The future of European democracy requires permanent dialogue between citizens and their elected representatives and a clear understanding of the need for greater ownership of the European project at every level of government. This is one of the main conclusions from the work of the CoR’s High Level Group on European Democracy chaired by former European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, shared today at the CoR’s commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX).
The initial findings of the CoR High Level Group on European Democracy (HLG) complemented a wider discussion at the meeting on the involvement of local and regional authorities in the Conference on the Future of Europe (COFE). There was widespread agreement that the local and regional dimension should be more visible in the discussions at the COFE, and that greater coordination and interaction between the European, national, regional and local levels of governance is vital if the EU is to improve its democratic credentials and convince citizens it is more than simply a talking shop. This will also mean greater involvement of the local and regional levels in the EU decision-making process, as the level of government most often on the front line when it comes to the impact European rules.
Herman Van Rompuy told CIVEX members: “Many challenges of our time require a strengthening of the role of the European level, and of the interaction between all levels of government, to deliver effective results for citizens. Much can be done within the current structures to strengthen the EU and democracy, and the EU can set an example of better cooperation with national and regional parliaments and bodies. Democracy is a permanent dialogue that must take place between citizens and elected politicians, between citizens themselves and between local, regional, national and European authorities.”
Ensuring that the opportunity offered by the COFE to permanently improve multi-level dialogue and governance is not wasted is at the heart of the CoR’s approach to the Conference Mark Speich (DE/EPP), Secretary of State for Federal, European and International Affairs of North Rhine-Westphalia and Chair of the CIVEX commission said: “The CIVEX Commission started debating the Conference on the Future of Europe soon after the proposal was launched in late 2019 and the Conference has been on the agenda of all its meetings since then. Today’s debates are the culmination of CIVEX’s work over the last two years. We have examined the broad implications of the deliberations undertaken in the Conference on local and regional democracy and shaped the contribution of the European Committee of the Regions. For a more democratic EU, local and regional authorities have to be more involved in the EU legislative process. The Conference could be a great opportunity to achieve this goal”.
In addition to the CoR’s delegation to the COFE, a number of European associations are also represented at the Conference. Yet despite this relatively important involvement of local and regional authorities, there is still much work to be done to make sure their message is heard. Yordanka Fandakova, Mayor of Sofia, Executive President of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), told the meeting: “Europe needs all levels of governance to ensure sustainable transformational change. This implies a governance in partnership model, since all of us – citizens, local, regional, national and European authorities are individual elements in one common process. Leaving a lasting local imprint in the Conference depends to a large extent on ourselves and our ability to encourage and channel citizens’ actions to concrete proposals shaping future European policies and governance models“.
The opportunity offered by the COFE to establish new models of dialogue and deliberation with citizens was underlined by Hermano Sanches Ruivo, Deputy Mayor of the City of Paris and member of Eurocities: “The Conference on the Future of Europe is a unique occasion that we must seize: it allows citizens’ ideas to be taken into account, and enhances the discussion on how local governments should be involved in Europe’s future. In this regard, the Conference can also be a first step towards mainstreaming citizens’ participation in the European Union.”
The CoR High Level Group on Democracy, which supports the CoR contribution to the Conference, will present its report in December. Some of its recommendations will be presented and discussed at the conference “A Europe that Empowers, Protects and Delivers: Strengthening European Multi-Level Democracy” on 3 December. The CoR will present its final contribution to the Conference at the 9th European Summit of Regions and Cities on 3-4 March 2022 in Marseille.
A study on “The Conference on the Future of Europe: Putting Local and Regional Authorities at the Heart of European Democratic Renewal” commissioned by the CoR and delivered by the London School of Economics, was presented for the first time at the meeting. The study offered a number of possible scenarios for improving and strengthening the role of cities and regions, and of the CoR itself as the institutional representative of cities and regions in the EU decision-making process, as potential outcomes from the Conference on the Future of Europe.