Setting the stage for citizen engagement

22 October 2021

Enter stage left.

1.17 million elected representatives at local and regional level form the bedrock of democratic representation in the EU.

Enter stage right.

Launched last spring, the Conference on the Future of Europe aims to allow citizens to take part in building the future of the European Union.

The scene is set.

Our protagonist, Hermano Sanches Ruivo, Deputy Mayor of Paris in charge of Europe, explains the major role to be played by cities in this European democratic challenge:

Cities as the link

The Conference on the Future of Europe is a chance for people from all walks of life to share their thoughts on what they think the EU’s priorities should be. This is being done via a dedicated digital platform, or by participating in public debates and randomly selected citizens panels that have been meeting over the past months and will meet again to debate solutions and ideas around specific topics.

According to Sanches Ruivo, cities and regions are, “not only the largest level of democratic representation, but also the most relevant stage for citizens to participate in democratic life”. Moreover, cities will be key actors in the development and implementation of concrete political solutions to the EU’s current challenges.

Sanches Ruivo, who is also Vice Chair of Eurocities Working Group on Creative Citizenship, and Eurocities delegate to the Conference, will give input on the topic of ‘European Democracy’ based on the input gathered from the platform and panels mentioned above.

Besides ‘European Democracy’, other key topics relevant for cities and that will be debated in the plenaries include ‘Climate change and the environment’ ‘Digital transformation’ and Values and rights, rule of law, security’.

Let’s localise Europe

The Conference plenary session, which takes place this Saturday, and which Sanches Ruivo will take part in, is also an opportunity to bring cities more prominently into EU decision-making processes, and give them a strong role in building stronger participatory democracy and dialogue with citizens. The Conference plenary and its delegate will discuss citizens’ ideas stemming from the citizens panels and digital platform.

In this guise, Sanches Ruivo will participate as part of a delegation of 30 local and regional leaders which includes the mayors of Gdasnk, Cluj Napoca, Sofia and Bucharest, working together to bolster the voice of cities in EU decision making structures.

Contributions from the platform, and in the conclusions of the Citizens Panels on the theme of European Democracy, include a number of suggestions to strengthen citizen engagement and a sense of ownership with regards EU decision-making.

One group of ideas and events discuss developing more permanent mechanisms based on participatory democracy and interaction among citizens to strengthen and complement representative democracy, including by building on the experience of the Conference on the Future of Europe. Participants have proposed, for instance, a more systematic use of citizens’ assemblies and panels to prepare the most important and difficult political decisions in the EU. Other contributions propose an online digital forum where EU citizens could discuss EU legislation, using a social media-derived system of upvotes and commentaries. A related idea involves a citizen lobbying platform as an alternative way for ordinary EU citizens and smaller companies to channel their expertise and views on legislation in the EU decision-making process.

The contributions also include a ‘proposal to devise an online one-stop-shop platform centralising all public input, be they European Citizens’ Initiatives, complaints or petitions, into the EU institutional participatory architecture.

Others have proposed a ‘Citizen Parliament’, an ‘Assembly dedicated to civil society organisations,’ or a ‘Constituent Assembly’ to advise the European Parliament. Participants also discuss the idea of EU wide referenda as an alternative to national referenda on EU institutional and policy topics.

Many other ideas have also been proposed, such as the need to ensure food sovereignty and security by promoting local farming. But what is clear among all contributions is that ensuring they are put into action will take a strong involvement of local and regional administrations.

The delegates of the Conference plenaries will continue to meet in the coming months to discuss and debate these kinds of ideas, and will be tasked with finding agreements and selecting the most promising ones. All of this will feed into a final report to be ready and presented by the French EU Presidency in Spring 2022 and that will need to be taken into consideration by EU institutions.

Find out more about what different cities are doing to engage people in the design of their city through the examples shared here.


Alex Godson Eurocities Writer
Pietro Reviglio Policy Officer on governance