Thursday, 3 April 2008
The European Commission on Wednesday (2 April) presented a new plan aimed at increasing EU citizens' involvement in the decision-making process of the 27-nation bloc, as well as making it more popular. Dubbed "Debate Europe", the initiative is part of the commission's so-called Plan D â€“ a concept put forward in 2005 to boost the EU's public image after the No votes to the EU constitution in France and the Netherlands.
Presenting an update of the plan, communications commissioner Margot Wallstrom said the context now, three years later, was "very different" from 2005. "It is not anymore about the failed constitution or the reflection period [that followed]," as now the objective is more to effectively involve the citizens into EU decision-making, she said. "We must consult citizens [because] when we do, we have a better political agenda and a better political result."
â‚¬7.2 million budget
"Debate Europe" will have a budget of â‚¬7.2 million which will be used to fund a number of civil society projects. It will, among other things, establish 'European public spaces', where exhibitions, debates, seminars and training sessions on EU matters will take place and involve EU officials in activities at regional and local levels in the different member states. The commission will also try and boost its "Debate Europe" website. Launched at the end of January, it has gathered some 12,000 posts by EU citizens so far â€“ something Ms Wallstrom called a "big success".
But in addition to its goal to involve citizens in decision-making, the EU is also still aiming to make itself more popular. Referring to next year's European Parliament elections, an event regularly marked by low voter turnout, the commission said: "We try to change the perception that EU matters are too abstract and disconnected from the national public debate to be of interest to the citizens, and we want to overcome the divide between national and European issues."
She also underlined that launching the new initiative did not mean that one of Plan D's principal objectives â€“ to make the EU more democratic â€“ would be abandoned. "It's ironic, isn't it, that 50 years after the foundation of the European Union, we are still discussing democracy and how can we become more democratic," she said. "A lot more" could indeed be done to improve democracy within the EU, as "decisions have moved up to the European level, but the political debates, the media reporting and so on, are still mainly national," Ms Wallstrom noted.
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