The challenges the EU is facing need strong democratic legitimacy at regional and local level. Participatory democracy can support local and regional authorities when developing and implementing policies. To ensure this, the European Committee of the Regions and the Bertelsmann Stiftung on 9 March launched a new project to support local and regional politicians in mainstreaming citizen participation in their decision-making, in particular on EU-related topics.
Building on the 2021 project "From local to European" and in view of the 2024 European elections, the European Committee of the Regions has renewed its partnership with the Bertelsmann Stiftung to organise citizens consultations with state-of-the-art and innovative concepts to inject a component of participative democracy to their decision-making, notably on EU-relevant topics like energy, climate or health. In a joint project, which was launched on 9 March during a kick-off conference, the aim is to support regional and local authorities in building capacity to implement civic participation projects. Cities and regions are the laboratories for innovative participation mechanisms. More and more often, it is becoming essential for politicians to include citizens' voices in the policymaking process.
Apostolos Tzitzikostas (EL/EPP), Vice-President of the European Committee of the Regions and Governor of Central Macedonia, said: "Since 2016, we have been at the forefront of promoting participatory and deliberative democracy in regions and cities. Democracy is not a static concept, and it calls for opening to new technologies and new ways to interact with citizens. This new project will further build the capacity of local and regional authorities to implement deliberative methods. By continuously engaging with citizens and ensuring this permanent dialogue, the decisions we enact will be more in tune with the realities on the ground and with what matters in people's lives."
Dubravka Šuica, European Commissioner for Democracy and Demography, stated: "Democracy thrives on citizens' ability to contribute and participate in their democracy at all levels.
In the deliberative wave the European Commission leads by doing.
We took the proposals of the Conference on the Future of Europe seriously and provided feedback. We are the first are the first executive body to have embedded deliberative democracy in our policymaking through a new generation of European Citizen Panels. Since 2021 our work is supported by the Competence Centre on Participatory and Deliberative Democracy. Today, deliberative democracy exercises are happening in over 1,300 municipalities. We must encourage and support them."
Daniel Freund, Member of the European Parliament, added: "Europe's citizens want more opportunities for democratic co-determination. This was clearly shown by the Conference on the Future of Europe. It is up to the EU institutions to take this wish seriously. We need more citizens' assemblies and more citizens' councils in all regions of the European Union – for a living European democracy. However, citizen participation is not an end in itself. It works when it comes to policies that are as concrete as possible and when the demands of the citizens are also implemented by the politicians."
Lukas Mandl, Member of the European Parliament and Vice-President of the Assembly of European Regions, said: "Regional authorities must continue building their capacities to steer citizens' engagement in policy-making & boost democratic participation."
The project will focus on three strands:
- Building capacity for local and regional authorities on mainstreaming citizen participation in their regions and cities by providing workshops and seminars on topics that are highlighted as priorities for regions and cities and the European Union;
- Including participatory democracy practices into EU-decision making by setting up a network of regions that will carry out activities on selected EU policies which are relevant for local and regional authorities; and
- Implementing a quality campaign revolving around a charter on participatory democracy.
In the joint project "From local to European", the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Bertelsmann Stiftung – together with 23 cooperation projects from 67 European cities and regions – conducted Citizens' Dialogues with around 200 politicians. Among these politicians were 14 members of the CoR. Two thousand European citizens contributed to the Conference on the Future of Europe with more than 400 concrete proposals on the future of Europe. The final report on this series of citizens' consultations can be found