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Local and regional leaders propose a tool for citizens' voice to be heard in the EU decision-making process  

The 140th plenary session of the EU' assembly of local regional representatives was marked by the first local and regional Barometer which includes an opinion poll conducted to more 26 000 citizens across the European Union. The results of this poll give a strong legitimacy to local and regional leaders to play a key role in the EU decision-making process and in particular in the upcoming Conference on the Future of Europe . In his opinion "Local and regional authorities in the permanent dialogue with citizens" , CoR rapporteur Declan Mc Donnell (IE/EA), proposes to develop a tool called CitizEN - Citizen Engagement in the EU Network to involve citizens in policy-making.

Starting from the assumption that bottom-up communication channels and participation instruments complement and strengthen representative democracy, as well as promote active subsidiarity by giving citizens a greater say on a permanent basis beyond and between elections, the opinion proposes the setting-up of a pan-EU network based on voluntary participation called CitizEN - Citizen ENgagement in the EU Network , with three objectives:

- to strengthen interaction between European institutions and citizens, through direct methods for engagement at local and regional level;

- to provide examples of participation methods that can be used both formally and informally;

- to act as a repository for information and sharing of best practice of national, regional and local participation initiatives from across the European Union.

The CitizEN Network could be launched during the Conference, with a view to becoming a stable and permanent infrastructure able to carry on with the follow-up on the work of the Conference and ensuring that citizens are kept well informed and can be involved in the monitoring, evaluation and assessment phases.

Rapporteur-general Declan Mc Donnell (IE/EA), Member of Galway City Council, stated: "The mechanism for a permanent dialogue with citizens, which I hope will be piloted during the Conference on the Future of Europe and start being fully implemented soon after, will be one of the key contributions of the CoR, not only to the Conference but also well beyond. We really hope that by enabling citizens to continuously and systematically express their views, and receive feedback on them, will help truly transform the EU and make it more democratic, open, transparent and inclusive. And, very importantly, better understood. There already exists a myriad of forms of citizens' consultations across the EU and, with our today's proposal, we will aim to connect them and institutionalise them at the EU level".

The opinion suggests that the CoR leads, in collaboration with all other European institutions, on the design, implementation and governance of the Network, working to promote a common working methodology and the deployment of a toolbox of participation instruments (deliberation processes, citizen initiatives, participatory budgeting, government crowdsourcing processes, mini-publics, etc.) including a shared digital platform that can be used to manage best practice examples which will be gathered from different Member States.

Moreover, regional and local organisations are encouraged to run participatory processes during the Conference at their respective levels. The proposals and results of the deliberative processes can then be summarised and fed into the CoR's contribution to the Conference, as well as help build the Network's repository of knowledge and experience in communicating with citizens.

Declan Mc Donnell added: " I believe that if we implement the aspects outlined in this opinion, we have the potential to truly transform the EU and its culture of governance. It is only natural that this proposal comes from the European Committee of the Regions, an institution which represents the level of government closest to and most trusted by the citizens. Citizens should be able to speak to us when and where they feel the need for it, and not only when and where we tell them: during elections cycles or specific events. At the same time, they need to get feedback on their proposals and concerns, which we as local and regional authorities are best-placed to provide."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel who debated with CoR members on 13 October on behalf of the German Presidency of the EU confirmed that the Conference on the Future of Europe should be launched during the German Presidency. The Conference is expected to give its recommendations under the French Presidency of the European Union on the first half of 2022.

During the EURegionsweek Mr Mc Donnell will present the CitizEN Network on 15 October at 16:30 during the online debate on “innovating citizens’ participation” .

Background information:

On 30th April 2019, ahead of the meeting of EU27 leaders in Sibiu on 9th May, the European Commission published the Communication " Europe in May 2019: Preparing for a more united, stronger and more democratic Union in an increasingly uncertain world. The European Commission's contribution to the informal EU27 leaders' meeting in Sibiu (Romania) on 9 May 2019 ". Part of the communication was dedicated to " A permanent dialogue with citizens ", stating that " engaging with citizens on a constant basis is essential to strengthen European identity and democracy and ensure greater ownership of the European project ".

Already back in October 2018, This idea of a permanent dialogue with citizens was one of the key messages of the CoR Opinion Reflecting on Europe: the voice of local and regional authorities to rebuild trust in the European Union (co- rapporteurs Karl-Heinz Lambertz and Markku Markkula). In December 2018 the Presidents of the European Committee of the Regions and the European Economic and Social Committee issued a Joint Proposal of CoR and EESC Presidents on a EU permanent mechanism for structured consultations and dialogues with citizens .

The opinion poll which is part of the CoR annual Barometer for cities and regions was conducted by Kantar, the world’s leading data, insights and consulting company. 26,381 people were polled between 3-17 September in all EU state. The survey was conducted online except in Malta (telephone). This is essentially a survey of Europeans of working age: The targets were usually aged 16-64 (16-54 in 10 countries; there was no upper limit in Malta). See the results here (link to Barometer webpage). First key finding of this poll is that regional and local authorities are the level of government most trusted by citizens in their current and future efforts to overcome the economic and social impact of the coronavirus crisis. Second key finding is that 58% of the respondents think that giving local and regional governments more influence in the decision making process in the European Union would have a positive impact on the European Union's ability to solve problems .


Marie-Pierre Jouglain

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