The European Union and Civil Society: Work in Progress

, by Elena Montani

The European Union and Civil Society: Work in Progress

Every day we are obliged to face the limits of representative democracy, which involves us in the management of the res publica only once every four or five years. The distance between citizens and institutions is growing every day, confidence in those who govern us drops, daily needs seem not to receive appropriate responses by the leaders in power.

Citizens of modern democracies, especially organized citizens, recognize the symptoms of this degeneration and its dangerous drifts, and strongly ask for their greater involvement - regular and structured - in the daily management of policies and reforms, which necessarily affect them. Representative democracy, in a nutshell, is more and more in need of participatory democracy in order to complete itself and to become capable of making choices that genuinely meet the needs of citizens who should be represented by it.

The European Union has a big advantage campared to nation states, now consolidated and structured and therefore more hostile to change. Its public space is in fact still in the making. The EU has not yet completed the path advocated by the founding fathers of the European integration, who outlined supranational democracy at continental level as its necessary point of arrival.

A Europe that truly represents an added value for its citizens, a Europe that is inclusive and open, defender of the values of peace, freedom and equality inside and outside its territory, will not be dropped from the high spheres of some European bureaucracies and administrations. As citizens increasingly need Europe, Europe strongly needs its citizens, for deciding together what kind of entity we want to build.

As citizens increasingly need Europe, Europe strongly needs its citizens, for deciding together what kind of entity we want to build.

European participatory democracy, although still far from complete, is increasingly proving to be a feasible as well as a desirable reality. The European institutions have opened several channels of dialogue with civil society, such as the consultations of the European Parliament called with the emblematic name of agora - recalling in this way the exercise of direct management of public affairs in the Greek poleis - and the system of consultation of the European Commission put in place for almost all different policies.

Also the new text signed by the 27 Heads of State and Government in December and still pending ratification - the Treaty of Lisbon - devotes an entire paragraph to participatory democracy, stating explicitly that “the institutions maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with associations and civil society”, and adopts new tools for participation and involvement of citizens, such as the citizens’ initiative for the one million signatures.

Europe is a common good, and those involved full-time or in their spare time to fight for the defense of civil, social and political rights in their own district or in the world have the right and duty to raise their voice. With a famous phrase of Altiero Spinelli, “Europe does not falls from the sky”; today more than ever we can build the model we want.

Image: Agora at the European Parliament; source: www.europarl.europa.eu

Your comments

  • On 8 October 2008 at 09:27, by Christine Fischer Replying to: The European Union and Civil Society: Work in Progress

    It is about time, that the European Union implements some direct democratic tools! Participatory democracy offers the citizens the chance to express their views and opinions and hand them to the commission. It’s absolutely necessary for the functioning of the Union that the citizens have the feeling of being heard and that their concerns are of vital importance for the decision makers. As such, the respective citizen’s initiative would represent a possibility; it remains uncertain if this instrument will come into force after the Irish referendum. Nevertheless, there are already about 20 citizen’s initiatives referring to the Treaty of Lisbon, which cover a broad range of topics and initiators. The citizen’s initiative is of course only one tool – other instruments as, for instance, the possibility of holding a referendum are desirable for the future.

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