Sunday, 10 May 2009
The European Citizens' Consultations are finding their end this weekend at the European Citizens Summit in Brussels, and I am following some of the activities through La Oreja de Europa, but I am not glad that there is no live stream of the event nor a journalistic audiovisual coverage available online.
In addition, I don't think that these consultations are of much value for anyone besides the participants and public relations of EU institutions and some of the organisers. There doesn't seem room for a critical analysis - as the what others think section on its website shows - of the format.
I am a big fan of citizens' involvement in policy-making and agenda-setting. And I am convinced that elements of the representative democracy have to be supplemented with other tools to make it fit a modern democracy of the 21st century.
But why should selecting a number of citizens from different countries to discuss European issues be more relevant, representative, or creative than what is already happening in political and non-partisan organisations, within the European Parliament, within public and semi-public online fora etc.?
What makes sure that in the discussions on national and European levels the agendas and recommendations are not shaped by a small number of charismatic, better-informed, or ideologically deadlocked participants who are able to convince the rest while the final result will be presented as "representative"?
Where are the criteria for the choice of participants? Who has set up the agenda of these meetings and hasn't the temporal arrangement of these events already pre-structured the outcome?
I am asking these questions, as I am asking them to any other political event, to any other "consultation", "conference", or however it is called. The participants have been chosen by organisations with a particular interest, and they have not been voted for this task by anyone.
The point I would like to make is that for me this event is not more or less important than any other political meeting, that its outcome does not stand for "the citizens" but for the participants of the event, which in the next weeks will be disguised by those who can take advantage of the outcomes, whatever political or social group this might be.
This kind of consultations is proxy democracy, it is a simulation of a much more complex process (as many of the Model European Union/United Nations/etc. events are), and the results depend very much on the set-up of the simulation and the individual agents chosen. Neither the participants nor the organisations that organised will have to take responsibility for what is said and recommended, so they are playing democracy in an open space, which is nice and can be creative, but which is hardly reproducible outside these conditions.
Pluralist democracy cannot be replaced by proxy democracy, and although I know that this might not be the aim of the European Citizens' Consultations, there is the danger of seeing those events as an easy-to-organise replacement of the much more difficult involvement of the general public in concrete decision- and law-making within the European Union that is often intransparent, overly complicated, and citizen-unfriendly at best.
PS.: After criticism to my post raised by a commentator, I have tried to clarify some of points in the comments. So have a look and tell me whether you feel that I am wrong or overly critical with what I say.