Cafébabel Brussels takes the pulse of European civil society

Article published on June 2, 2014
Article published on June 2, 2014

Ca­fe­ba­bel Bruss­els jour­na­lists take European civil society’s tempera­ture!

Ca­fe­ba­bel Brus­sels jour­na­lists par­ti­cipated in two major meet­ings be­tween Eu­ro­pean ins­ti­tu­tions and civil so­ciet: The clos­ing of the Eu­ro­pean Year of the Cit­i­zen in Vil­nius on 12 - 13 De­cem­ber 2013 or­ga­ni­sed by the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, and the Eu­ro­pean Day for Civil So­ci­ety on 18 March 2014 hosted by the Eu­ro­pean Eco­no­mic and So­cial Co­mmittee. On the eve of Eu­ro­pean elec­tions, what is the state of the dia­logue be­tween Eu­ro­pean civil so­ci­ety and the Eu­ro­pean Union?  

A two day re­view of the Eu­ro­pean Year of the Cit­i­zen 2013 in Vil­nius

A jum­ble of more than a hun­dred par­ti­ci­pants of all ori­gins and or­ga­ni­sa­tions held dis­cus­sions dur­ing six pa­nels on is­sues ded­i­cated to the place of civil so­ci­ety in Eu­ro­pean pol­icy build­ing and a re­view of the Eu­ro­pean year ded­i­cated to its ci­tizens.

In fact, civil so­ci­ety has never been more ac­tive and mo­bi­li­sed. With the cri­sis, it has even taken on a new di­men­sion: that of mit­i­gat­ing short­falls due to bud­ge­t cuts and aus­te­rity po­li­cies across Eu­rope. Through the de­ve­lop­ment of tools that can be used for ci­tizen par­ti­ci­pa­tion, the e-par­ti­ci­pa­tion pla­te­form, many or­ga­ni­sa­tions can work in a more ho­ri­zon­tal and trans­na­tio­nal fash­ion, pla­cing the ci­tizen at the cen­tre of  Eu­ro­pe's des­tiny.                    So how to mo­bi­li­se Eu­ro­pean ci­tizens  is no longer the real ques­tion. In ef­fect, the var­i­ous pro­jects pre­sen­ted at the var­i­ous ses­sions have shown ci­vil so­ci­ety's real ca­pa­city to or­ga­ni­se, and it is up to the EU to ef­fe­ctively take their par­ti­ci­pa­tion and de­mands into ac­count, ne­ces­sitating a re­assess­ment of Eu­ro­pean ins­ti­tu­tio­nal func­tioning and its orien­ta­tion to­wards a real dia­logue with Eu­ro­pean civil so­ciety. In this con­text, it seems es­sen­tial to cre­ate these new tech­no­lo­gical tools with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of cit­i­zens and not to im­pose them on them, as ci­tizens must be able to ex­press them­selves and en­gage in the is­sues of their choice and not sim­ply be consul­ted from time to time by Eu­ro­pean de­ci­sion-mak­ers on is­sues in an im­po­sed fram­work. See the  Ca­fe­ba­bel rep­ort on the 2013 Eu­ro­pean year of the cit­i­zen clos­ing ce­re­mo­ny

The clos­ing's two days were marked by the of­fi­cial sub­mis­sion of the re­com­men­da­tions of the Eu­ro­pean Ci­tizens' Al­liance by its pres­i­dent, Jean-Marc Roi­rant, to Com­mis­sioner Mme Re­ding (Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sioner for Jus­tice, Fun­da­men­tal Rights and Ci­tizen­ship). The re­com­men­da­tions hinged on three major themes : Ac­tive Eu­ro­pean ci­tizen­ship as a pro­ject for so­ciety, An open and in­clu­sive Eu­ro­pean demo­cra­cy and Eu­ro­pean demo­cra­cy, three demo­cra­tic pil­lars, and were for­mu­lated by an al­liance of ci­tizens and or­ga­ni­sa­tions across Eu­rope. At issue? That the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion take these re­com­men­da­tions into ac­count when for­mu­la­ting po­li­cies and that the Eu­ro­pean Union be more de­mo­cra­tic.

A DAY DED­I­CATED TO eu­ro­peAn ci­vil so­ciEtY IN BruSS­els

On this past 18 March, the Eu­ro­pean Eco­no­mic and So­cial Co­mmittee  (EESC) or­ga­ni­sed the Eu­ro­pean Civil So­ci­ety Day. 

It was the oc­ca­sion for the Eu­ro­pean Year of Cit­i­zens Al­liance (EYCA) to take stock of 2013 and fu­ture pers­pec­tives on the in­volve­ment of civil so­ci­ety for the sec­ond half of the EU­2020 strat­egy.          The EESC, who is hold­ing the event, is also par­ti­cipating in the de­ve­lop­­ment of the New Plan for Eu­rope, which pro­poses five key ac­tions to conso­li­date an eco­no­mic, so­cial, demo­cra­tic and ci­tizen's Eu­ro­pean Union  .  

At the day's open­ing, Jean-Marc Roi­rant, pre­sident of the Al­liance (EYCA), noted the si­lence on the part of  Mme Re­ding (Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sioner for Jus­tice, Fun­da­men­tal Rights and Ci­tizen­ship), to whom he of­fi­ciall­y sub­mit­ted the Al­liance's re­com­man­da­tions at the Eu­ro­pean Year of the Cit­i­zen's clos­ing cer­e­mony in Vil­nius. Nonethe­less, this day was the oc­ca­sion for many Eu­ro­pean ci­vil so­ciety ac­tors to re­group around three prin­ci­pal themes:

  • An eco­no­my for Eu­rope and not a Eu­rope for the eco­no­my

This panel noted that Eu­ro­pean Union go­ver­nance rests in  tech­no­crats' hands. Ci­vil so­ciety is not suf­fi­ciently in­volved, or too in­adequately in­volved, in the Eu­ro­pean de­ci­sion-mak­ing sys­tem. The Eu­ro­pean Eco­no­mic Union  is per­ceived as not act­ing in the in­ter­ests of its cit­i­zens.

  • A so­cial Eu­rope for its ci­tizens

This work­shop was an op­por­tu­nity to re­spond to three fun­da­men­tal ques­tions:

How to con­struct a so­cial face for the Eco­nomic Union? How to link mea­sures taken at the Eu­ro­pean level with the needs of cit­i­zens, and how to re­spond rapidly and ef­fec­tively to the ur­gent so­cial cri­sis?

  • For an ac­tive Eu­ro­pean ci­tizen­ry 

This dis­cus­sion, cen­ter­ing on the ef­fi­ciency of the tools put in place by Eu­ro­pean ins­ti­tu­tions, ob­served that the in­sti­tu­tions should allow for ac­tive cit­i­zen par­tic­i­pa­tion and a true tak­ing into ac­count of cit­i­zen's de­mands. 

Build­ing a sus­tain­able and ef­fective dia­logue be­tween ins­ti­tu­tions and Eu­ro­pean ci­vil so­ciety is a condi­tion cen­tral to get­ting out of the cri­sis and re­building cit­i­zens' con­fi­dence in their ins­ti­tu­tions. 

See the ca­fe­ba­bel bruss­els re­ports on the Eu­ro­pean  day for ci­vil so­ciety

The same mes­sage was for­mu­lated three months ear­lier in Vil­nius. It's not a ques­tion of in­ter­est­ing cit­i­zens in Eu­rope but of find­ing the way to lis­ten to them. The day was con­cluded by the ap­pear­ance of the three group pres­i­dents of the EESC.                  All three in­sis­ted upon the ur­gency of the si­tua­tion, on the eve of Eu­ro­pean elec­tions, to put the ne­ces­sary tools and meth­ods into place on a Eu­ro­pean level, tak­ing into ac­count cit­i­zens' in­terests and de­mands. 

15 maY 2014… WE'RE BEING ASKED TO KEEP QUIET

The ac­cu­mu­la­tion of missed meet­ings be­tween ci­tizens and the Eu­ro­pean Union is dan­ge­rous, es­pe­cially on the eve of Eu­ro­pean elec­tions. In ef­fect, the Eu­ro­pean Union is mar­ked by a major  demo­cra­tic cri­sis, and the loss of con­fidence by ci­tizens to­wards their ins­ti­tu­tions will sur­ely be pal­pable in the elec­tions. The com­plexity of the de­mo­cra­tic tools put into place since the  Lis­bon Treaty (es­pe­cially the  Eu­ro­pean  cit­i­zen­ship ini­tia­tive) discou­rages those who try to use it. The re­sponses given by ins­ti­tu­tions are too slow and badly adap­ted to ci­tizens' needs (in­crease in youth un­em­ploy­ment rate, so­cial cri­sis, etc.)

Re­cently, nego­tia­tions over the Trans­at­lan­tic Treaty be­tween the United States and the EU, with­out consul­ting or infor­ming ci­tizens, tes­ti­fies to a new de­nial of demo­cra­cy. Mass ar­res­ts at the last Al­liance D19/20 gath­er­ing this past 15 May demon­strate how di­a­logue is far from being ob­tained. In ef­fect, last Thurs­day 15 May, l’Al­liance D19/20 (see the Cafeba­bel ar­ticle EU­RO­PEAN COUN­CIL  OF 19 - 20 DE­CEMBER: BE­HIND THE SCENES) or­ga­nised a gath­er­ing in order to peace­ful­lly protest against aus­terity and the pro­ject for a greater Trans­at­lan­tic mar­ket dis­cussed at the Eu­ro­pean Bu­si­ness Sum­mit, in the ab­sence of ci­tizens. Even though there were no acts of vio­lence or pro­vo­ca­tion made by the pro­tes­tors, 281 peo­ple were ar­rested (among them par­liamen­tarians, union lea­ders, etc …)  and de­tained for the whole day.

This eve­nt un­for­tu­nately shows that ci­tizens are not ready to be heard on this sub­ject. Fur­ther­more, in the face of such a burn­ing sub­ject, no res­ponse has been given ei­ther by mem­ber states, nor the major po­li­tical par­ties in­volved in the  Eu­ro­pean cam­paign (ex­cept the GUE/NGL group) see the ca­fe­ba­bel ar­ticle on the sub­ject TTIP, DON'T MÉ­LEN­CHON EVERY­THING !. It is there­fore a fact that the heavy bur­den of in­for­ming, dis­cussing and elab­o­rat­ing ways for cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate, rests upon the shoul­ders of Eu­ro­pean civil so­ci­ety. If this civil so­ci­ety con­tin­ues to or­gan­ise in the face of Eu­ro­peans' ur­gent needs, the ins­ti­tu­tion­al frame­work of the Eu­ro­pean Union should there­fore evo­lve in order to re­ally allow its cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate in Eu­ro­peans' com­mon fu­ture.

 At two major dis­cus­sions that brought to­gether the main can­di­dates for pre­si­dency of the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion (E.C.) see the Cafeba­bel ar­ticle on the sub­ject: EU­RO­PEAN ELEC­TIONS: A MI­NUTE TO CON­VIN­CE, who for the first time will be cho­sen ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of the Eu­ro­pean elec­tions, the key words used by all the can­di­dates are, "Eu­rope of its ci­tizens" and "more demo­cra­tic." The dis­cus­sion is well de­vel­oped, and fur­ther­more there have never been so many "cit­i­zen" par­ties or gath­er­ings at the elec­tions. The issue now, how­ever, is to put cit­i­zen par­ti­ci­pa­tion into prac­tice in the Eu­ro­pean de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. With, on the one hand, a lack of con­fi­dence in Eu­ro­pean and na­tional in­sti­tu­tions, and on the other, anti-Eu­rope vot­ing, the Eu­ro­pean Union is at a deci­sive turn­ing point in its construc­tion. As E.C. can­di­date Alexis Tsi­pras re­called, evo­king the num­erous Eu­ro­pean de­ci­sions made be­hind closed doors : "Ei­ther the EU de­mo­cra­ti­ses, lis­tens and re­sponds to its pe­ople, or it's the end of the Eu­ro­pean com­mon fu­ture."

The can­di­dates for the pre­si­dency of the Com­mis­sion in­sist that "it would be com­plete­ly an­ti­de­mo­cra­tic" if none of them were cho­sen even as they as­sured them­selves that if that should ar­rive, "the Eu­ro­pean Par­liament will never vo­te in fa­vour." It is there­fore time to take part in the de­bate by vot­ing, but also by act­ing to con­tinue to or­gan­ise to­gether at the Eu­ro­pean level.