European Citizens’ Consultations 2009

September 2008 - September 2009
Antoinette Primatarova and Yana Papazova

The European Citizens’ Consultations 2009 (ECC 2009) bring together citizens from all 27 EU Member States to discuss - with each other and then with policy-makers - key challenges facing the EU. ECC 2009 focuses on the issues currently of greatest concern to EU citizens in the run-up to the 2009 European elections, seeking to answer the question:  “What can the EU do to shape our economic and social future in a globalised world?”
Even before the recent global financial crisis, opinion polls showed that rising prices and the risk of unemployment were the public’s top concerns across Europe – and those concerns are growing amid mounting bad news about the state of the economy and its likely impact on people’s lives.  As the EU institutions begin work on a post-2010 successor to the Lisbon Agenda for economic growth and competitiveness, ECC 2009 will also provide timely and relevant input for decision-makers.

A pan-European online debate marked the first stage in the ECC 2009 process. Between December 3 2008 and the national consultations in March 2009, more than 250,000 people from all over Europe visited the ECC websites set up in every EU Member State to discuss and put forward their ideas on what the EU can do shape our economic and social future. This debate took place in the national languages of each country, enabling all members of the public to make their voices heard and propose ideas for action. The top ten proposals from the online debate in each country were fed into that country’s national consultation for discussion by the citizens who attended the event. The Bulgarian internet site is www.grajdani-za-evropa.eu

The 27 national conferences were attended by a total of 1,605 citizens selected at random to reflect their country’s demographic composition by professional opinion research institutes. These identical conferences, held simultaneously in nine countries at a time over three weekends in March 2009, were the heart of the ECC process. They enabled citizens to discuss issues of common concern with each other, to develop recommendations on Europe’s economic and social future, and to discuss them with key national and European policy-makers. The European Citizens’ Consultations do not take a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. While all the consultations followed the same basic format, the size of these events varied from a minimum of 30 participants to a maximum of 150. On the second day, the citizens were given the opportunity to debate their recommendations with national MEPs and candidate MEPs in the run-up to the June European elections.
The Bulgarian Perspective on the Economic and Social Future of Europe was developed at the European Citizens' Consultation in Bulgaria (28-29 March 2009) and was attended by 50 randomly selected Bulgarian citizens. Please click here for the report.

The outcomes of all 27 national deliberations were then drawn together to prepare a European overview of national recommendations, shortly after the last round of the consultations was held. This overview of the top ten recommendations from all 27 Member States was then debated online by the general public and the final 15 European recommendations were voted on by those 1, 605 randomly selected citizens who attended the consultations at national level.

These 15 European recommendations formed the basis of the European Citizens’ Summit, attended by 150 participants from the 27 national consultations, which was held in Brussels on the May 10-11 2009. Here, citizens finalised a set of European recommendations and discussed these with European policy-makers, including the heads of the EU’s institutions and European political party leaders.
The European Citizens’ Summit was attended by 10 percent  of the participants from the 27 Consultations. The five Bulgarian citizens who took part in the Summit were drawn from the fifty citizens who attended the national consultations held in Bulgaria in March. After first discussing the recommendations which emerged from this process with citizens from all other EU countries, they then had a unique opportunity to quiz the heads of the EU institutions - including European Parliament President Hans-Gert Pöttering and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso - and leaders of the European Parliament’s largest political parties on these issues.

The recommendations handed over to top decision-makers by the citizens, just weeks before the June 2009 European elections, include calls for EU action to tackle global warming and phase out fossil fuels, develop a common healthcare system, ensure harmonised labour standards across the EU, create incentives to stop companies moving production to low-wage countries outside the Union, combat social inequalities and move towards a common social welfare system, and harmonise educational and vocational systems.
The citizens also want action to regulate the financial markets and strengthen consumer protection, closer cooperation in the fight against crime, measures to promote sustainable agricultural practices, steps to make politicians and civil servants’ activities more accountable and transparent, and a greater role for the EU in dealing with illegal immigration. The call for action on education, healthcare, ethics code for politicians, financial regulations, and consumer protection was based on a recommendations made by the Bulgarian citizens at their national consultation in March.

Please click here for the Final report - Results of the European Citizens’ Consultations.

The European Citizens’ Summit also marked the start of a comprehensive follow-up process, including regional outreach debates, designed to actively communicate the results to policy-makers at the national and European level and disseminate the results to the broader public and civil society, following the European elections and as a new European Commission prepares to take office. This will be an important step in cementing the importance of citizen participation in policy-making and in furthering the reach of the European Citizens’ Consultations 2009.

Below is a full list of the recommendations developed and agreed by the citizens.
For more information, please contact: Yana Papazova, + 359 2 981 8926,
yana@cls-sofia.org, Centre for Liberal Strategies – national partner

15 TOP RECCOMENDATIONS

1 The EU should aim to reduce global warming and phase-out fossil fuels by promoting renewable energy from water, solar, wind, hydrogen, waste and residues from industry. Member States should cooperate and develop energy sources on the basis of both national and regional conditions. This includes de-centralised energy production, energy self-sufficient regions and communities and by using economic instruments and incentives for internationally coordinated research.
2 The EU should intensify its efforts towards establishing of a common health care system, based on know-how from the countries with the most effective systems. Together with Member States it should implement an equal basic standard of healthcare for each EU-citizen. There should be centralised oversight of provisions and standards. An independent mechanism for EU wide recognition of qualifications for medical and health care professionals should be developed and implemented.
3  The EU should create the same working conditions and rules for all EU citizens based on a harmonised Labour Code, harmonising working conditions for employees, right and obligations for employers. This code should include the right to decent salaries and working hours, and it should include the principle of equal pay for equal work between men and women as well as workers from other EU Member States.
4 The EU should harmonise European educational and vocational systems by introducing common criteria and standards for the different educational levels which are recognised in all Member States. This should include a facilitation pupil and student mobility within Europe, uniform admissions procedures, examinations and evaluations.
5 The EU should create incentives to prevent production entities from moving to countries with lower wages. The EU should sanction all companies that have benefited from EU financing and subsidies and which relocate outside the European Union. It should do this by demanding the reimbursement of public subsidies given to these companies and introducing taxes that would finance social plans.
6 The EU should ensure that agriculture does not have adverse effects on health and environment and promote food self-sufficiency. This would include the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices such as organic farming, local food production, reduced fertiliser and pesticide use. GMOs should be banned except for medicinal purposes.
7 The European Commission must propose legislation that would combat social inequalities, and create conditions for a convergence of social insurance and welfare systems in all member states. This would cover salaries and pensions, and would establish “floors” and “ceilings” for social benefits. The EU should create a mechanism to monitor member states’ social policies and, if needed, should issue binding recommendations for member states to ensure that the EU moves closer to a common EU social system.
8 The EU should facilitate an accelerated flow of secure information required in the prevention and detection of crime across member states (e.g. drug trafficking and human trafficking and paedophilia). Activities should include increased funding for, and better utilisation of, new integrated technology, closer cooperation between national police officers.
9 The EU should increase the transparency and accountability of politicians and civil servants. This could be done through the development of a common code of conduct for public servants, requiring the disclosure of personal assets and the criminal record of those who work in European and national institutions, reducing the legal immunity of policy makers and introducing legislation on lobbying at national and European level. A Commissioner for Ethics or a European Integrity Ombudsman could be responsible for these actions.
10 The EU should regulate financial markets (actors and products), oversee financial flows of commercial banks operating in the EU and ensure the stability of these flows. It should control this regulation via a European central financial supervisory body or give more power for this to the European Central Bank. It should introduce common terms and conditions in order to ensure the security of private savings and the operational capacity of commercial banks.
11 The EU should invest more in the quality of all levels of education. Minimum norms are needed for attractive, affordable, interesting education of a high quality, with a focus on diversity and innovation in education. This could include countering illiteracy (by at least 20% by 2020), the early learning of a European language, help for school drop-outs, improvement of the technical equipment in schools and the exchange of best practice among EU Member States.
12 The EU should strengthen consumer protection policies, including for e-commerce. It should do this through measures such as systematic controls of such things as food and pharmaceuticals and imports from outside the EU. There should be stringent labeling which facilitate comparisons between products and commodities. The process of complaints and suggestions should be accelerated. A central control agency which can issue sanctions should also be established.
13 For the purposes of disease prevention and the reduction of health risks, the EU should encourage Member States to place greater emphasis on health promotion. Funds should be earmarked for compulsory examination of the whole population, in accordance with the principle "prevention is less expensive that treatment". The EU should develop global disease prevention campaigns, particularly for HIV, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.
14 The EU should increase social protection for vulnerable members of society in all phases of life, such as elderly people, the disabled or poorer members of society, homeless and unemployed, as well as careers. It should rate countries’ spending of GDP and impose enforceable targets for member states in the fight against poverty. These measures should be given particular attention in times of economic recession.
15 In order to deal more effectively with illegal immigration, the EU should take on overall strategic and financial responsibility for the strengthening of external border controls, including the faster processing of cases and standardisation of treatment of people in transit. The EU should take measures to avoid countries on its external borders becoming over-burdened by an influx of migrants. The EU member states must ensure that illegal immigrants are not offered jobs in the grey economy.

The European Citizens' Consultations are run by a unique consortium of more than 40 European partner oganisations, led by the King Baudouin Foundation (KBF). These include foundations, NGOs, universities and think-tanks from all 27 European Union Member States, who organised the European Citizens’ Consultations in each Member State. ECC 2009 is co-funded by the European Commission’s “Debate Europe” programme , and foundations including the King Baudouin Foundation, Compagnia di San Paolo, the Robert Bosch Foundation, ING and funders at national level. The European partner organisations are European Movement International, European Policy Centre, European Journalism Centre and the European Citizen Action Service. The consultations have been organised under the patronage of the European Parliament.
ECC 2009 is part of an ongoing process to further develop citizen participation and consultation mechanisms. It builds on the success of ECC 2007, which established a new model for citizen participation.
As well as contributing to the political debate in the run-up to the June 2009 elections and feeding into the debate over how to respond to the global economic crisis, ECC 2009 is providing timely and relevant input for policy-makers as the EU begins work on a post-2010 successor to the Lisbon Agenda.  The outcome of the ECC process complements and adds to the information provided by traditional opinion polls, consultation processes with organised stakeholder groups etc. The ultimate test of the ECC’s success is the extent to which the citizens’ recommendations provide valuable additional input into the policy-making debate; i.e. the role they play in helping to shape appropriate policy responses to the key challenges facing Europe.

CLS is the partner organization for Bulgaria. More information is available at http://www.european-citizens-consultations.eu/ and at the Bulgarian site http://www.grajdani-za-evropa.eu/ (in Bulgarian)
Contact: Yana Papazova, yana@cls-sofia.org

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