Making European elections more democratic and boosting participation: Ground is prepared, say two Commission reports

recommendations_ep_electionsTwo months ahead of the European Parliament elections, two new reports published by the Commission provide an overview of the decisive steps taken to make these elections even more democratic and to bring European politics closer to citizens. One report analyses how the Commission’s recommendations for increasing the transparency and democratic legitimacy of the European elections, made last year (IP/13/215), have been taken up by member states and political parties. A crucial recommendation was notably to ask European political parties to nominate lead candidates for the post of President of the Commission.

A second report looks at the new communication tool of Citizens’ Dialogues developed by the Commission over the last 18 months as an instrument to inform people, restore trust in European and national institutions and make citizens aware that their voice does count in the EU. The publication of these two reports coincides with a Pan-European Citizens’ Dialogue taking place in Brussels today (27 March) with more than 150 citizens coming from all over Europe (IP/14/295).

“European elections need to be truly European. Citizens need to know how their choice fits into the bigger European picture. For the first time in the history of European integration, a debate has started around clearly designated candidates for the presidency of the Commission. This is the birth of a truly European democracy,” said Vice President Viviane Reding, commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship. “But democracy isn’t just about Election Day. It’s about debating Europe’s future with people at local level, all year round. We held over 50 Citizens’ Dialogues in every member state and found that citizens have a real thirst for discussing European issues face-to-face with politicians. In Europe we need to speak to each other, rather than about each other.”

Preparing the ground for the European elections

More than 50 Dialogues have been held in all member states, with 22 European commissioners participating, usually alongside MEPS and national, regional or local politicians.

More than 16,000 citizens took part in the Citizens’ Dialogues, with over 105,000 people participating via live web stream and social media. The Dialogues were open door events so that everyone interested could join the debate. Today the final all-day, pan-European Citizens’ Dialogue, is being held in Brussels with President José Manuel Barroso and ten European Commissioners bringing together participants of previous Dialogues from across Europe (watch the Dialogue online here).

A report on the Citizens’ Dialogues published today shows that these Dialogues have gone a long way in giving EU policy a human face. The format has started to take root in member states, with national politicians in countries such as Germany, Bulgaria and Ireland launching Dialogues of their own.

These open debates with European, national and local politicians have proven to be a unique way of engaging directly with citizens, and are part of the European Commission’s preparation for the European elections in May. They have kicked off a debate in which citizens could directly address their questions on the future of the Union and EU policies to European and national politicians. This helped turning the Dialogues into truly European events, contributing to the development of a European Public Space.

The need for such dialogues is confirmed by citizens: Today, two out of three Europeans feel that their voice is not being heard (see Annex 4) and nearly 9 in 10 participants (88%) during the Citizens’ Dialogues expressed their strong wish to have more such Dialogues (see Annex 5).

To complement these efforts, a handbook on EU citizens’ main rights Did you know: 10 EU rights at a glance is being published this week, as announced in the 2013 EU Citizenship Report. The handbook includes information on the right to take part in the EU’s decision-making process, including the European elections.

Doing it differently this time around

On 12 March 2013, the Commission adopted a Recommendation calling on European political parties to nominate their candidates for President of the Commission and recommending they display their European political party affiliation. A year on, six European political parties have made their candidates known and are planning to raise awareness about their candidates’ programmes. Politicising the elections with top candidates has received widespread support amongst citizens too – the latest Future of Europe Eurobarometer survey published this week shows that seven out of ten Europeans would even go further and say that the Commission president should be directly elected by EU citizens (see Annex 3).

Thanks to Commission action, member states also swiftly transposed the EU rules (Directive 2013/1/EU) which are going to make it easier for candidates to stand in their member sates of residence (IP/14/87). All member states adopted the transposition laws and all but one (the Czech Republic see MEMO/14/241) have already notified such laws to the Commission.

Some challenges remain: The Commission’s calls for a single voting day across Europe and for political parties to display their European political party affiliations on the ballots are not yet widely taken up. In the latter case, this is due to the fact that electoral legislation in several member states does not allow ballot papers to display names of logos of European political parties.

The Commission will produce a full report including the implementation of its recommendations after the European elections.

More information

Report on the European elections recommendation
Report on the citizens’ dialogues
More on the Citizens’ Dialogues and the Debate on the future of Europe
Future of Europe Eurobarometer
Website of Vice President Viviane Reding
Follow Vice President Reding on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, European Commission, European Parliament, MEP Elections, Politics

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