EU Commission President Von der Leyen takes up part of proposals of Meer Democratie | Meer Democratie

EU Commission President Von der Leyen takes up part of proposals of Meer Democratie

Today the incoming new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, presented her "Agenda for Europe" to the European Parliament. It addresses parts of the demands launched by Meer Democratie, Democracy International and partner organizations during the "Now the Citizens" campaign in the run-up to the European elections in May. 

Democratic restart

Our goal was and remains a democratic relaunch of the EU in which citizens are given a first and last say on the democratic future of European Union. We want to see citizens' assemblies selected by sortition held in all EU Member States to draw up concrete proposals, with referendums on the final result in each EU Member State. The only right starting point for any democratic reform is the people’s sovereignty.

Ahead of the elections, we asked EU election candidates across Europe to sign our pledge. In the end, +1300 candidates signed, 33 of whom were elected MEPs. We are also supported by other politicians who supported the campaign in principle but did not sign for various reasons. In addition, 58 civil society organizations have signed our open letter to European politicians.

Von der Leyen's proposal

In its "Agenda for Europe", Von der Leyen promises to organize in 2020 a two-year citizens' conference on the future of Europe, in which citizens, and specifically young people, and representatives of civil society organizations and European institutions will participate. She promises to work with the results and declares herself willing to make European treaty changes. This will certainly be necessary in fundamental democratic reforms, and treaty change has previously been taboo among politicians because it opens a Pandora's box.

Five problems

Von der Leyen's proposal sounds good but but it has 5 problematic aspects: 

  1. We want citizens' assemblies to take place in every EU Member State, with a possible concluding citizens' assembly at EU level. That is quite different from a single Europe-wide citizens' conference.
     
  2. The citizens participating in the conference must be selected at random. If representatives of civil society organizations are invited, it is to inform the participating citizens about their issue as experts on the subject. It is good if a theme is highlighted from different sides by organizations, but it seems that Von der Leyen wants to give the organizations an equal voice as the citizens.
     
  3. The same applies to the representatives of the European institutions. They are not the 'equal partner' of the citizens. If the institutions are given a special position in the conference, it is to inform the citizen.
     
  4. The focus should not (only) be on policy issues (to which Von der Leyen may refer), but on the issue of democracy itself.
     
  5. At the end of the citizens' assembly, referendums must be held on the results. This is a crucial point because, firstly, these referendums will have a major impact on the process - it will be taken much more seriously - and because referendums are the only way to give the entire population a final say!

We will see to what extent European politicians and national Member States are really prepared to give a first and last say to citizens. We and our partner organizations are following up with concrete proposals and actions.