This is the second in Demsoc’s series of blogs, laying out our thoughts on the Conference on the Future of Europe. Here, we compare and contrast not just best practice examples of citizen engagement across Europe, but also the statements laid out by different European institutions in recent weeks, on the upcoming Conference.

Below, we look at the European Commission Communication, the Franco-German non-paper, the European Parliament’s Resolution, compared with the work of the Conventions Citoyennes pour le Climat, The Citizens’ Assembly 2016-2018 in Ireland and the proposed UK Citizens’ Convention. 

We will take you through each of these, comparing the approach to: timeline; geographical scope; local action; online engagement; number and type of assemblies; how they handled multiple themes, and; what power the citizen decisions had.

Whilst the European Institutions’ thinking on citizen engagement in the Conference seems to be positive and definitely committed to some sort of engagement, that engagement is not as deep as could be hoped for, nor is its impact broad enough. 

In considering what the proposed Joint Declaration from the European Council, Parliament and Commission might look like, it is interesting to see the differences in their current visions for the Conference. Specifically, the approaches to choosing or sourcing the themes and subjects for discussion, how those are shaped into a coherent and comprehensive process and how the process would cover each topic.

At the end of the Conference process there must also be a commitment to taking the outcomes and recommendations seriously. At present, the proposals have only weak assurances that this will happen, being consultative and disconnected from final processes.

It is positive to see the importance placed by all actors on having a transparent process, that shows that participating in democracy is a constant process that thrives beyond elections, and that the Conference on the Future of Europe can be a mechanism by which the EU starts a process to evolve through innovative participation and engagement with its citizens. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the common features and differences in more detail, and think about where the inter-institutional negotiations could end up.

Timeline: The Conference will launch on Europe Day, 9th may 2020, and should wrap up during the first semester of 2022, when the outcomes and recommendations from the process can be discussed and next steps considered.
Geographical scope: It is a priority to include citizens “from all corners of the Union”, and must be as accessible and inclusive as possible to every resident of the EU.
Local action: The process must include local, regional and national partners and governing bodies.
Online engagement: There will be a strong digital strand to the Conference. A multilingual online platform will give access to: all related documents; live-streaming debates; gathering outcomes, and; promoting other methods of interaction.
Number and type of assemblies: Deliberative panels will be held regularly throughout the duration of the conference and partners will be able to hold as many debates as they wish.
How multiple themes are handled: The Conference will be framed around the Commission’s six political priorities. This will be complemented by a second strand addressing democratic processes and institutional matters.
The power of citizen decisions: President von der Leyen has pledged to follow up on what is debated and agreed during the Conference.

Conference on the Future of Europe –  Franco-German non-paper
Timeline: Phase 1 would start as early as February 2020, until the summer of 2020, and focus on issues related to EU democratic functioning. Phase 2 focusing on policy priorities should be launched in mid-2020 and be closed in early 2022.
Geographical scope: EU-wide participation of our citizens on all issues discussed is key.
Local action: The process should be bottom-up, and EU member states must be involved.
Online engagement: None specifically mentioned.
Number and type of assemblies: There will be meetings and citizen dialogues throughout the process, and thematic and midterm review conferences, and the process will culminate in a closing conference.
How multiple themes are handled: The conference should address issues at stake for the future of the EU, to make it more united and sovereign. It should also look at policies and reforms to be implemented and also institutional issues, to improve the functioning of the Union.
The power of citizen decisions: The conference should produce clear recommendations, put into a final document which should be presented to the EUCO for debate and implementation.

European Parliament’s Resolution on the Conference on the Future of Europe
Timeline: The Conference should be a process lasting two years, commencing on Schuman Day, 9 May 2020 and aiming to end by summer 2022. Before it begins there should be a phase where citizens can shape the process.
Geographical scope: All citizens from across the EU to be given the opportunity to be involved, and events in each member state.
Local action: Civil society and a range of stakeholders at European, national, regional and local level should be the key element of the process.
Online engagement: There should be a digital tool to allow citizens to stay abreast of any developments with the Conference, and to allow it to be an open process.
Number and type of assemblies: Several thematic Citizens’ agoras reflecting the policy priorities should be held throughout the Conference process with a minimum of three per Member State and two Youth Agoras.
How multiple themes are handled: The the Conference Plenary should be an open forum for participants to discuss, without limiting the scope to pre-defined policy fields or methods of integration. Special Eurobarometer surveys could also be used to support agenda setting.
The power of citizen decisions: Right from the beginning, a listening phase should be initiated to enable citizens from across the EU to express their ideas, make suggestions and propose their own vision of what Europe means for them, to shape the conference.

La Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat
Timeline: Seven months. The Convention began with the first meeting on 4, 5 and 6 October 2019 and will deliver its conclusions in April 2020.
Geographical scope: France. The meetings are held at the EESC in Paris, but the participants are 150 citizens, drawn to reflect all areas of France.
Local action: None specifically mentioned.
Online engagement: All citizens can contribute their thoughts online, through the portal on the website. 
Number and type of assemblies: The Convention will meet seven times, for three days each.
How multiple themes are handled: The overarching theme was of course climate change, but this was broken down into five sub-categories: accommodation; food; travel; consumption and; work/production.
The power of citizen decisions: The Government will respond publicly to the proposals and publish a provisional timetable for the implementation of these proposals, following which citizens will be able to formulate a joint and public reaction to the Government’s responses.

The Citizens’ Assembly 2016-2018, Ireland
Timeline: The Citizens’ Assembly was first convened in October 2016, it ran until April 2018, meeting 12 times, and the final report was published June 2018.
Geographical scope: Members of the Assembly were selected at random, and reflect Irish society in terms of regional spread. 
Local action: No specific local action.
Online engagement: Plenary sessions were livestreamed. 
Number and type of assemblies: The Assembly met 12 times, throughout the two year period.
How multiple themes are handled: The Assembly wash asked to consider five themes, each on a change to the constitution. These themes were discussed one at a time, with a report being produced before the next one was begun. There was a different panel of experts for each theme.
The power of citizen decisions: The conclusions in the Assembly’s reports, formed the basis of a number of reports and recommendations that were submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas for further debate.

Proposed UK Citizens’ Convention
Timeline: The process would take two years, and would consist of four parts: 
1) UK Conversation – a mass communications and engagement exercise to spark and support a UK- wide conversation on the challenges facing UK democracy and how they should be tackled. This stage will last for nine months;
2) Prioritisation Convention – to hear evidence collected from the UK Conversation and agree the key challenges that the Citizens’ Convention should explore;
3) Thematic Assemblies – to consider the key challenges identified by the Prioritisation Summit and their potential solutions in depth and produce recommendations for reforms; and,
4) UK Summit – to ratify the recommendations produced by the Thematic Assemblies, and resolve any overarching questions or conflicts.It would then move to the political phase.
Geographical scope: It is a priority that the convention include people from every area and community in the UK.
Local action: The process will finish in a UK summit, but the stages leading up to that point will all be held at local level and with local organisations, particularly at the ‘Conversation’ stage.
Online engagement: There will be digital modes of engagement running throughout the process. A digital platform will be established for groups to report back on their conversations. 
Number and type of assemblies: During the Thematic Assemblies part of the process, there will be a number of citizens assemblies, meeting up to six times each, over a six-month period. The exact number will be dependant on budget and number of themes chosen by the Prioritisation Convention.
How multiple themes are handled: Six themes related to the UK political system will be the starting point for the conversation, but the final list of themes to be considered by the Convention will be decided by the citizens themselves. 
The power of citizen decisions: The Convention will produce a report containing specific recommendations. This final report will be translated into draft legislation that could be used or adapted by elected representatives in Parliament to implement the key recommendations of the Convention.