated in the letter, the EU is at a crossroads in its history: the need for the European Union to transform into a social, sustainable, inclusive and democratic, and citizen-led project is greater than ever before. Citizens and civil society organisations from across Europe, call on key political figures to make true the promise of the proposed Conference on the Future of Europe to guide the EU out of the many crises with which it is confronted.

Among the different requests which CTOE intend to present to EU institutions, the open letter and the petition demands: 

– To urgently commit to a timetable for the Conference on the Future of Europe, and engage civil society to co-design the Conference’s format

– To put citizens centre-stage at all phases of the Conference, firmly anchor civil society’s role in the Conference’s structure, and use randomly selected citizens’ assemblies to achieve representation of less-represented groups.

 – To pledge to follow-up to any significant reforms recommended by the Conference, including the possibility of treaty change.

As Daniela Vancic, from the CTOE coalition, explains: “the Conference on the Future of Europe is a rare opportunity that citizens have to sit at the decision-making table and co-create the Future of Europe that they want”.

More than 70 organisations, representing millions of citizens have already signed the pledge to decision-makers, calling for an inclusive process in both the designing of the Conference and in its implementation. 

Interinstitutional negotiations between the European Parliament, Commission and Council have already taken place, but behind closed doors, excluding citizens and leaving them completely in the dark. The CTOE coalition also submitted an official petition to the European Parliament calling for more transparency about the backdoor negotiations on the timeline and design of the Conference on the Future of Europe. The petition will prompt a response from the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament, where the members of the Committee will discuss the petition, with consideration of follow-up action.

The CTOE alliance is a continuously expanding group of civil society organisations formed in April 2020 with the objective of taking the lead in initiating a Citizens’ Conference on the Future of Europe to be organised with the support of citizens and civil society from all across Europe.

To get more information on CTOE and to participate in the coalition’s activities:

https://citizenstakeover.eu/

 

PRESS CONTACTS

For a citizens-centered Conference on the Future of Europe

For a citizens-centered Conference on the Future of Europe

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For a citizens-centered conference on the future of europe

Open letter to Angela Merkel & public online event

1st July 2020 | 11:00 – 20:00 CET

24 June 2020 The Citizens Take Over Europe coalition (CTOE) invites citizens and civil society organisations to discuss the political urgency for the future of Europe, starting from the Recovery Fund and the reforms that the European Union needs to make through a European Citizens Assembly. 

The 1st of July event will be a moment also to discuss how we can design this assembly together and make it happen.

The event is planned at the occasion of the beginning of the German EU presidency. 

While the institutions are still remaining silent about the Conference on the Future of Europe, the CTOE coalition advocates that citizens and residents of Europe should be at the center of the debate.

Among the different requests which CTOE intend to present to the German Presidency, the following 3 demands will be included in the open letter that will be discussed during the digital event:

– Urgently commit to a timetable for the Conference on the Future of Europe, and engage civil society to co-design the Conference’s format

– Put citizens centre-stage at all phases of the Conference, firmly anchor civil society’s role in the Conference’s structure, and use randomly selected citizens’ assemblies to achieve representation of less-represented groups. 

 – Pledge to follow-up to any significant reforms recommended by the Conference, including the possibility of treaty change.

This open letter is our civil society response to the delayed and uncertain Conference on the Future of Europe, which was promised to us by EU Commission President Von Der Leyen last year. With this open letter, we want to say: EU German Presidency, make it a priority to work together with the citizens, civil society, and other institutions so that a citizens-focused Conference on the Future of Europe can come to life. The outcomes of the Conference must be followed-up politically if it is to be a democratically legitimate process.” (Daniela Vancic, Democracy International – CTOE member, together with many other organizations*)

The politically independent CTOE coalition was formed in April 2020 with the objective of taking the lead in initiating a Citizens’ Conference on the Future of Europe to be organised with the support of citizens and civil society from all across Europe. On May 9th, CTOE kicked off its coalition with an online festival packed with sessions on the future of democracy and solidarity during the Covid-19 crisis. The online marathon attracted more than 45,000 viewers on Facebook Live, and it was covered by numerous media outlets across Europe.

Just prior to the 9th of May first public event organized by CTOE, the coalition published its provisional plans and timeline for organising this Citizens’ Conference on the Future of Europe over the course of the next few years.

To attend the 1st July event please register here: https://www.facebook.com/events/663312394223484 

The event will be hosted on Zoom and broadcast on Facebook.

To get more information on CTOE and to participate in the coalition’s activities: https://citizenstakeover.eu/

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*The Citizens Take Over Europe alliance is continuously expanding group of civil society organisations, currently consisting of: Alliance4Europe, Another Europe is Possible, CIVICO Europa, Democracy International, EUMans, European Alternatives, European Democracy Lab, European Civic Forum, European House, Eurotopia, Mehr Demokratie e.V., Music Theater International, New Europeans, Pulse of Europe, Take a Break from Brexit, The ECI Initiative, The Good Lobby, WeMove Europe.

Citizens Take Over Europe

Citizens Take Over Europe

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Civil Society Organizations kick off a Citizens’ Conference on the Future of Europe

9 May, 2020

27 April 2020 – This year’s Europe Day, the 9th of May, is marked by the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration, by the 75th anniversary of the end of World War 2 and by the terrible Covid-19 pandemia. At a turning point for Europe, civil society organisations across the Union are taking the lead to organise a citizen-led Conference on the Future of Europe, and send out a message of solidarity, cooperation and democracy. 

The initiative is launched by means of a joint online mobilisation for the 9th of May under the title Citizens Take over Europe. “We are a coalition of European civil society organisations across the European Union that puts citizens at the centre of the debate on our future, on the reshaping of our society and our common European project, to set out how we can recover from this health, social, economic and political crisis through solidarity and cooperation.” 

“Citizens Take Over Europe” kicks off on the 9th of May presenting a jointly curated “online festival” where different organisations and artistic institutions organise events open to  citizens’ active participation.

A rich program of online events will be disseminated through hundreds of organisations from all over Europe, with the participation of internationally-acclaimed political thinkers, artists, philosophers, writers activists, citizens and residents. 

The initiative is a joint effort of a continuously expanding group of civil society organisations, currently consisting of: Alliance4Europe, Another Europe is Possible, CIVICO Europa, Democracy International, European Alternatives, European Civic Forum, European Democracy Lab, European Women Alliance, EUmans, Mehr Demokratie, New Europeans, The ECI Campaign, Eurotopia, The Good Lobby, and WeMove Europe.

The “Citizens Take Over Europe” initiative aims to create a fundamental and bottom-up energy to reimagine our European project  at a moment when top-down governance is threatening the European values of unity and solidarity. The online festival on the 9th of May is the public launch of this initiative, and a call to action aimed at citizens and civil society organisations across Europe. It is a call to join us in developing leadership from the bottom up, and to organise ourselves – citizens and civil society organisations – by means of our very own Citizens’ Conference in order to shape the Europe we want. If not us, then who? 

Noemì Niedermeyer,  French school teacher living in Spain

“In this crisis, we need to unite, strengthen and reaffirm the solidarity between countries. All citizens, as sisters and brothers, should enjoy the same rights throughout Europe.”

Saquib Ahmad, British psychotherapist, Belgium:

“As the threat of Covid-19 spreads across Europe and the world, so do stress and anxiety, which is why we must stay united and help each other during these uncertain and unpredictable times. We must act together to fight fear.”

Birutė Andruškaitė, SME owner, Lithuania:

“The crisis has put a great emphasis on trusting science, thus, we should start trusting science about global warming too. Today there is a great need to be united not only to fight the virus, but to fight its consequences too.”

Reinhold Fredrixon, trains maintenance manager, Sweden:

“I feel confident that this horror of the pandemia will even more unite all the Europeans and develop more solidarity”