The Future of EU: the Union Cannot Prevail Without European Citizens

Debate on the future of Europe will not achieve its goal without greater openness, inclusiveness and transparency in the management of European affairs in the member states, Gong and the Slovenian Institute Danes je nov dan warned in their contribution to the debate at the Conference on the Future of Europe.

The European Union cannot survive if its citizens do not accept it as their own. Non-transparent European affairs and the policy of secrecy of national governments in the process of adopting European legislation develop a culture of “blaming Brussels”, which strengthens Euroscepticism. Lack of information and limited civic participation in policy-making at EU level reinforces the impression that the principles of democratic governance are violated by interest groups that have better access to decision-makers. European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly insists that citizens have the right to know what the representatives of their countries are doing on their behalf.

Igor Vidačak, associate professor at the Faculty of Political Science, University of Zagreb, analyzed the openness of the decision-making process on common EU policies at the level of Croatia and Slovenia as member states, within the cooperation between Gong and the Slovenian Institute Danes je nov dan, on the Parlametar project.

In neither of these two Member States is there effective parliamentary oversight of the process of adopting national positions of governments in the Council of the EU, and public consultations on proposals for framework of their national positions on EU acts are not available in time. Governments do not proactively publish documents on their activities in the Council of the EU and thus prevent the public from questioning the justification and validity of certain views. These are just some of the indicators of extremely undemocratic states, elitism and non-transparency in the management of European affairs, the paper warns.

In short, improving the openness, inclusiveness and transparency of the management of European affairs at national levels is a fundamental precondition for strengthening the interests and competencies of citizens and other stakeholders to engage in policy-making processes at EU level. In the context of discussions on strengthening European democracy in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe and in order to strengthen the confidence of citizens in the work of EU institutions and greater accountability of national governments and parliaments in dealing with EU issues, several recommendations can be made:

-improve proactive transparency and openness of data on inter-institutional negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission

-provide the public with insight into the conduct of Member States in adopting and implementing acts within comitology committees, including the individual votes of Member States

-establish standards for consulting the interested public on proposals for national positions on drafts of EU acts that governments represent in the EU Council

-National parliaments should proactively open public debates on the effects of EU acts at the domestic level, including open thematic sessions of the relevant parliamentary committees, with the possibility of active participation of representatives of interested stakeholders

-national governments’ views on EU acts should be publicly available in an open format on the websites of national parliaments or governments

-competent ministries should consider the creation of cross-sectoral working groups to formulate national positions on EU acts in which interested experts from civil society, the business sector, and academia could be involved