In these times of a European identity crisis many questions arise about how it could be possible to make it last by being more democratic. It seems that current structure is failing at institutional level and there is not a strong leadership able to guide the Union towards an even closer union. One of the reasons of this imbalance it is represented by a bureaucratic structure that forgotten that above all, citizens are the real concern -individually considered- more than the structure in itself. This contradictory boundary between an even closer union and effective mechanisms of direct participatory democracy lives empty spaces that are no fulfilled with correct strategies. Getting the feeling that the EU as an institution is not the solution to face current crises. Brexit, wrong management of Greece financial crisis and eventually a Frexit exposure the failure of the EU to represents citizens concerns. In addition, manipulation from far-right groups and populist leaders transform crises into an opportunity to impose their isolationist policies.
Although EU is supposed to hold the representation of European interests it has become an elite that is going through a serious crisis and is not seeing the way out effectively. More than trying to apply the same remedies for all there is a clear need for listening better and more to real actors in this stage of uncertainty. To be “more democratic” means to have a closer approach with citizens and less with the political structure and leaders in Parliament.
Consultations, petitions and the European citizens initiative are the main tools of EU direct participatory democracy. All of them aim to involve citizen´s in an active relationship however it not success in its goal. Only few people of the population are aware of their existence showing the same disease as the EU institution in itself: great resources with no real practical impact although with a smart structure and focus. Just to give an example, the European citizens initiative to prosper it needs 1 million signatures with only 1 year to collect it. It should come from at least 7 member states and constitute a citizens committee of at least 7 EU citizens from different EU member states. Of course, very few initiatives have succeeded. In relation to petitions around 1200 to 1500 are sent to the EU committee of petitions but only a limited number is declared admissible.
Even if we named “tools of direct participatory democracy” there are not “enough democratic” and need to be harmonized with the different national legislations and boost a solid strategy to make them effective.
If there were a fluid and reliable relationship in the decision making process with EU citizenship, transparency and accountability would not be an issue –as currently happen with technical regulation-. Also the feeling from the community would be of empowerment and not current lack of information that as a consequence it´s translated in rejection and lack of trust. Brexit is the last example that the feeling of being out of the political elite and abandoned from the decision making process drift an anti-European reaction.
We cannot say that the EU as a system doesn´t work especially when mechanisms of engagement citizens are not used properly or –in many cases- not use it at all or too complex. In most of the cases the EU citizens are not aware of the full potential of their action, the amount of their claim is no worthy or simply there are not resources to go against a weakened institution as it currently has become.
Information plays a very important role to revert current anti-European tendency like Brexit and a negative attitude of indifference makes EU citizens being stuck in a vicious circle in which do not make steps to reform the Union or/and defend their individual rights.
In times of crisis participatory direct democracy is a powerful tool to become resilient to crises and in control of citizen´s concerns and decisions. Is it paramount to reformulate EU mechanisms at first place to be receptive to the citizenship and gain empowerment for them and for the institution.
European Union: your only challenge is be responsive to the citizenship not to the system in itself. Here is the way out to assemble the pieces of this puzzle again. GO!